A few days ago, a reader asked a question that many people are wrestling with – will I get back on track with an equivalent position and salary once the employment situation stabilizes? The reader outlines the scenario, so without further adieu:

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question regarding the following scenario, something I think we are seeing in this economy frequently.

  • Person becomes unemployed from Company A
  • Person pursues employment for X months (or longer)
  • Person accepts employment at Company B at SIGNIFICANTLY lower salary
  • Economy improves and positions the person IS interested in become available
  • Person finds employment at Company C after X months/years working at Company B
  • Employment at Company C has salary at or above original employment

My questions regarding this scenario are:

  1. Does it matter HOW long an employee was “in career transition” or seeking employment before accepting work?
  2. Does it matter what the age of the unemployed person is?
  3. Does COMPANY C take advantage of the fact that the employee was at lower salary at Company B?
  4. Does taking the significantly lower salary at Company B have a negative impact over the course of the person’s career?
  5. In the current (last couple of years) market, is “job hopping” every 2-3 years a “new standard”?
  6. And, is “job hopping” the “only” way to beat the cost of living increases? (in my experience, raises over time at a company never cumulatively meet expenses)

In regards to the “career effect question”, ignoring the fact that overall income is reduced through (a) unemployment and (b) reduced income from a lower paying job, how is this impacting future career development from both the person’s point of view and the hiring manager’s point of view?

I have a friend who says the hiring managers are going to ignore that “dip in the career road” and put you back on track with the new job.

In my experiences from interviewing, I’m not so sure that getting back on track is going to be a sure thing.  I think companies will do what’s best for them and take advantage of those people who had to take reduced pay.

Conversely, the employees will be the ones moving more frequently to try to make up for lost retirement income.  The more I think about it the more it seems like a tiger chasing its tail situation.

I apologize for the multiple questions, but trying to get a handle on this.  I am currently working closely towards getting a position that is probably equivalent to something I would have had coming out of college 20 years ago.  I’ll do my best at the position, but it’s hard to understand why I have to do this.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this request.

ANSWER: This is a great series of well thought out questions and I am confident that some of the community readership will be able to offer their perspective besides my own.

  1. The question of whether or not HOW LONG matters…well, it depends. If you have a skill set that is in high demand, companies will expect you to land something more quickly. If your skills are obsolete or are unique and in low demand, it will take longer. In New York State, the unemployment benefits were just extended beyond six months – an emergency measure to help the vast number of people still looking for work. This fact has not escaped industry. The higher your salary or position, the longer you can expect to wait before landing a job, especially if you limit your job search efforts with restrictions on location, industry or retraining.
  2. The question of age bias has always been around, yet a report entitled Age Bias in the American Workplace by ReportJobs.com suggests there will be a shift over time. Granted this research was completed prior to our economic blip, but I believe it holds great insight into why someone might be experiencing age bias and how to overcome it.
  3. There are a number of factors to consider when evaluating if a company is taking advantage of hiring someone who had to take a less than ideal job and a drastic cut in pay to survive. There is a three part series on evaluating salaries and how to position it with a company. Bottom line – companies establish pay ranges for jobs based on a number of factors; it is up to you to show what you bring to the relationship to warrant a higher salary.
  4. Yes, there is a negative impact on your career if you stay in the same position. Sometimes a foot in the door leads to rapid promotions inside a company because you are a known commodity. If there is limited opportunity for internal movement, continue your networking and move to a job that reflects what you left.
  5. Job hopping has been around longer than the last few years. I am part of the baby boomer era; my rapid rise over 20 years was a function of moving inside a company or making a move to another company. Careers are defined by what you decide to do, not by the company you work at. Hiring managers and the companies you work for are a support system. You have to own it.
  6. Companies provide security over career trajectory. No matter where you work, become the most marketable person you can by learning new skills and be ready to evaluate whether to stay or go.

Has anyone else had a similar situation? What do other HR and recruiting experts think?