A shift into a completely new career doesn't have to mean a drop back to an entry-level salary, but convincing an employer you deserve above entry-level pay for an entry-level position is tough.
Companies have a set salary range in mind for every position, says Janice Litvin of Micro Search, a San Francisco high tech recruitment firm. They are not able to take into account anything about a background except the exact credentials that coincide with their requirements.
Even a slight movement from one job to another in the same field – from private to public accounting, for instance – can lead to a drop in salary.
If someone doesn't have the same [public accounting] experience, it really does involve a pay cut, even if they have general professional experience, explains Joan Kampo, SPHR, director of human resources for accounting firm WithumSmith+Brown in Princeton, New Jersey.
Buck the Trend
Despite the challenges, you can maximize your salary when moving to a new career or even a new niche within your existing career.
First, look for any links between your old job and the new position, says Michael Neece, chief strategy officer for Pongo Resume.
Suppose you move from accounting to nursing. Your accountant's attention to detail means you're less likely to make a medication dispensing error. Your ability to juggle multiple clients means you already know how to juggle patients.
When doing informational interviews, hone in on the day-to-day skills you need in the new job. List the professional core behaviors in the old career and the new career and look for similarities, suggests Rich Gee, an executive coach in Stamford, Connecticut.
Prepare a short explanation of how a few of those professional skills will boost your productivity, benefit the company's bottom line or help you excel in the new position.
Then, use the examples in a two-paragraph cover letter that highlights how your experience translates to the new position. Mention any advanced degrees or related internships that helped prepare you for the new role.
Know Your Value
Next, arm yourself with salary data from the Salary Wizard or surveys published by your new fields trade association.
Never be the first to bring up salary. Once they offer you the job, you have leeway to start the discussion about how you should be remunerated for your professional skills, Gee says.
If you're offered a typical starting salary, don't fight. Instead, connect the dots for hiring managers to help them understand your value more fully. Neece suggests saying:
"In my role as an accountant, I had to have consistent attention to details, complete every transaction fully, maintain exact notes and understand the business implications on operational productivity. During my nurse training, I learned that many of these accountant-related skills provide value to being an exceptional nurse. To be a great nurse is much more than just nursing, and I feel my previous experience will help me deliver the medical services to optimize patient outcomes while working to ensure the fiscal health of the organization."
If your attempts to get paid for your prior experience fail, negotiate a compromise. Have six years of other experience? Ask the interviewer to meet you halfway and credit you with three years experience. Or negotiate an early salary review. If possible, get those promises in writing as part of your employment contract.
Get a Headhunter
Granted, he's biased, but Brad Ellis, partner and managing director for Kaye/Bassman International in Plano, Texas, says working with an executive headhunter can help executive-level candidates score a higher-than-entry-level salary. Theyll develop a story that will relate your experience to the position you're applying for to get a higher salary, he says.
Ellis says he sees this happen a lot, particularly with military candidates leaving the service and people in the business world who transition into healthcare with an MBA.
"A headhunter would likely be willing to work with someone who held a senior position in the prior career whos now applying for an entry-level position," he says.
"We sell them as more than entry level," he explains. "Say Im a business owner [with] an MBA, and I decide to go to nursing school and get my BS. Now, Im a BS but also an MBA with experience and proven fiscal responsibility. I'd position you to go in as a nursing supervisor rather than as an entry-level nurse."
Take the Job Anyway
If none of these tactics works and you're forced to take a salary that doesn't compensate you for your prior experience, don't despair. You may end up poorer, but happier.
That's what happened when Dan Sorensen of Salt Lake City used his new college degree to move from a $40,000-a-year job as a customer-service representative for a computer software firm to a $30,000-a-year job as a public relations account coordinator for The Summit Group Communications.
"Job satisfaction was a big factor in my decision," he says. "While I recognized it would be a dramatic pay cut, I felt if I didn't hate my job, it would be worth it."