In the early 90’s, I worked for an engineering firm who built steel mills. This company had a new technology that was in great demand. At the same time, the industry was down and most engineering firms in the steel industry were laying off people. The department I worked in designed the piping systems for the steel mill. It was led by an engineering manager, had a team of engineers, a drafting supervisor and team of draftsmen.
One of the draftsmen had been the engineering manager for a different firm, but had been laid off. In taking the drafting job, his income was probably cut by sixty or seventy percent. When I first met him, I felt sorry for him. He had a couple of kids in college and was having trouble supporting his family. My sympathy didn’t last long. The guy was extremely bitter and spent most of his time criticizing everything around him, especially the company. He blamed everyone he could for his misfortune. He ended up being a miserable person to work with and most people avoided him. He didn't last long at the company, despite being extremely qualified, capable and skilled.
It wasn’t the company’s fault that he had lost his job, or that they were paying him so much less than he had been making. When they hired a draftsman, they hired him despite his being vastly overqualified. He had a chance to prove his capability and earn promotions quickly. The company was growing and there was a lot of potential to move up. His attitude ensured he would not see a promotion, and he didn’t last long with the company.
Although this story is almost 20 years old, it has a lot of similarities today. I have been running into job seekers who are struggling to find a job that pays as well as their last position. During their career, they progressed up and received good raises. Recently, they were laid off. They are now finding it difficult, if not impossible, to find a job that pays as well as the one they lost.
This is a very difficult situation. Some people are looking at more than a 50% cut to their pay. Add to this a high mortgage, falling real estate prices and a stock market down significantly from its highs. Prospects may look bleak.
Despite the tough economy, many of these job seekers feel that they are owed a job at least as good as the one they had. Employers don't want to hear about a person's hardships or their expectations. They don't care what you think you deserve. They want to hire someone that will do a job efficiently and effectively. They will also minimize costs and will not pay someone more than they have to.
I would like to give the secret to replacing a great salary, but there is no “do this one thing and you’ll be rich” tip. The truth is replacing an income at the top end of the range for a job type may not be possible today. This isn’t what anyone wants to hear, but it is the truth. So what do you do?
The first thing you need to do is accept that just because a company paid you a lot in the past doesn’t mean you are owed that today. This is tough to accept – no one wants to take a step backwards.
Second, look at the long term potential of a position. If you could take a 50% pay cut, knowing that within two years you would get promotions and replace the lost pay, would situation be more attractive? Too many people expect to replace their lost income immediately. This leads to long periods of unemployment and no potential for promotion.
It can be difficult to accept a major cut in pay, but being bitter about it will only hurt your job search and your performance on the job once hired.