Should I take a big pay cut for a really compelling opportunity?
June 17, 2016 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I recently interviewed and received an offer for a new job - it's a really exciting opportunity, a really awesome company, and a wonderful team atmosphere. But, it's a 50% pay cut in terms of total annual salary + bonus. Is it worth it?

I'm about ten years into my career, all with the same company. I've been very successful here - many promotions over the year, an extremely comfortable salary, good bonus expectations, well-liked and well known at the company. However - for various reasons mostly beyond my control - the career path I'm on doesn't have a clear 'next step' at the firm. I'm not being forced out, and I suspect that there would be a lot of movement internally to find me a clear new home if I raised any concerns given how well liked I am, but when I look forward 3-5 years from now I have trouble really seeing where I'm going to fit.

I got a call from a recruiter about a potential position that is a perfect fit for my experience, skills, and interests. I went and interviewed this week, and got an offer that same night. It almost seems like someone managed to write down my dream job and translated it to an actual role. It's at a large, well-known company, the role has a clear future path, and should be pretty high visibility within the organization given that it's focused on a major corporate initiative. The pros are clear, but the cons are big... it involves moving across the country (east coast to west coast) which means my partner would have to leave his job, we'd have to sell our house, and associated logistical headaches. I would go from a people manager role to an individual contributor role, and managing and mentoring people is one of my favorite parts of my job. And, most front of mind of all, it would be a huge pay cut - total compensation would be 50-60% of my current annual take home. Admittedly, I may currently be overpaid, but it is a lot to swallow all the same. It would probably take a minimum of 5-7+ years to build my way back to anywhere near what I'm currently making at this company.

Compensation aside, I would take this job in a heart beat despite the other drawbacks. Honestly, I think if they could get to 75% of my current comp, I would still take it in a heartbeat. I basically said this to the hiring manager this morning (negotiating against myself!), but it doesn't matter as I don't think they are going to be able to get there. I'm waiting for their 'best and final' to come through this afternoon.

How should I be making this decision? What would you do in this circumstance? Have you ever been faced with a decision like this, and what did you do if so? I'm framework oriented, I like making lists, but I just am having a ton of trouble even beginning to think through this.
posted by CharlieSue to Work & Money (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What is the cost of living difference between your east coast and west coast spots? Do you have kids, or are you planning on kids?
posted by handful of rain at 2:06 PM on June 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oof. There's a lot of cons at work here (no pun intended!)

You said "It almost seems like someone managed to write down my dream job and translated it to an actual role."

You also said "I suspect that there would be a lot of movement internally to find me a clear new home if I raised any concerns given how well liked I am"

So - can you take this dream job description, and use it as a jumping off point to write your own ticket at your current company?

Or, perhaps you could use it as a basis to work with other recruiters. "This is the description of my dream job; here are my salary requirements. What have you got for me?".
posted by vignettist at 2:08 PM on June 17, 2016 [15 favorites]

Part of the question isn't about percent pay, it's about actual raw numbers. I can understand why you didn't share them, but it does make a difference. If you're saying you currently make $150k and wondering if you can get by on $75k, the answer is yes. If you currently make $100k and your spouse makes $100k and you're wondering if you can get by on $50k (plus $100k) the answer is yes. If you currently make $80k and support your less-paid partner in his $30k job in an expensive metro area, the drop to $40k will make you feel very very poor, and you should not do that.

see study about happiness not increasing over $50k (or $75k, or whatever), and also study about how maybe that's not true.

Consider what you want your lives to look like in 10 years, and how this decision propagates forward - things like salary growth (projected income 10 years from now), stability (in which are you more likely to still have a job), family-friendliness (would it tank your career if you focused on a kid, from one path more than the other), partner's prospects in now/old city, etc.
posted by aimedwander at 2:13 PM on June 17, 2016 [27 favorites]

I would go from a people manager role to an individual contributor role, and managing and mentoring people is one of my favorite parts of my job.

