Monday, July 16, 2007

Salary Negotiations for Career Change

I recently interviewed for a position in a different profession and industry than the one that I am in currently (and had worked in for over 10 years). I think I messed up with the salary requirements and was wondering if its too late to fix it. Because I thought--hey I've never worked in this field—I can't expect what I'm making now (plus I would be going from Big City Salary to Little Town Salary), I gave my salary requirements way too low for myself (about $15k less than I am making now, not including bonuses and bennies).

After reviewing my finances, I don't think I can swing the pay cut I would have to make but really want to make this seed change in my life. Is there a way to fix this properly in negotiations? Is it ok to say, after reviewing my finances I was incorrect and can not accept below $X or should I just let this whole thing go and start over someplace else? I am losing sleep over this.
---Feeling like an idiot in NY-Dan

by Jeanne Knight, JCTC, CCMC, Career and Job Search Coach

Dear Dan,
Congratulations to you for embarking on a career change! Making a career change can be an exciting and fulfilling endeavor, but can also be fraught with uncertainties and frustrations, such as the one you describe.

I don’t believe all is lost with this particular company, but some soul searching and research is in order prior to re-contacting them. The first thing to recognize when making a career change is that taking a step backwards in salary is sometimes necessary. After all, unless you are entering the field with significant skills and accomplishments that qualify you for a mid-level position in this new career, you are probably starting somewhat “over” and will need to work your way back to your present salary. And hopefully, over time, you will love and excel at your new career so much that you will exceed your present salary.

However, before jumping to that conclusion, you’ll want to do some research into what jobs in your new field are paying someone with your level of experience. I assume you have researched your new field and have a sense of what the “entry” jobs are versus the more mid-level and senior jobs. Given that, you’ll first want to identify what transferable skills you bring to this new job, as well as any education and training that you’ve had. Based on that information, as well as your prior research, decide what level (entry-level, mid-level, etc.) you’ll be entering this new field. Then go to some of the popular salary websites, such as and, and determine the range of pay for this particular job in your geographic area at the level you’ve determined. This may take some time as the exact job at the exact level may not be readily found. You may also want to do a Google search on your chosen profession to see if you can find salary ranges there.

Once you’ve identified the going salary for jobs at your level, develop a salary range that fits your research. You’ll want to make the range wide enough and high enough to account for your previous work experience, and to give you some wiggle room for negotiations (for example, stating a range of $20,000 – 23,000 is too narrow… a range of $20,000 to $30,000 is better).

Now, if your research tells you that the job you are about to enter has a salary range that is less than you can afford to live on, then you’ll need to do some soul searching and identify some options you can live with. Perhaps for a period of time you can work two jobs to make ends meet. Or, perhaps when an offer is made, you can ask if your salary could be reviewed in six months and increased if your performance warrants it. If you are committed to making a go of this new career, frugal living may be the order of the day until your salary can climb back up to where it is now.

If, however, your research tells you that you misspoke during this interview and the going rate is higher than what you quoted your salary requirements to be, then you can call the company back. Explain that you thoroughly enjoyed the interview and are excited about this position, but that since your interview you’ve done some research on what the market is paying for this type of job. Explain that the market appears to be paying someone with your experience and level $xx,xxx - $xx,xxx (your determined range), and that would be a salary you would be looking for. Ask if this is in line with what they were thinking of paying and if they are still considering you a viable candidate for the job.

If your original salary requirements knocked you out of the running, your follow-up phone call may put you back in the running. If it doesn’t, then you will have done your research and will be that much more informed and confident when asked for your salary requirements in future interviews.

Best of luck to you!

Jeanne Knight is a certified Career Coach/Resume Expert who helps senior professionals and executives navigate career transitions. She offers career and job search coaching as well as resume writing services. She is also the creator of “10 Steps To Interviewing With Confidence”, a 60-minute DVD program that offers a step-by-step process for succeeding on interviews.

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