How to maintain your salary when you change careers

We’re living in the era of The Great Resignation — a time when people around their world are quitting their jobs in droves and exploring new fields. But this trend begs the question: Are workers bagging jobs in new fields by taking pay cuts? Well, they don’t have to.

As naively optimistic as it sounds, it is possible to change your career while making the same amount of money you’re used to. The five tips below could help you maintain your salary when you change your career. 

1) Know what you want and go after it

It may sound obvious, but knowing what you want and going after it isn’t simple. You have to be brave enough to do both if you intend to maintain your salary. Josh Jones, a senior recruiter at Jobvite, explains why they are crucial steps. 

“Job seekers should decide what matters most to them before they even start to negotiate salary. For example, they may be changing careers not for more pay or even to maintain a current salary, but because they want a better work-life balance or a different work culture. It is imperative to take time to decide which benefits are most important for you. 

Some job seekers may also look for equity in the company, better healthcare benefits, or the ability to work from home. No matter what you want, write down each benefit, and rank it in order of importance before discussing pay. During the negotiation, you can offer a concession related to a benefit that isn’t as important in exchange for what you most want from a new employer. 

And, regardless of the field, know the market rate for the job you are applying to. This will give you an idea of the salary you can expect. Once you know the average salary, you can negotiate accordingly. Even if your new field has little in common with the field you have experience in, there are always skills and competencies that apply across industries.”

2) Be objective

It’s easy to let self-doubt and fear overcome you when you think of making a career change. In life, it’s important to be objective instead of seeing everything as black and white. The same philosophy applies to your career too. Bethany Corbin, the founder and career coach at Legal Adventuress, talks about the importance of being objective to explore your options.

“I’ve seen a lot of clients who have taken time during the COVID-19 pandemic to reevaluate whether they are happy with their careers or whether they need to change course. Most clients considering a change express two fears. They think they are too old to make a change and are stuck with their chosen profession. Otherwise, they believe they will have to take a salary cut to pursue a different career. Both these beliefs are untrue.

When clients come to me, I encourage them to think about their skills and not just categories of professions (doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc.). I want to home in on what they’re good at, what they enjoy, and what they dislike about their current job. For instance, a lawyer may be dissatisfied with the long hours and pressure associated with litigation. She may want to be a children’s book author instead. But why? What is driving that goal? In all likelihood, it’s the client’s passion for writing and storytelling, which she doesn’t use in a litigation setting. 

I encourage the client to stop viewing her current field as black-and-white. There are many legal job opportunities that don’t involve litigation. She could use her writing skills as a transactional attorney or freelance as a legal brief writer.” 

3) Seek support to reprogram your mind

While making a big life decision like a career change, it’s necessary to have a support system. Like-minded, inspiring people can not only be your sounding board, but they can also give you a fresh perspective. Alexandria Butler, tech entrepreneur and founder of Sista Circle: Black Women in Tech, shares how members of her online community provide support.

“Against the backdrop of The Great Resignation, members are making the intentional choice to ‘choose their own adventure.’ This is an act of reframing what it means to work so that they can stop getting excited over crumbs from the corporate plantation. It means releasing the programmed conditioning, limiting beliefs, and ingrained doubt to learn the skills necessary to properly negotiate your pay.

My number one tip for job seekers is to tap into their community for support. Irrespective of your race, gender, industry, etc., support is crucial to get new insights and exchange ideas. Lean into safe spaces to receive and offer support to people in a similar situation.”

4) Rewrite your resume as a story

Although modern resumes have to be full of keywords, no one said they have to be boring. Debra Wheatman, a certified professional resume writer and founder of Careers Done Write, says that your resume should be as engaging as a story. 

“To maintain your salary when you change careers, make sure to write a strong cover letter. Your letter is an opportunity to share your story. Discuss why you are making a move, and how past performance demonstrates your ability to add value in the new role. Reference your transferable skills and how they will be valuable. Remember, you might need to do some work to fill in any experience gaps. For example, if there are areas in the new field that you are missing, consider participating in some training or education to show the alignment.

“I engage with my clients to help them understand the key themes they want to share. Examples from their experiences, transferable skills, and soft skills make an impact in a new environment.  We work together to highlight these. For example, I have numerous clients who decided to switch from academia in higher education to industry. In these cases, I showcased relevant examples of projects that complement work done in a traditional corporate setting while also showcasing collaboration, analytical thinking, research, and decision-making. Because these are things that take place in all industries and positions.”

5) Perfect your personal brand

Everyone needs a personal brand today, and it is crucial for job seekers. Lakesha Cole, a publicist and founder of she PR, talks about how it ensures you win over potential employees. 

“Your personal brand is your reputation and lasting impression. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It validates your resume, professional accomplishments, and likeability factor. Your brand can be anything from your LinkedIn profile, elevator pitch, interview skills, and thought leadership. Having a solid personal brand increases your likeability and marketability.

How does this help? Pivoting to a new career begins with a concentrated effort to make you a more winsome job candidate. Focusing on building your brand is a long-term strategy. A personal brand helps you gain confidence, build credibility and reputation, showcase your specialty, attract ideal opportunities, and increase your value. 

But most importantly, your personal brand is what gets others to know, like, and trust you. Personal branding is all about building connections and relationships, which is essential to changing careers. For those relationships to work, we have to know, like, and trust each other. This age-old principle is indeed the deciding factor for most opportunities.”