Is taking a demotion career suicide?
June 20, 2013 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I've been out of work for over a year, and the job search hasn't been going well. I recently received an offer that is $15k less than I was making at my prior position, and is a demotion in title(From "Senior Programmer", to "Developer I"). I'm very discouraged, but feel like I don't have much choice, given the financial situation I'm in. Will I be committing career suicide by accepting it? As always, complicating details inside.

Up until about a year ago I was employed as a web developer. I've only had two jobs in my ~15 yr. career, as a developer. This seems to be a mistake in the tech industry, as it seems the only way to get a jump in salary or title at most dev shops is to leave for greener pastures, and my skills and salary had stagnated somewhat at my previous position, prior to a bankruptcy imposed layoff, in early 2012.

I don't have latest and greatest web technologies and buzz words on my resumé, I don't have any public-facing examples of work I've done (My previous employment was with a single product, subscription software web-app, in a niche market.), or any code on open source projects on github that I can wow a potential employer with, and these seem to be standard requirements now for web dev jobs.

This combined with the lack of a degree, and my reluctance to commute or relocate (I live 1 - 1.5 hrs. from a couple major metropolitan areas w/ plenty of tech employment, but my general area has very little.) has really hampered my job search.

This is only the second offer I've received in my year or so of searching (I had a decent severance, and probably didn't search as urgently as I should have, following the initial layoff. I was burnt-out, and pissed off, and essentially took a 4-month vacation.). The first was earlier in my search, and I was actually excited about the position, but that offer went south due to a miscommunication with a recruiter. I was repeatedly told, by the recruiter for the position, that the employer was open to telecommute, and when they finally made an offer, it was contingent upon relocation.

Since then I've had other interviews, but nothing that has gone beyond a first or second round.

This latest interview went well, they were happy with the example code I wrote, and though I wasn't very excited about the industry, the office environment, or the commute, my potential coworkers seemed like good people, and the position is a good fit for my skill set (I'd be able to get up to speed and contribute pretty much immediately, and have the opportunity to expand into some areas that I'm interested in, and should be more current in, as a web developer.).

However, my interactions with HR have left a bad taste in my mouth. I received a call a day or so after the interview, from a women in HR, where she stated the high range of the salary they were looking at for the position was approx. $8k less than I was making in my prior job. I tried to act positive, and said that depending on other aspects of the position, and the potential for advancement, that might be acceptable. Didn't hear anything for several days, and was expecting a response by Friday, or Monday, based on what I was told in the interview. So I figured the position was offered to someone else, based on my salary discussions with the HR position.

Cut to yesterday evening, I received an email with an offer letter and a salary of $7k less than the figure I had already previously discussed w/ HR, and only two weeks vacation, w/ no opportunity to accrue more.

Am I wrong to feel insulted? It would be one thing if they said, "I'm sorry, the previously discussed figure is the most we can offer.", but they already knew that figure was low, and came back w/ an offer that was even lower.

I feel like I'm backed into a corner, and don't have much of a choice. Like I should just suck it up, and take the job, get back on my feet financially, work hard and kick ass, and start looking for something better after a year or so at the new job.

OTOH, I feel like taking such a large pay cut would be the final nail in the coffin on an already mediocre looking resumé, and I'd be forever stuck in dead-end, mediocre dev jobs if I accepted it. Not to mention, it's not going to do much for my motivation or overall job satisfaction to be resenting a new employer from day 1.

What to do? I have a throwaway email address of
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Take the job and keep looking for your next jump. Having a lower-level job isn't great on a resume, but having no job at the present is even worse. Discrimination against the unemployed is a very real thing, and by taking this job you sidestep that.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2013 [20 favorites]

When I look at programmer/developer resumes, I don't care about the titles; and they'll only know what you were making if you tell them. What I do look at is what the candidate has actually done. Do you feel that the work itself is a step down from your prior position? Can you supplement your skills (and put stuff on github etc.) while you work there (and look for your next position)?

That said, I don't know anything about web-dev positions, I'm a systems guy.
posted by phliar at 4:22 PM on June 20, 2013

Just take the job, and start earning again. You may want to figure out just why you have been out of work for a year.

Is it your job market? Are dev jobs few and far between, and no one wants or needs someone at your pay grade?

Is it your lack of range in terms of the projects you've worked on and the technologies you are familiar with?

Is it lack of credentials and lack of keeping up to date?

Is it the way you conducted your job search?