If you were to describe your dream job,
  • would it include managing and mentoring people?
  • would it include staying in the same part of the country you live in now?
  • would it pay you at least as much as you make now?

There are more than a few negative things in your description of this job. And the negatives you're seeing now are just what's visible during the recruiting phase.

Remember: there are many "dream jobs" out there.
posted by homodachi at 2:15 PM on June 17, 2016 [14 favorites]

Seems like a lot of cons, plus with a big corporate initiative you never know if the high visibility means a future or the initiative tanks, whether due to logistics or politics or whatever, and then you're basically being forced out of your new company. I wouldn't do this unless you think you could find a new job easily afterward, making a salary you'd be happy with independent of all these other soft factors. Also depends a lot on how easy it will be for your partner to find a new job.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:19 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Admittedly, I may currently be overpaid

If your company is willing to pay you that amount, the market value for your skills is at least as much as you're making right now.
posted by homodachi at 2:21 PM on June 17, 2016 [19 favorites]

I would be wary because big, well-known companies can afford to pay you what you're worth. If they nickel and dime you on this, what else will they also be stingy about?
posted by corvine at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2016 [34 favorites]

The cost of living is a huge factor here. Taking a 50% paycut in Boston dollars to move to San Jose or San Francisco would be a massive disruption of your economic lifestyle. Whereas moving to Sacramento would not be nearly so bad.

That said, almost everything you said about the new company sounds bad. Don't count on a carrot dangled in front of you with a five year timeline. There may be a defined path there but you're going to be competing with other individual contributors that are on the same path plus outside hires.

Also, what does your partner feel about moving and what opportunities exist for him there?
posted by Candleman at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would absolutely never do that. The west coast is way more expensive, you will not regain your current lifestyle for years, decades, if ever. Especially if your spouse is unemployed for any length of time.

Right now you are idelaizing this job. How much do you know about the company, about that office? Will they fly you out there? Can you talk to other employees?

There are other jobs. This one fell into your lap, another one may. Or you can actively look.

Unless your husband makes millions, and wants to move to the west coast I think this is way too high risk. If you were 25 and single I'd say different.
posted by fshgrl at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

There are big parts of a job that are not in the job description. You are giving up a job you're sure is pretty good. Your new job may have a boss or manager who is miserable to work with, odd expectations, micromanagement, actually work that only maybe resembles the description at around 20%. Do not give up a sure thing with good bosses to make way less money.
posted by Kalmya at 2:38 PM on June 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'd be curious how it's a dream job if it doesn't include one of your favorite parts which is managing people? Honestly if they like you, and it sounds like they do, you should either come in at an ic level equivalent to where you are now in terms of salary and level or as a manager. If they can't do that it doesn't sound like a great move tbh.
posted by Carillon at 2:38 PM on June 17, 2016 [15 favorites]

Here's the Glassdoor list of Best 25 Cities for Jobs 2016, which includes the median home value for each city - to give you an idea of west coast housing costs.
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 2:50 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

When he was younger, my husband took a big pay cut like you describe, in a similar situation and he looks back and says it was a mistake and would never take another pay cut EVER. Luckily he got another well paid position down the road, but over a lifetime choosing lower pay can mean sacrificing a lot of things since it's not often you can just skip from one level of pay to another.
posted by catspajammies at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'd start by sketching out a potential budget if you take the job. As mentioned, cost of living and absolute dollar amount are going to make a big difference. Going from $300k in NYC to $150k in Sacramento would be fine in terms of lifestyle - you'd go from being totally comfortable to being totally comfortable. Going from $80k in Baltimore to $40k in SF would be miserable - you'd go from being comfortable to being poor.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:59 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

So, I did this. I went from a communications job in a reasonably large local NGO to an editorial position and took a pay cut of 33% down to a really low number because I got to be an editor!

Fast forward 10 years from that I still hadn't returned to my original salary, was paying daycare that ate up 80% of my take-home pay (so not even really breaking even after commuting costs, etc.) and was still loving my "dream job," had experienced multiple promotions, etc.

