True Story of a New Graduate Attacked By His High Starting Salary

by Rich DeMatteo on September 15, 2011 · 8 comments

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The story I’m sharing today is unfortunately a real problem that a job seeker client of mine is going through.  I’m positive he’s not the first to experience an issue like this, and while I’m focusing this here blog post on new grads, the challenge he’s up against is one that hat any level job seeker could battle with.

And the problem is…

He just might be making too much money…

Hold the bananas, what the monkey are you talking about Cornz?!  Yes, I know… that’s exactly what you just said out loud.  Just relax for a second and I’ll explain our situation.

For the sake of our story, let’s just call my client Nicholas Cage.

So, Nicholas Cage graduated from college in May 2010, with a degree in Finance.  Nicholas is a smart kid, interviews well, and is generally what many companies are looking for, so he receives an offer with a way above average starting salary for new grads.

Great, right?  Hmmm…

Not long into his job (3-4 months), Mr. Cage starts to realize the company and specific job isn’t exactly the right fit.  However, he’s doing well, makes great money (which pays for fun stuff and bills), and receives a promotion just over a year into the job, so he decides to stick it out while looking looking for a new employer.

Here’s The Problem

As mentioned, Nicholas Cage wants to leave his current job (even with the high salary and promotion).  The career path isn’t exactly where he wants to be, so the search is on.  Initially, a major problem is that many companies might not want someone that is essentially starting over, even though it may be a position that’s closely related to their previous experience.  So yes, that’s one problem, but here’s the big stinky current issue…

Nicholas had a phone screen last week that went fantastic.  He told me that everything felt absolutely perfect until they asked about his current salary.  They told him that his current salary was significantly higher than what the job would pay, and they wouldn’t feel comfortable with him in that role, taking that large of a pay cut.

What Nicholas is going through may very well happen again.  Most companies don’t want to see someone take a huge pay cut for their openings.  Here are a couple reasons why:

  • It’s a risk for the new company.  When people take large pay cuts, almost all of the time they miss their larger salaries (obviously).  The work satisfaction may be higher than their previous job, but you may still find them looking for a new job way too soon.
  • New company may question the job seeker’s motivation.  Sure, maybe they aren’t happy with their current position, job, and company, but what else is making them start over in skill set, salary, and employer?

Potential Problems With Absurdly High New Grad Salaries

These next three points won’t always be an issue, just something you should consider when receiving an offer that makes your jaw drop:

  • Companies typically expect much more from new grad hires that make higher than average salaries.  The jobs are more involved and sometimes have higher stress/pressure than a strictly entry level job.
  • Because those jobs may be more involved, stressful, and challenging, the higher salary is used to keep that person around longer, when maybe with a lower pay out that person is looking to leave after a few months.
  • When the new employee finally gets tired of the work or realizes it’s not for them, it’s harder for them to find a company and position that will pay close to what they are currently making.

What Should New Grads In This Situation Do?

The very first thing someone should do is make sure the new area of interest is absolutely going to make them happy.  Imagine hating your job, but loving your high salary, and then taking a job that end up hating both the work and the lower salary.  Yikes.

It’s also important to understand that you may be starting your next job at 10-15K lower than your current salary.  I know that is awful, but be prepared for this situation.  Most companies won’t even consider someone that wants to take a 10K cut as mentioned earlier.

Network your face off.  If you have a referral in or actually know the person hiring, you’re more likely to get a job that comes with a pay cut if the company feels like they know you.

 Final Thoughts from COTJ

Nicholas Cage is going to come out on top of this situation.  He received a high salary for a reason:  he’s smart as hell, interviews well, and is what a company wants.  He’ll work his way into another company and will hopefully be happy in his new role.

Have you been through a situation like this or are you going through it right now?  What advice do you have for Nicholas?

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Tracy Brisson
Tracy Brisson

Hmmm.. I don't see issues here with the salary that Nicholas is making , or that he is a new grad, but that he wants to go into a new industry where the payscale is lower. Good for him for making a good salary in his first career, and good for him for not letting money dictate his career path. As long as he knows what he needs (willing) to live with financially and has done research on what he should be worth in his new industry and can make a case, he'll eventually land somewhere that it's a good fit. If a recruiter isn't open to hearing why Nicholas is moving into the industry and willing to take the pay cut, that's their loss. All of those are symptoms of a company that is close minded and stagnant and you don't want to be there. Salary or no, you'll be looking for the door soon enough if you feel stuck.

Beth Anne
Beth Anne

This makes me very frustrated. I graduated college in 2008 and it took me 8 MONTHS to find a job. The job I finally found only paid me $8/hr. I have recently moved and can't find a job again and everything is only wanting to pay $10/hr. I would like to eventually i don't know move out of my mothers house and get my own place and pay off my student loan and credit card debt but these companies are making it IMPOSSIBLE to do that! I really don't understand what these companies want I have a college degree and 2 years experience but I guess that isn't good enough anymore :(


Rich, You make good advice here for Nicholas yourself, the human mind is complex and a generally happy person can turn unhappy under different circumstances, especially when that human realizes that she/he can't afford what she/he could with a larger pay. Beware of illusions!!! I have not found myself in that position exactly, but I have been on a phone screen where the recruiter did not further the process once she found my desired salary. So taking it as - it is what it is and moved on... My advice for Nicholas would be, to stick to what he is will be beneficial in the long run... Would the real Nicholas Cage please stand up!!!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Tracy - We'll have to disagree on this. This is a problem that comes up often and not just in his situation. I don't know many recruiters who would be willing to take on someone who makes 20K more than what they are willing to pay. The situation may be different for Nicholas but when someone takes on a job for 20K less than what they used to be making, a few things can happen. 1. They will love the new job and not care about their financial change. (awesome!) 2. They will immediately regret their decision, and start looking to get back into what they were doing. 3. They will enjoy their job, but miss the salary. They'll look for ways to advance quickly or ask for a raise sooner than they'd like. It's not so much that recruiter's aren't willing, it's a lot of the hiring managers that feel that way too. It's a huge risk on the company to go through the hiring process with someone. And I do agree with you that a close minded recruiter is wrong, but their job is also strongly weighted on risk assessment. Unfortunately, there is a ton of risk involved. Will Nicholas be OK? Absolutely. He is definitely what people want, but he does have some battles here. If someone is making 20K-50K more than what the job pays, they absolutely have to win me over as a recruiter. I'm always open to hearing them out, but then they still need to be stronger than the other candidates who have the experience and are on track with the salary.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hi Beth Ann - Sorry that this has frustrated you. I know that you are in a different position, but everyone does have their own struggles. Keep at it and you'll be coming out of this okay! Promise.