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Right Job, Wrong Salary?



As staffing manager for Comforce in New Jersey, Penne Gabel has noticed a change in HR job seekers' attitudes in recent years: Many candidates for human resources positions are now willing to accept lower salaries than they previously earned, because they're worried they can't expect a strong salary in a new position.

Gabel herself estimates HR salaries have fallen approximately 10 percent to 15 percent in her region. "Many companies are expecting candidates to take a pay cut and carry more of a workload, because HR departments have become extremely lean," she explains.

Given those economic realities, should you accept a lower salary than you're accustomed to? Ask yourself the following four questions to help you make a decision.

What's Your Market Value?

Marcia Merrill coaches clients through career and life transitions. She points out that knowing current market value for your position is an important first step. If your last salary was higher than the current market value, you could waste a lot of time looking for a situation that doesn't exist. Research the market by reading salary surveys, reviewing salaries posted in job advertisements, talking to people in your network and checking out the Salary Wizard. If your expectations are unreasonable, it's best to know before you embark on a disappointing search.

Can You Afford It?

If you're offered a lower salary, you need to determine your bottom line, or what career transition consultant Billie Ruth Sucher calls the "walk-away point." Sucher says you should decide on this before you start your job search. Factor in all your expenses and determine the salary you need to earn in order to maintain your desired lifestyle.

Of course, for some job seekers, any income is better than nothing. If you feel that way, you should recognize that a new position is not a long-term solution, suggests Debra Feldman of Job Whiz. "Look at it as a job, not a career," she advises. "Keep looking for the position you really want; otherwise, you'll be unhappy and resentful in your new job."

Will It Make You Happy?

Now you need to think about job satisfaction. Career coach Randy Block says that if the position uses your talents, knowledge and experience, salary should not necessarily be the foremost concern. After all, accepting a position you don't want just because the money's good is a sure way to make yourself unhappy.

If you're unsure how you feel about a position, imagine yourself in the job. See yourself arriving at the office each morning, interacting with the people, handling the workload and eating lunch in the cafeteria. If this excites you, you may be able to live with less pay.

Will the Position Evolve?

Consider the opportunities for growth as well as "how the job fits into the corporate hierarchy," suggests Feldman. These days, some job titles no longer mean what they used to. For example, as an HR director, you may resist the idea of accepting a manager's spot, but first be sure you understand the title's meaning within that organization.

In some companies, the HR manager is the top HR position, working directly with the CEO and other senior executives. The exposure and challenge could outweigh considerations of title or salary, particularly if the company is growing. Keeping all of this in mind will help you determine whether you'll be able to move up to a more acceptable salary level.

Your answers to these four questions can help you choose the best situation for you and your career. If you're still undecided, Sucher offers one last, simple question to ask yourself: "Is this the right job at the wrong salary, or the wrong job at the wrong salary?"

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