Fast forward another 6 years and I was in the middle of burnout without enough family income to do the things that would have really helped our lifestyle like hire someone to clean and mow the lawn. The dream job was not so much of a dream in the end, partly because the industry blew up -- but also partly because the excitement I kind of craved as a younger person wasn't the same excitement later. Okay, maybe it wasn't excitement, maybe it was SHEER EGO. I don't know.

This year I'm back in a non-profit with a return to just a few thousand a year over what I was making in 1999 -- unadjusted dollars. Not. even. kidding.

I can't say I'm sorry for the life experience, because I'm not, and I think it is very personal. But once I had kids and my priorities shifted, I pretty much missed the money more than other things because money helps a lot with children (as does time, which money can sometimes buy you.)

So it's really personal but there's my data point.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

Is there a reason these are the only two options you're considering? What about looking for another job that has aspects of your dream job but without the huge pay cut?
posted by mskyle at 3:14 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

"I am interested in this position but cannot afford such a significant salary reduction. Was this a mistake?" Leave it up to them to come up with an improved offer. If they continue to lowball you, don't just walk away, run.
posted by fedward at 3:18 PM on June 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

The cons are big... it involves moving across the country (east coast to west coast) which means my partner would have to leave his job, we'd have to sell our house, and associated logistical headaches. I would go from a people manager role to an individual contributor role, and managing and mentoring people is one of my favorite parts of my job. And, most front of mind of all, it would be a huge pay cut - total compensation would be 50-60% of my current annual take home.

I once took a huge cut in pay and it took me years to make it up. The cons you list aren't big, they are huge when taken all together. If you like where you live now, if your husband likes his job, if you both like your house, why would you do this for a job that is your dream job in fantasy but probably not in reality. As someone mentioned upthread, go for door number 3. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:30 PM on June 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

Is this a non-profit recruiting you or a for-profit?
posted by griphus at 3:55 PM on June 17, 2016

Many jobs look great from the outside but may be not so great when you are in it. Keeping aside the pay cut issue, is it worth making all those changes in your life? Probably not.
posted by metajim at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also: if you are in the middle class (the class in which no one is "overpaid") anyone asking you take a 50% pay cut has already shown their intentions to take advantage of you financially.
posted by griphus at 4:17 PM on June 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

Are you currently putting half your pay in savings every month? If not, this'll probably cut into your standard of living.
posted by salvia at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Words are cheap.

You have a great life but some insecurities (no one is "overpaid" if they are working and doing a good job - wtf??) and some very slick con artists tried to take advantage of you. I have zero doubt that if you took this position, it would quickly be nothing they said it was. I am certain.

Any large company that can't meet your current salary is an awful place to work. Doubly so since this is a role that will be fairly prominent in the company? Where is your spider senses?? This offer is insulting.

I beg you to stay with the reputable outfit you are currently with, that has a lovely workplace culture, and where you (and presumably others) are compensated fairly. Please.

I can't believe you would consider asking your partner to give up whatever they have going on to move someplace more expensive for less money. No no no.
posted by jbenben at 4:28 PM on June 17, 2016 [22 favorites]

I did something even more extreme than this. I took nearly an 80% paycut for my last job, switching from the private sector to the public sector (and moving from a very expensive city to a slightly less expensive city). That ended up being a bridge too far in the new city, and after two years (in which my salary was completely frozen), I switched to a job which pays fully...about 70% less than that private-sector job. I miss the money, of course. But I'm no longer working 60 hour weeks, and I've gone from feeding the capitalist beast to work that actually, tangibly makes my corner of the world a bit better. Without the altruistic satisfaction, though, I think I'd find it a lot harder to stomach the sacrifices involved. And I'm not sure I'll do it forever. this a "dream job" that speaks profoundly to your soul, that is in accordance with your highest values? Or is it just a nifty, intriguing challenge? Because if the latter, it's going to be a lot harder.
posted by praemunire at 4:41 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ha ha, I forgot you wrote this: "The cons are big"

I'm telling you, this was a con!

