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Why taking a pay cut might be your best career move



This may seem a little counterintuitive coming from a salary negotiation coach, but sometimes the right career move requires a pay cut.

“But it’s your job to help people make more money. Are you nuts?!”

Yes, it’s my job to help people make more money. But that doesn’t always mean moving to a higher salary every time you change jobs. Here’s a quick analogy to show you what I mean.

A quick trip to the grocery store

Let’s say you need to get some milk from the grocery store. Your goal is to get to the store, but you’re not quite sure where it is. You know it’s “over there”, so you drive that way. You turn down a main road and you feel like you’re getting closer. You turn again—still getting closer. You turn again and…now you’re at a dead end.

What’s your best move? Well, you could keep on going—maybe you can drive through someone’s yard and around their house and you’ll wind up on the street that goes to the grocery store. But it’s pretty clear that’s not you best move.

Your best move is to back up to the last street you were on and go a different direction.

Your goal was to get to the grocery store, but your best move in that moment was to put the car in reverse and try a different tack. For just a minute, you were not moving directly toward the grocery store, but you were still making the best decision to ultimately get you there.

So you back out, turn the other way down that road, and wind up at the grocery store a few minutes later.

It’s ok to back up occasionally

Similarly, you may end up at a dead end for your career. Sometimes, the best way to get where you want to go is to back up a little bit and go a different direction. That might mean going backwards in terms of salary for a short time so you can eventually get where you want to be.

I’ve done this three times in my career. The first two times, I took a small pay cut—around 5%—to gain new experience in a new industry. The last time was two years ago when I took a 100% pay cut to start this business.

The good news is that even when you take a pay cut, there’s room to negotiate your starting salary just like when you start any other job. You may not be able to negotiate the same salary you were making before, but sometimes a small pay cut is the best way to get where you’re going.