So you’ve decided to change careers. It’s a big step. You’ve heard the naysayers—spouse, mother in law, drinking buddies—warn you it’s a gamble, especially in this economy. But something inside you says what you’re doing now is not only a downer, but a dead end, emotionally unsatisfying. If you were laid off, the decision’s a bit easier, but still scary. For starters, you’ll probably have to take a pay cut because you typically aren’t worth as much in your new career. You’ll be competing with young grads, and even they might have more experience, since many have taken internships in their field.
To avoid the “sticker shock” of seeing your salary nosedive in your new career, it pays to do some research up front—before you hand in your resignation, even before you start really entertaining the thought of switching careers. One way to find out what you’re worth is to check the US Census Bureau. Find your new career classification and look up the pay scale for beginners with little experience.
Many companies use standardized salary databases, which you can glean from scouring job ads to see what they pay for newbies and various plateaus of experience. This information is also available in college career databases. If you’re an alumnus/alumna you can access this information to get an idea of what your degree will get you in this new career. There are all sorts of sites on the Internet that can help you figure out what you’d be worth to an employer. These sites will show the skill sets you need to perform the job and the compensation you can expect—as a newbie.
If you hold a degree in a discipline that remotely applies to your new chosen career, so much the better. That said, you’d probably still have to start near the bottom. On the other hand, if you picked up any skills in your current field that you can apply to your new chosen career, you can probably add a year’s worth of experience on any salary scale. If, for example, you’re familiar with certain broad-based computer programs or you have good presentation or sales skills, these may be transferred to your new career. If you supervised a team, or had large budgetary responsibilities, this too can be considered a cross-career transferable skill, and you can probably add another year’s worth of experience to the salary scale.
The other thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out what you’re worth in your new career is the geographical area. Big metro areas will pay more for talent than rural areas. The exception would be creative/professional pockets in outlying suburban areas like Silicon Valley or Med-Tech areas like north San Diego. Keep in mind that companies have calculated the cost of living in each of these areas and know fairly well what you need to live there.
One thing I used to do to find out what companies are paying is to attend business mixers in my area. Talk to people and ask them what the salary range is for different levels of a career in their company and how they regard certain types of indirect experience.
Ready to change careers? Know what you’re worth before you leap.
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