You should re-read what you wrote. The experience reads like someone (or a group of someones) knew exactly what to say to get you super duper excited and ignore all of the insurmountable downsides - moving cross country, less pay, selling your home, leaving an awesome company for a company that via your own description sounds shady + you will be uprooting your partner, too?!

I think only jealous sociopaths could lie like this, trying to convince you this considerable downgrade is beneficial for you. I know people like this exist because I live in LA, but seriously, please open your eyes. All that happened was you heard something you wanted to hear, there was no substance to this offer, and it's absolutely against your wellbeing to even consider it.

I hate to burst your bubble. I wrote 2x because I was astounded you couldn't see what you yourself related. Someone presented you a dazzling sales pitch without substance to back it up. Back away from the pretty words. It's not worth wrecking your life over.
posted by jbenben at 4:41 PM on June 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

Is the new job in the bay area? It is hard to grasp what house prices are like, here. Maybe you come from somewhere like Westchester and you think you know high property prices but I am serious when I say you need to look at recent sale properties with their sold prices (not listings!!) to get an idea of what you get for the money. It is apples and oranges.

Disregard if you are talking about, like, Davis or Portland or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:46 PM on June 17, 2016

It doesn't matter how good the job description is if they don't value the position. And they don't, because if they did, they'd pay decently for it. Unless they can't afford it, in which case maybe don't move across the country for a company that's poorly run.

The other possibility is that they do value the position, but they're lowballing you anyway just to see how cheaply they can get you.

This is not how well-run companies who care about their employees operate.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:09 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm going to go against the flow here, just a little.

The new job paying much less than your old job doesn't automatically mean the company doesn't value the new job. It sounds like it's a different job (not a manager versus being a manager), and they're in different places, and so forth. It's definitely worth considering what the pay says about how the company views the position, but that's really always true.

If I were you, rather than thinking about the money itself, I'd try to think about what the money will mean. For some people, less money means they can't make ends meet. For some, it means they won't be able to travel, will have to live in an uncomfortably small house, tolerate a very long commute, remain in debt longer, etc. For others, less money means fewer treats, fewer splurges, less money that will one day be inherited by someone. Does it mean struggling, or does it mean being less affluent? That matters, I think.

I would try to do it like a math problem, which means you need a common language, like a lowest common denominator, so you can compare. Don't try to compare money to quality of life -- compare quality of life to quality of life. How will that lower compensation change your quality of life? What would it mean for you? What's your life like if you take it? What's your life like if you don't (keeping in mind that not taking this job doesn't have to mean staying in your current job)? Pick the life that will work better for you and your partner. That's the way to be happy, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:27 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

When there's no "next step" in your career path at your current company, you're supposed to make the leap to another larger organization with better opportunities for you to expand your skill set and move up. Another option is moving into a more complex, more valuable field where you use your existing skills.

But what you are describing is effectively a career change where you are going to take an entry level position.

I almost made a similar financial decision. I was offered a job with a nice title at a prestigious university. It would have involved a move abroad to an expensive city to work on an exciting project. On the other hand, I was offered another job near the same city I was living in for twice the salary. It was hard, but basically I realized that at my age (I was in my mid 30s), I was no longer in a position to take low paid jobs, even if they were only for a few years. As time goes on,
Some paths close themselves off.

Maybe you do want a career change. That's ok. But I think that only really works where the other person in a relationship can carry the financial burden for both of you (so a 50% pay cut for you becomes only a 25% or less pay cut for the household).
posted by deanc at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Personally, I probably wouldn't consider this for long, unless you're making an extremely high wage now. I think warriorqueen's story is exactly what can happen. Your costs go up, and/or you want to work less (e.g., a back injury, an ailing loved one, a child you want to spend more time with). The half of your salary that you're willing to cut could be the half that pays for childcare, or for someone to look in on your elderly parent, or that allows you to go down to half time. I'd probably focus on finding a better next step at your current org or similar.

