Dealing with the prospect of a pay cut


The shrinking job market for middle managers has forced many downsized workers to consider taking a pay cut. People who used to make $45,000 a year are applying for jobs in the $30,000 range. Getting an offer seems like a mixed blessing -- you wonder if you'd be better off turning it down.

As if the emotional roller coaster weren't bad enough, the prospect of a pay cut poses tough financial and practical questions:

How long should I hold out for the salary I want?

If you have a buyout package to fall back on, you might be tempted to wait until your severance pay runs out. In fact, it's much better to start bringing in some money as soon as possible. You can use your severance as a cushion if you wind up with a job that pays less. Plus, you protect any savings from going toward living expenses.

Also think about the psychological toll of being out of work. You can expect the greatest emotional support during the first few months after a layoff. Chances are, you'll be a lot happier if you get back in the routine of a job before all the help peters out.

Should I take any job just to make money, knowing that I'll leave as soon as something better comes along?

Ideally, your next position will give you a chance to learn skills you can apply elsewhere, add a prestigious company to your resume, or make contacts. But if that's not possible, it's OK to work just to pay the bills. One reader writes that "This doesn't seem fair to the employer." True, but downsizings aren't fair, either.

What can I do if the company is hesitant to hire someone who's overqualified?

It's a cruel irony that once you've resigned yourself to earning less, you have to work so hard to persuade employers to hire you. They're worried that you'll be bored with the work and tempted to bolt when you get a more attractive offer.

Career changers or people moving into a new industry have the easiest time addressing companies' doubts. "As a relative newcomer to this business, I realize I'll have a higher learning curve than more experienced people, and that therefore I'll be paid less initially," they can say.

Other people need to be a little more creative during interviews. Sometimes you can emphasize lifestyle issues -- like the chance to cut down on business travel. You might be able to explain that the company has attractions besides salary -- like name-brand recognition or stock options. Maybe you can pinpoint something that's changed in your financial situation, making it possible for you to accept a lower salary.

More often, accepting a pay cut involves a reluctant compromise. Still, there are ways to be honest without letting an interviewer know the job is your last choice. Here's an example: "When I lost my job, my first inclination was to look for something just like it. Ultimately, I realized that there are very few such positions left. Now I want a fulfilling job that pays me enough to live on and that will allow me to take care of my family. This one seems to be a good fit."

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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