Dealing with being overpaid and career ceiling
July 5, 2019 10:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty much at the top of where I can go at my current company, the problem is I realized I'm overpaid and leaving means a paycut. Stay or go?

I hate asking this question as it seems like a humble brag, but I swear, it isn't and I'd like some outside perspective. Essentially as the title suggests, without moving into management or a pure coding role at my current employer, I've pretty much hit where I can go at this company in 6 years. I'm good at it, I mostly like it, but I can see the beginning of the landscape changing in my industry and my current role won't exist without some significant changes. That's not saying anything about if my company actually survives which I'm highly doubtful they'll be around in 5-10 years without a major merger / buy-out. Overall, between the lack of faith in my company and my personal feeling that my entire industry is going to be changing has me looking to be proactive and get ahead rather then be reactive and playing catch-up when it changes.

My problem is two fold:
1) I work in a specialized field as a jack-of-all trades but I've pretty much transitioned into a hybrid report writer, business analyst, help desk, implementation specialist. I am qualified for a decent amount of jobs, but the specialized nature makes it so the longer I'm in my role, the more I'm qualified for the same industry but switching to a more general IT role will require some finessing in explaining to other employers. One of those, I spent 10 years selling refrigerators and now want to sell cars type deals.

2) The bigger issue by far is the fact that it quickly became apparent that I'm overpaid and this is just getting worse. I've been looking at multiple sites, interviewed for two positions, talked to some industry contacts at other companies and I'm easily making 15K over what market rate is, 35K was the worst gap I found (from being offered a position). I say it's getting worse because I'm pretty much guaranteed a 3% raise each year. Even looking outside in other related industries, assuming I don't need to take a step back to reskill myself, I'm still looking at 5-10K paycut. I'll put it this way, I'm making slightly less then some consultants in my same field and do a fraction of the work. I was smart and never really adjusted my living standards to this outside of my retirement funds, general investments, and savings but it's still a gut punch.

Overall, I'm just not sure when to pull the trigger and how to deal with the fact that whatever I decide - it's going to come with pretty much a demotion and decent pay-cut. The longer I wait, I think the worst it's going to be but at the same time, 5-10 years is alot of money when I know I'm stable for at least 5 years. On the other hand, the sooner I start trying to get back up to my current payrate with reskilling, the sooner it happens.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I'm good at it, I mostly like it, but I can see the beginning of the landscape changing in my industry and my current role won't exist without some significant changes. That's not saying anything about if my company actually survives which I'm highly doubtful they'll be around in 5-10 years without a major merger"

I'm sure you already know this, but things in Tech are constantly changing all the time. 5-10 years can be an eternity in Tech years. I would ride out your current position as long as possible while learning new skills or improving your current skills. You can think of your higher salary as reimbursement for studying outside of work. Many people in Tech are already spending hours a week of their own free time to learn new things. It seems almost like a corequisite for tech jobs now. I think you have at least 3 reasons to stay. You said you're good at it, you mostly like it, and you're paid above market. Most people are lucky if their job has 2 out those 3.
posted by mundo at 1:22 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


First, you're not overpaid. The company for which you work feels they are getting value for what they are paying you or they would have shit canned you already.

Second, the fact that you are thinking 5+ years out shows you are a forward thinker. That is a good thing.

Third, I would look at this with several things in mind. One, obviously, is long-term total pay. Two, is as you recognized, skill set. Three is a more intangible of personal fulfillment and enjoyment.

Put aside the pay for the moment. Where do you want to be 5-10 years from now? Then work back to the job today that puts you on that path. Combine that with what you think your industry will be like down the road and which companies are likely to get there.

I would be quick but not in a hurry to find the right next job with the right company. If it takes you a year to find it, so be it. Bank as much as you can in the interim.

I think your mindset should be to look for the right opportunity, not for a job. If all you want is a job, you already have one that pays well. What you don't have is an opportunity to grow and expand your role.

I am old, in my 50s. It is my experience that when I put the money aside and looked for the right opportunity, the money followed not too long afterwards.

Bet on yourself, not on the company over paying you for a few more years. You're a better bet than a company you think has no independent long-term prospects. Be proactive, not reactive.

The pay is working as golden handcuffs. If you were my age, I would advise you to take the money. Your not my age.

Think long-term, bet on yourself and you will go far and have a successful career however you define success.

Believe in yourself. You have a good head on your shoulders.
posted by AugustWest at 1:29 AM on July 6 [12 favorites]


If it makes sense for your industry, this sounds like the perfect time to earn an advanced degree or additional training. With a current surplus of both time and money, you really have a great chance to set yourself up well for your next opportunity.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 1:42 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


I would start putting away at least 10k, if not the full 15k, so if/when you need to move on, the paycut wont feel like a paycut and you'll have a comfortable cushion or even money to retrain if that's what you need to do. FWIW, people have been predicting the death of PHP for at least 10 years and I'm still going strong. You never can tell what will happen in 5 years in tech
posted by missmagenta at 2:23 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


First, your current paycheck is a strong card to play in negotiating other salaries. That might get you a salary above market rate at another place.