But if you are seriously considering it and making a budget, in addition to looking at housing, if you're planning to have kids, keep in mind that you may end up wanting to shell out for private school. You didn't say where you'd be moving, but California's average per-pupil spending is about half that of New York and Boston's (cite). I know people who grew up in the public school system and who are now contemplating private school for their children.

If you don't have any family obligations, and professional satisfaction is basically what your life is about, then my answer might be a bit different, but I'd still probably look into whether you could bargain your way into a job with a more similar wage and the piece (managing people) that you love. On preview, deanc's analysis also seems spot on.
posted by salvia at 8:15 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I very much appreciate the answers here, many of which are articulating concerns I have. To clarify a few things:

1. Cost of living in the move would go down. Think Boston/DC to a non-SF location, probably a ~10-15% lower cost of living relative to current housing, food, entertainment, etc.

2. Hours would also decrease from 60-70 to 40-50 given change in industry.

4. My partner doesn't really love his job and has been looking for an 'excuse' to leave for some time. He would be well positioned to get a comparable role given his experience in the new location.

3. The paycut is significant (huge!) but manageable. We save >50% of current income and make combined well above 350k per year. The pay cut is meaningful in terms of what it communicate about my 'value' but would not impact my standard of living in the slightest.

4. The counter offer came in; original was ~50% of current, new is 65% plus a signing bonus worth 35% of current (clearly that is one time).
posted by CharlieSue at 8:29 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't do it. I took a "dream job" like this once and it was not at all as advertised. What I've leaned since:

1) never take a pay cut unless you have to, or your current job is so miserable you can't go in
2) there are other "dream" jobs out there
3) there are jobs out there that seem non-dreamy on paper and then turn out to be a lovely fit
4) really, don't take a paycut unless you need to. Not even when your household income is $350k plus and you're saving 50%. Even at higher incomes, it stings a little and is a mild bruise to happiness levels for a little while, especially if your east coast peers you want to keep in touch with are earning at the same level and you find yourself, say, giving up a yearly ski trip to meet them in Colorado, etc. because you're trying to keep up with savings goals

If you go against my advice and take the job, be wary of subsidizing it with your savings to keep your lifestyle afloat. It's easy to say "oh, I'm just going to grab $1k from the savings for a car repair" or "no problem, first months, last months and security can come out of savings" and then realize you're not replenishing the savings pot because you're always taking just a touch more out...
posted by slateyness at 9:08 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

combined well above 350k per year

Yeah, you can certainly do this if you want to. I took about a 40% pay cut a few years ago to start a new job in a new place, and I've been really happy with it. I don't make even half of what you make, but like you, we live well within our means, and I knew we could weather the income reduction. I moved to a place with a better quality of life, and to a job that was better aligned with what I want to do. I've never regretted my decision.
posted by stinker at 10:28 PM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

The counter offer came in; original was ~50% of current, new is 65% plus a signing bonus worth 35% of current (clearly that is one time).

Ok, your turn. One great thing about their counter is that they gave you room to give back in one area -- the signing bonus -- while asking for more in the other.

First, if you haven't already, read this oft-linked piece on negotiating salary. Then counter their counter - say, just 10% of current as a signing bonus but 80% of current salary.

Also, did you ask about that clear future path you mentioned? Does it include managing and mentoring people, what salary range would apply then, how long might it take someone highly successful to get there? Can you make the case that you can do that role now instead? Or part of it, justifying the attendant salary?
posted by daisyace at 5:37 AM on June 18, 2016

More details about the two roles would be helpful, although I understand you're worried about anonymity. But, you want to manage and you're stepping away from that, so I think you need to really ask yourself if this is your dream job or if it's just that change is exciting.

Also, are you sure you would like living in Sacramento (or wherever) instead of DC?
posted by J. Wilson at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2016

Even disregaring the too good to be true aspect of the job you should never ever take a huge paycut.

