Sometimes it’s worth Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers. At least, this reader thinks it is… and wants to know how to do it.

How do I let a potential employer know that I will take a lower-level job than my experience would otherwise indicate in order to learn a new subject area in my profession? (In my case, a new area of law). I don’t want to sound desperate, but I would be perfectly willing to come in at the level of a 1-to-3-year associate position and pay my dues, despite my 10 years of experience, to move from a dying area of law to a more vital, long-term one. Please help!

Is a law firm gonna hire a seasoned lawyer to the junior ranks? Is this a no-brainer? How should this reader approach her next employer?


  1. Being open about it is a good start. An employer, at least one you want to work for, is going to be able to see the logic of “I want to move from a dying specialization to a more dynamic one.”

    That said, you also have to be careful not to sell your experience short. It makes you look weak to equate yourself with a much junior position and that’s no way to start a long-term relationship. Yeah, you may initially be only as productive as a young associate, but every specialization develops skills that will cross over into, and be useful in, other specializations. Which means you really *will* be over-qualified for that junior position. Point that out. Make that part of your pitch–part of what makes you valuable.

    And make it clear that you expect to succeed based on that difference. At the very least you should expect an (explicit) accelerated promotion track. An employer who cannot acknowledge that difference and partner with you in exploiting it for the success of the company is not a keeper–a fact that you should be prepared to accept even if you take a position there while you build up your credentials in your new specialization.

  2. I did this. It took a long time to climb down the ladder back into job I wanted. I had to make the sequence over a few jobs. Besides what Jacob says (which I agree) I’d advise the candidate to make it absolutely clear that the finances are all in order. That the lesser salary is not a burden to the candidate’s family.

  3. As a veteran career counselor/coach I advise this lawyer to be creative as well as truthful. Offer to treat the lower-level job and salary as “tuition” he will “pay” for learning the new legal specialization. Then, stress the added value his 10 years of experience plus the new knowledge will offer the firm at a commensurate, future salary.

  4. As a veteran career counselor/coach I advise this lawyer to be creative as well as truthful. Treat the lower-level job and salary as “tuition” he will “pay” to learn the new legal specialization. Then, stress the added value his 20 years of experience plus the new knowledge will offer the firm, at a commensurate, future salary.

  5. Ruth,

    Great advice. I am in a similar situation. I have been a CIO, who left to follow an entrepreneurial dream, only to find out that there are some really bad people in this world.

    Having moved my family around the East Coast for the past 10+ years, we’ve decided to settle in a major metropolitan area. As such, there are only so many senior IT jobs, and I’m having to convince people that even though I’ve got 25 years of experience in all aspects of IT and Software Development, that I’m the right person for leading a software development team or being and Enterprise Architect.

    I keep running into the “you have too much experience”, which really means “I’m scared to have someone working for me that has more experience than I do”.

  6. As a job search strategy coach, I would add that the candidate also needs to: accelerate his business networking including face-to-face and online networking to gain insider contacts and knowledge, research target companies which includes finding key stakeholders and hiring managers, research niche job boards, and elevate his industry profile through posting on industry blogs and forums, write articles for industry newsletters and publications, update his LinkedIn profile and become active in LinkedIn industry groups. This way he can build s professional brand of himself that matches his desired career change.

  7. Kathy,

    Congratulations in winning the “put as many buzzwords as possible in a short post” competition. While your suggestions may be good individually, if a candidate was going to do all that, he/she would never have time to actually contact real companies.

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