Transitioning to a lower-paying job


by Teri Fritsma  

Lately, we’re hearing more stories about people who are moving from high-paying, high-prestige positions to much lower-paying jobs just to keep an income after a layoff.  Are you in this boat?    

You might think that it would be easy to walk into that coffee shop or retail store and get a job.  (Who wouldn’t want to hire a barista with an MBA?)  Not necessarily.  Being over-credentialed can actually work against you, because employers are interested in finding employees who’ll fit in and who won’t leave in a month when something better comes along.

 

So here are some ideas to help you position yourself for a job for which you’re overqualified.

 

There are lots of openings in lower-paying occupations.  Find one that actually suits you. 

Believe it or not, there are still quite a few job vacancies out there, especially at the low end of the pay scale.  Go for one that you’ll actually enjoy.  For example, my very smart and highly educated friend, Anne, just got a job as a sales clerk in a fabric shop.   All her previous experience has been professional-level work, but she really loves to sew and do crafts.  She considered a bunch of different sales and restaurant positions, but finally decided on the fabric store because she knew she’d actually enjoy the work.

 

Explain why you want this job (and really mean it).

During her interview with the fabric shop, Anne didn’t avoid the topic of her previous experience.  But after acknowledging all of her experience, she went out of her way to tell the fabric shop manager that sewing was a passion of hers, and that she’d really enjoy helping customers with their craft projects.  She even offered to spend some of her own time learning new sewing techniques and terminology so that she could better serve the clientele.   In the end, she was able to convince the manager that she was a good fit for the job because she made the case that she really wanted the job — and her case was genuine and heartfelt. 

 

Make your education work for you.

When evaluating job candidates, employers don’t have perfect information, so they use education and other credentials as signals to help them decide which candidates will be skilled and productive.   The problem is that too much education can be a signal, too:  it can suggest to an employer that you’ll be dissatisfied, you won’t fit in, and you’ll leave for a higher-paying job at the first opportunity.  If you really want the job, you need to control the signal that your education is sending.  Harness your skills and communication abilities to tactfully address and counteract this signal.  If an employer can see that your extra education makes you more perceptive, more reliable, and more capable than other job candidates, s/he will be likely to envision you as a valuable employee, rather than a risky choice.  

 

Negotiate with caution. 

There are lots of tips out there for how to handle salary negotiations, but most of them really don’t apply in this situation.  You’re not trying to get the highest salary you can here — you are trying to get the job.  If employers ask what your salary expectations are, simply make it clear that your expectations are realistic and are in line with the position you’re applying for.  (Note: the current federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour).

 
“If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

(I didn’t make up that quote, but I think it’s a great one.  Can anyone tell me who said it?)  

Once you have the job, you must forget that you are overqualified.  You’re part of a new team now — and you’re probably the newest member — so your job is to fit in and do the best you can.   If you’ve found a job that’s actually a good fit for you, this shouldn’t be too hard.

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