Quick quiz: You’re a young ad executive, and you’ve just been promoted after nine months. A recruiter calls about a bigger job at another agency. It would be your first supervisory role, and the salary jump is $25,000. What do you do?
For many people, the answer is obvious: Put on your running shoes.
That’s just what the woman in this real-life example did. But instead of being a big step up, her move was the start of a multi-year career disaster. As exciting as a new job can be, it’s a bit like stepping out into traffic.
Hopeful workers get blindsided by bad bosses, unkept promises and job duties they can’t handle. The pick-up in the labor market, with the U.S. unemployment rate at a six-year low, means more Americans will be tempted to take the leap. Some will find it’s a long way down.
The young ad executive, it turns out, had many good skills, but was blind to her limitations, says Paul Gumbinner, a marketing and ad industry recruiter. She couldn’t keep up with her new responsibilities and was fired within four months. She found another job, and was fired again within five months. Gumbinner advised her to take a job making $75,000 or $80,000 — a pay cut from the $100,000 she was making. She refused. Eventually she had a pretty good career, he says, but not before a several-year detour through “a whole series of terrible jobs.”
Moving for money
With demand hot in real estate law, one paralegal left a law firm at the end of 2013 for a $110,000-a-year job — a 10 percent salary jump. Then her new firm imploded, she lost her job and no firms would match her salary, says recruiter Jennifer Hill. She was unemployed for three months and eventually took a lower-paying job. “You can price yourself out of the market,” says Hill.
As Wall Street continues to reorganize, people are leaving high-paying senior jobs at major banks for lower-paying jobs at insurance companies and family offices, says recruiter Kate Quinn of DHR International. The appeal: longevity. A $600,000 salary for a decade or more, they figure, is better than a $1 million job that can end any moment.
Quinn saw that play out with a client who left a tumultuous bank where the head trader was changing every year. When he interviewed with a smaller European bank, he was reassured to find that everyone he spoke with had been there at least 10 years. Stability came at a big price: His salary fell from $650,000 to $450,000.
Falling for sweet talkers
The shiny aspects of a potential new post can blind you to its pitfalls. One woman so impressed top executives at a company she wanted to work for that they created a position for her. Nine months in, she’s found that the company is very resistant to change. She’s suggested upgrading technology, overhauling money-losing operations and other simple, obvious changes, says executive career coach Ford Myers. At every turn, they said no. She’s now trying to figure out a way to go over her boss’s head — a maneuver that often ends badly.
Other job-changers find that bosses who seemed so nice and normal in interviews aren’t either of those things in the end. One Philadelphia furniture executive took a more prestigious job in New York only to find his boss didn’t want any decision, however minor, made without his approval. All day the boss would monitor, question and second-guess his new No. 2’s every move, Myers says. Finally he quit and went back to his old job.
Glassdoor and LinkedIn are good sources of intel from former employees or company reviews. In interviews, ask multiple people the same question, says Gumbinner. They won’t always get their stories straight. One applicant kept asking why the job was open. He kept being told the previous person had gotten a better job. Then a senior executive came clean: “Well, this is a tough company to get a raise out of,” he said. The applicant took the job anyway, but wouldn’t budge on his salary demands.
There’s no harm in taking a chance sometimes — for more money, more appreciation or more interesting work. Just look both ways before crossing that street.