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I am starting the process of transitioning out of a career in banking and, hopefully, into a career in software engineering.

One issue that I know will come up that I'm at a complete loss at how to handle is that of salary expectations and salary negotiations.

The primary issue here is that I do make a lot of money right now, and I am more than willing to accept a significantly1 lower salary to be in a career that I know I will enjoy tremendously more than the one that I have right now, and to have a better work-life balance.

  1. Since I'm not currently a software engineer, I only have a vague idea what is a reasonable salary. I know the question of "what are your salary expectations?" will come up, and I don't want to run the risk of lowballing or overshooting what is reasonable. How do I make it clear to the recruiter I lack information here, but do it in a way that doesn't immediately cause me to be overlooked?

  2. I have no idea how to make it very clear to any recruiters that I am willing to take a very large pay cut. I want to make it abundantly clear that just because I make a lot of money right now, that I really am okay with taking a large pay cut and I am willing to be in the range of reasonable salaries for a software engineer?

1: I want to be very clear about this. I'm not talking about being willing to take a pay cut of a few or tens of thousands of dollars; I'm talking about being willing to take a cut to total compensation of materially over a hundred thousand dollars. This is not a humblebrag, I implore you to not take it that way, I just feel I will get more helpful answers if the scale is understood.

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    This question can either be answered with a simple "I am willing to take quite a hefty pay cut in order to realign myself into a career that I will enjoy", or you're asking for something that we can't easily answer in this context. Salary negotiations are a very, very broad topic, and explaining how to pick not only a fair salary for a given field (without knowing your skill level/the company you apply to), along with explaining how to go through the negotiations themselves is far too much to ask. – acolyte Jul 23 '13 at 13:43
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How do I make it clear to the recruiter I lack information here, but do it in a way that doesn't immediately cause me to be overlooked?

You might start by improving your information here so that you don't go into an interview completely uneducated about appropriate salaries. Look through some of the job sites that server your market area - many of them have salary ranges. Also, look through http://salary.com/

Instead of making it clear that you lack information, try to make it clear that salary isn't at the top of your needs list - that, for you, the career change, and what you hope is a better work/life balance is far more important.

I want to make it abundantly clear that just because I make a lot of money right now, that I really am okay with taking a large pay cut and I am willing to be in the range of reasonable salaries for a software engineer?

You told us that you are willing to drastically reduce your salary in order to change careers. What you wrote is a strong story. Tell the interviewer that, as well.

I once hired an individual who had been a Senior Vice President at a software company, but now wanted to just work as a lower-level Developer. He was in a place in his life where he no longer needed to be the primary financial support for his family, and wanted to go back to a position that he had enjoyed a lot. He was willing to accept a huge salary drop, just as you are. He worked out ok (he actually wasn't a really good developer), but was the first to be laid off when the company started to downsize.

I hope that doesn't scare you off. It will be difficult to convince an interviewer that you are willing to take such a drastic cut and be happy. I'm guessing that you really can't know this will make you happy until you have actually tried it.

Good luck.

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Can you turn the question round? When asked what are your expectations, can you reply that you'd expect to be paid somewhere in the middle of the range, or just below the middle of the range or whatever. That way you've said that you expect to be paid commensurate with your abilities, but you haven't gone as far as saying you expect x dollars.

Or can you ask for more help from the recruiter. Could you be more forward and proactively ask them what the salary range is then taking your knowledge of your experience, work out where in that range you think you would lie. Like You:"What is the salary range" Them:"30K-40K", You:"Oh then I think I'd expect around 34K"

Oh, and seriously, don't tell them you earn mega bucks and would be taking a substantial drop in salary. It would be hard to do that without sounding like you're bragging. Instead stress the desire to try a new career path.

  • Thank you so much for your last paragraph. This is the part I'm desperately trying to figure out how to handle. Is it permissible to not disclose my current salary or will that be viewed as a red flag? I'd upvote your answer if I could. – careerchangerhelp Jul 23 '13 at 2:11
  • I don't think I've ever asked a prospect how much they currently get paid. I have a range of salaries that I will pay and really it doesn't matter to me what the prospect used to be paid. If they accept my offer they will be paid according to the ranges in my company. If you are asked, probably you should say that you are currently working in a different industry and the pay scales don't equate to programming salaries. Then you've dodged the question and not indicated whether your current salary is higher or lower. – Derek Knight Jul 23 '13 at 2:26
  • Honestly if asked, I would just say it was a very different kind of role and therefore not relevant. – Jonathan Maddison Nov 17 '14 at 3:10

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