Look at it in terms of lifetime earnings.

Calculate out how much this cut will cost you over a lifetime assuming you get 3% raises every year (optimism!). You will be stunned to realize how much money you potentially walked away from.

Tell the prospective employer you want at least your current salary plus a raise to compensate for the job change risk or you won't do it. If they want you and value your potential they will do it. If not..well .....
posted by srboisvert at 2:14 PM on June 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi all,

I very much appreciate the responses. I haven't make a decision yet (I have until Friday), but all the cautions advertised above are helpful to keep in mind.

I think I've decided with the revised compensation offer that the comp aspect is less concerning to me; my salary will decrease ~30%, but the COL is 15% lower and I'll be easily working 20% fewer hours, so the trade offs seem reasonable. This is a move from consulting (on a W-2) to industry, and I'm pretty senior in consulting, so it's is almost unimaginable that a move outside of consulting would keep me whole on comp. Also, I have relatively high confidence that my current company would take me back if I realize I've made a huge mistake in the next ~2 years (not counting on this, just an aside).

The big trade offs that I need to wrap my head around are moving across country and no longer being a manager. One of those can be fixed with time / promotions, one of them is just the reality of the situation. I appreciate everyone's anecdotes and thoughts. I'll update with what my husband and I decide.
posted by CharlieSue at 6:24 AM on June 20, 2016

Were you looking for a job when this recruiter called? Do you know what else is out there? I may be reading this completely wrong but it seems like you made this decision based on one cold-call about one job with one recruiter, and that seems like a mistake.

Recognize that learning about this job has highlighted ways that you're unhappy with your current job, and then learn a lot more about what *else* you could do besides these two jobs.
posted by mskyle at 7:10 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

You should not take this job. They made you an offer the same day as your interview? o_O Their offer was half your current pay, then you told them you'd take it if they came back at 75%, so they said 65% +an impressive one-time bonus? o_O It's your Dream Job? o_O at least they're giving you a week to decide? O_O

It sounds like you're bored with your current situation and you're desperate to change things up, which hey, yeah, I grok. But this is like burning your house down because it's all finished and everything works and you have nice art on the walls and OMG WHAT DO I DO NOW.

Don't jump just because you're unhappy.
posted by disconnect at 8:14 AM on June 20, 2016

Hi! Just wondering how your decision went. I've been reading The First 90 Days, which is about transitioning to new work roles and the adjustments that need to be made to be successful.

One of the latter chapters is about how, if you move to a new place for a new role, the transition isn't just for you, it's for your family as well. And how, if the family transition goes poorly, it can affect you as well (stress, energy levels, etc). The book discusses some strategies to handle that, so if you ended up taking the offer, you might want to give it a read.

Best wishes!
posted by homodachi at 11:49 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks again for all the thoughts and concerns raised here - I promise my husband and I had a lot of hard conversations covering exactly these topics. My husband also read all the responses here as well (upon reading my question, he said he thought I didn't do enough to highlight all the good things about the role and the move and all the downsides to our current situation).

After all of that, and considering all the important cautions...we have decided to go for it anyway. It's the right time in our lives to make a big change, I'm excited about being able to have a life outside of work for the first time in my life, my husband is enthusiastic for the adventure, and we will still be extremely comfortable as a family on the amount of money we will be making*.

Thanks again very much for your help!!

*One truly great thing the responses here accomplished is that I realized I had a lot more leverage to push hard on the negotiating; far from being a 50% pay cut, the ultimate step down is only going to be about 20% in the short term, with a promise to evaluate me for a promotion within 12 months (as opposed to the typical 24 months in this organization).
posted by CharlieSue at 8:58 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

That's great news! Also, I think if you'd made it clear in your original post that you were going from consulting to industry, the answers may have been a bit different. Best of luck on your new adventure!
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:36 AM on June 30, 2016

Good work! Congrats on the negotiating, and I hope you love the new job!
posted by aimedwander at 9:26 AM on July 8, 2016

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