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Is it okay to take a demotion to work for a better company?

In his weekly advice column, Maynard Webb reminds us to make the most of our careers.

Is it okay to take a demotion to work for a better company?
[Source images: antoni halim/iStock; Bigmouse108/iStock]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I’m thinking about going to a better company with greater potential, but it means accepting a lower position. Is that okay? And have you ever done this?

—East Coast-based manager

Dear Manager,

Congrats on landing the new position and don’t be afraid to accept an exciting role just because the starting title, or even salary, might be lower than what you currently have. This is absolutely okay.

It sounds like you’re considering the long view, which is always necessary. You are wise to prize what will give you the best opportunities for the future. Perhaps you have a better title and make more money where you are, but maybe there are risks, too—for example, if it’s a private company that’s struggling. You may be weighing where you are against going to a bigger company with more opportunities and a chance to get your title back in six months. (Also, on a side note, some companies have title inflation so roles may sound bigger than they are—one reason I think you should never concern yourself too much with titles.)

I’ve made a job change that in some ways might be similar to the one you’re pondering. Back when I began my career at IBM, I went from a “nonexempt” role where I was paid overtime, to a salaried position, which offered more opportunity for growth. The conundrum? I made much more money in the first role. With overtime, there was a real chance to increase my earnings: If I worked on a Saturday, I made time and a half; if I worked a holiday, I was paid double and a half. There were late shifts I could add, which had a 10% premium. I was eager to take all of these odd hours, and in doing so I was making far more than the role typically paid.

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I needed that extra money, but always knew I would face a situation where I would have to give it up if I was offered a position that didn’t pay overtime. When that time came, I accepted it, because although it was painful in the moment, it was the path to a better future.

Now, it’s not easy to take a pay cut. You still have the same responsibilities and you have to take care of the people you’re accountable for. In my case, it meant taking a second job. My family didn’t see much of me, but we found a way to ride it through. And I did receive promotions in short order, which in hindsight makes it look like a smart move. Changing the track that I was on changed everything.

Later, I accepted another job that seemed to some to be a step back. I left my job as a “director” of a networking company in Texas and took a job as a “senior manager” at a public company in California. It was a lesser title, but it paid better, and relocating to California, and being in closer proximity to the many opportunities it offered, was a much better place for me to secure a better future.

Whatever company you choose, it’s important to know that you’re the one who’s truly responsible for making the most of your career. Once you realize that there’s no sure thing and no safety net, it’s very freeing. After you’ve made this crucial decision, capitalize on it. Go make yourself successful in your new role and don’t look back!

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