I would focus on what salary you think you need to be making to meet the lifestyle and stress levels you want (that includes how much savings, retirement, travel spending, etc you think a pretty good life in your terms would include). If you get an offer that meets that amount and would otherwise improve your life from your current position, it’s a no-brainer even if it’s a pay cut.

I took a very large pay cut when I moved from a high stress, short term job to a lower stress, long term one, used my prior pay to negotiate a higher salary at my current job than I would have gotten otherwise, and haven’t regretted it for a moment. There are some people for whom the paycheck amount is really important status-wise the way titles are for some people—I knew myself well enough to know that didn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t sound like it’s a concern for you either.
posted by sallybrown at 5:23 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Unless you've had failed negotiations with actual offers in-hand, I wouldn't put much stock in salaries you've seen. It's unlikely you are paid as much relatively as you think.
posted by so fucking future at 8:24 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Overall, I'm just not sure when to pull the trigger and how to deal with the fact that whatever I decide - it's going to come with pretty much a demotion and decent pay-cut. The longer I wait, I think the worst it's going to be but at the same time, 5-10 years is alot of money when I know I'm stable for at least 5 years. On the other hand, the sooner I start trying to get back up to my current payrate with reskilling, the sooner it happens.

If you know* you're stable for at least five years, you're in pretty good shape. Putting away more money and getting training, as others have said, is good advice.

Have a good think about what you want to do and see if you can start morphing your current role into that. Start networking and putting your signals out into the universe now or very soon. Is there anything in your current position you can do to start making other employers start reaching out to you?

I might be an outlier, but I've had better luck in tech being pulled in to companies by peers than applying around. What can you do to get others to lobby on your behalf when the time comes?

Don't jump prematurely, if you have five years of runway, use four of them to keep packing way your current payrate and then start hunting for a new gig. As others have said, a current salary is a good negotiating point. But in my experience a past salary is less so if you are laid off or otherwise unemployed.

* Nobody knows anything. I was happily setting up my home office in the house I finally bought, thinking my company was stable and my position in it was stable, when I got the first text from a friend asking if the rumor our company was being bought was true. It was. I am pretty much in a similar boat as you.
posted by jzb at 1:08 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I was in a similar position about a year ago (similar-ish role too).

My company was small, and there were other issues, but they were paying me more than they wanted, and less than I wanted. When I would look at seemingly comparable positions, some paid 20K more, and some paid 20K less.

Over time, I felt my role becoming less valuable (this does not sound like it is your situation). I was capable of doing a lot, but the company didn't really know what to do with me, and when I took initiative, it wasn't well-received. I was a jack-of-all-trades and could figure technical things out, but ultimately they needed someone more specialized. I wound up being laid off, and took the time to prepare myself to move into an actual coding role (which I've done now, through what seems like sheer dumb luck).

I wish that I had picked an area of programming focus while in my last job as it would have saved a bunch of time. Something like a specific stack (be it for data science, web development, data engineering, or even something like salesforce app development). I love being a jack-of-all-trades, but over time I've realized that it can be a liability in the job-hunt unless you're looking to be in the start-up world (and even then, I would recommend having a very specific role with additional skills - t-shaped).

It sounds like you have the option to move more into a pure coding role at your job - what's keeping you from that?

The different parts of your job right now make it sound like you could be a good fit for a technical product manager role. I think that that's a role where it's more acceptable to be a jack-of-all-trades.

I think your two options are 1) re-skill, or 2) figure out whether your mishmash of skills might already be equivalent to an existing role somewhere. For either option, I would recommend making use of your current workplace, as things can get stressful pretty quickly when you're not working.
posted by taltalim at 6:04 AM on July 7


I'm actually in a similar situation (I think): I'm paid reasonably well for my particular combination of skills (a systems analyst with some coding skills in a very specialized industry), and if I tried to change direction I'd either have to take a big pay cut to go to another industry or to keep or increase my pay I'd have to become an overworked consultant. My solution, however, has been to ride this gravy train as long as I can. I don't borrow trouble from the future, I just do my job too the best of my ability and save as much as I reasonably can. In the future if I have to find another job at lower pay, I'll do it then.

Basically, does this really need to be fixed anytime soon? Can you just work reasonably hard, keep tabs on the software industry so you have some idea of where things stand, and otherwise accept the good thing that has come your way while saving for the future?
posted by Tehhund at 2:46 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


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