Quite frankly, it sounds to me that your decision not to relocate is playing the biggest role in lack of finding a job, and that location, rather than salary, is what is most important to you.

So if you don't want to relocate, you may just consider taking this job.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:26 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you think going back and asking about salary (and possibly title) would tank the deal? Because that's what I'd do if I felt it was an option. Particularly if they'd already quoted a higher, different salary as being within their capacity.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:27 PM on June 20, 2013

I am a hiring manager in IT. I dont have advice per se, but i can tell you about my most recent hire. Working through HR to get developers on board is hard. At my firm, HR is always slow. I would not take the low ball offer or the slow offer as evidence that the hiring manager is reluctant about you fitting into the team. At my firm, HR handles salary negotiation. Other than advocating changes in the salary range associated with the position, I don't set a say in specific salary negotiations. I think this is happening more and more. My most recent hire knew that I wasn't directly involved in the offer process. After the poor job HR did with it, I think knowing it wasn't a reflection of my attitude was all that let her take the job in the end with some feeling of dignity. HR was particularly demeaning in her case. The other thing that this scenario allowed her to do is negotiate aggressively for salary. She was certain that I was advocating her hiring after a recruitment process that found few qualified candidates. So, she pushed for the high end of the published salary, and ended up in the top quartile after 2 weeks of negotiations. If I were you, I'd ask for the 8000 as a representative of the value that you as an experience developer would bring to this position. The hiring manager wants you. HR is probably feeling pressure to close this deal and you can let it stay open a couple weeks to improve your salary. You're talking about $4/hr. it could take years to make that up.

On the title demotion issue. It's not an issue at all. The work you are responsible for leads to the next IT role, not the title.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:28 PM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

Call back HR and say, "I'd like to accept the position and I was given to understand that the salary we discussed was X. May I have a new offer letter reflecting that?" The worst they can say is no.

When you take the job, concentrate on tasks and projects that beef up your résumé. Get some new Certs, sit on a dumb committee, chair the users group. After a year or so, attack the job search anew.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

It sounds like they're lowballing you on the salary and benefits, so you'll have to make up your own mind about that part of it. On the "career suicide bit"? Nobody will really care at your next job what your title at your current job is, unless you're taking another job in the same company. Hell, sometimes even in the same company one division's "manager" is equivalent to another's "VP" or similar so a job title from one place isn't going to mean much to another company.

I've done what you're contemplating, taking a lower paying position when I needed a steady income and it had its pros and cons, but had no overall "bad" effect on my career. I'd say if you need a paycheck now, go for it, but keep your ear to the ground about other opportunities that might come up.
posted by barc0001 at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I were in your shoes, I'd definitely feel indignant and pissed off. And would have a hard time working for them. But. What I'd do is confidently/cheerfully reply to HR (even if you don't believe this was a mistake, act as though you do) saying that you're excited by the opportunity to work there but that the offer letter doesn't match what your previous negotiations indicated, and that you would instantly accept an offer at the agreed-upon rate of $$$.

I would do this fully planning to find a better gig sooner rather than later.

Then, I'd do some thinking about where you want your career to go, and try to learn the skills that will get you there. The way you describe yourself doesn't sound like you have a great narrative for why somebody should hire you. There's nothing wrong with just wanting to go to work and do a decent job for a paycheck, but my impression is that it'll be easier to get a job in your field if you're excited about the technology and have at least a little bit of openly-available work to back that up. (Programming is a large part of my job, but I'm in a wildly different situation than you are.)
posted by Metasyntactic at 5:07 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Counter offer on the salary.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:07 PM on June 20, 2013

If you were really that concerned about salary and titles, you would be more willing to relocate. As it is, you prioritize location, and this job gives you want you want: to stay where you are.

You could negotiate for a more acceptable title that will put you in a better position when you leap to a better job.
posted by deanc at 5:20 PM on June 20, 2013

What? Take the job. People frequently don't even interview folks who have had extended periods of no employment.
posted by OmieWise at 5:35 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, can you REALLY afford to be picky here? You refuse to move, your options are slim, and who knows if you'll ever get another offer under those circumstances. I don't see where you have any advantage to negotiate a lowball here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:42 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Considering the pervasive and well-documented discrimination against people who have been unemployed for over a year, you should definitely take the job. Jump ship when you find something better.
posted by twblalock at 5:44 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

she stated the high range of the salary they were looking at for the position was approx. $8k less than I was making in my prior job.
It doesn't sound like the HR person misled you; she didn't actually say that the projected salary was this figure; rather, she gave you a range. The offer just wasn't at the high end of it. Several things might have happened here, including but not limited to: a) she gave you incorrect info or the budget changed; b) they don't think your credentials match the high range salary/comp; c) they're lowballing you (and might have initially offered it to another candidate who turned it down). There may be room to negotiate, there may not.

I don't work in your field, but I work in hiring. If you took this job and got great experience and professional growth from it, the title and salary would not matter to me. In fact, it might even work in your favor.
posted by sm1tten at 6:27 PM on June 20, 2013

I had to do the same thing for my last job. They are low-balling you because you are unemployed. I personally took their offer, and over the years it has mostly been worth it. But I take a fairly passive role in salary negotiations.

If I'm a hiring manager (and I have been) and saw a one year unemployment followed by a position with a little less prestige and a little less money, it would look far better to me than just a two year gap. I would see this as someone who is a problem solver and someone who isn't "holding out for management". I think the resume pyramid rules are silly. Working is better than not, if you need the money.

However, I would definitely haggle on vacation time. That's an easy play to make- they pay you what they want, you get a little extra time.
posted by gjc at 7:05 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely take the job. The (vague) status hit in title and money is way better than slowly sliding further into unemployability.

I think you should push back on salary, and if they won't budge, accept whatever they do offer. In your shoes I might be scared to push back, I might not actually do it, but I think it's the correct move.

You can start looking for a new position today, btw. No need to wait a year.
posted by mattu at 7:07 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This isn't a demotion. Right now your job title is 'Unemployed.' 'Web Developer' is a big promotion from that.
posted by Asparagus at 7:15 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

From the OP:
It looks like the consensus is to take it, which was what I was reluctantly leaning towards.

Some clarification though. It seems many responders were assuming this was a local position. Not only is it a less-than-attractive offer, but it still involves a lengthy commute.

I've only recently expanded the geographical range of my search, out of necessity, and this is the first offer I've received since branching out. So to those who say, "take it, 'cause you wanted to stay local, and it's local." Well, it's not local. It is still, however, the only thing I've got going right now.

Second possible wrinkle: In the time since I posted, I received a request for an interview at a company I had a phone screening with a while back. A position I'm actually excited about. A long way from an offer, yes, but it's much more attractive position, regardless of salary, were they to make an offer.

I don't feel I can push off the actual offer I have for long though. Isn't it generally thought as pretty unprofessional to leave a position you've just recently started, or to back out prior to the start date, if a better offer materializes?

Enough threadsitting. I just wanted to thank everyone for their insight, and offer a few clarifications.
posted by mathowie at 8:13 PM on June 20, 2013

I tried doing some recruiting in the early 2000s for a friend - one of the things I thought then which isn't true anymore (if it ever was) is the idea that people get tarnished by things like this. One thing the economy has done for us - people are far more understanding about career twists. Nthing - being employed is better than unemployed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:14 PM on June 20, 2013

Jobs are not marriages. If some other better employer offers you a job after a very short tenure at a current position, it's not uncommon to just make the jump and never mention the 2 weeks you worked for X Corp unless asked directly.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:05 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I've seen employees get hired on and bail for a better offer a week or two in and all I hear and see is a little envy and no bad blood. If you had a very small world industry to worry about I would be wary but this context wouldn't concern me.
posted by lordaych at 9:54 PM on June 20, 2013

We had a guy at our place last 2 days before leaving. I'm sure he doesn't put it on his cv. Leaving after only a couple of months might look bad, but then in the context of unemployment and lesser job titles people will see what happened.
posted by plonkee at 12:03 AM on June 21, 2013

The company offers you 15K less than you said you wanted to earn. They do that because they know you're desperate for a job after being unemployed for over a year, but with that comes the risk (for them) that you keep looking for a job that suits you better. It's just business to them, and it should be just business to you. I think having a new job offer very soon counts as a "nice problem to have" and not something to worry about at all.
posted by blub at 12:43 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

> it's much more attractive position, regardless of salary, were they to make an offer.

> Isn't it generally thought as pretty unprofessional to leave a position you've just recently started

Yes, kinda, but at the same time, most people would consider it reasonable. Don't let that word unprofessional kneecap your long run best interests.

Just make sure the better offer is rock solid before you announce your departure.
posted by mattu at 5:58 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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