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Should You Consider a Pay Cut?

You may be offered a lower salary if you have been out of work or changing careers. Are you willing to accept it?

Hannon: Should you take a pay cut

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Should you take a pay cut if you are reentering the workforce or considering a career change?

En español | When it comes to reentering the workforce after a bout of unemployment, the reality for many older workers is that they may make less money in their next job.

In the recent survey "The Long Road Back: Struggling to Find Work After Unemployment," the AARP Public Policy Institute found that almost half of people ages 45 to 64 who were unemployed for some time during the past five years are making less than they used to.

There's no sugarcoating it: The truth is, a younger, less experienced worker may not balk at a salary that to you seems insulting and a deep cut from what you earned in your last position.

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If you've been out of work for a while, you may need to rethink your make-it-or-break-it salary requirements and be honest about what number is going to work for you right now. Here are four things to factor in when synching up your salary expectations with a new job.

You're making a career switch.

One of the hardest obstacles older workers have is dealing with bias from human resource professionals who don't believe you will work for less. When you're changing careers to follow a passion, for example, it makes sense to an employer that if you don't have experience in that field, you will not resent working for less — at least to start.

Interestingly, career change was a common occurrence among the reemployed. More than half of respondents (53 percent) had an occupation different from the one they had before becoming unemployed, according to the AARP survey.

Meantime, 82 percent of respondents to a survey released last year by the American Institute for Economic Research reported making a successful transition to a new career after age 45. Of those respondents who reported that they initially took pay cuts, half of them saw an increase in pay over time after "a period of hard work and persistence."

You're ready to step back.

Do some soul-searching and be honest with yourself. Are you OK making less, for example, if you no longer want to be in a prestigious management position?

A nonmanagement position has an upside. You may feel less stress and be happier at work. It's hard to put a dollar value on that.

For many workers, this career chapter is one where it's no longer about ego and climbing your way to the top. It's one where you're genuinely ready to lose the pressure of managing others. You simply want to get back to basics and focus on work that you enjoy and honing your own skills.

Yes, this stepping back may not be what we're conditioned to do, but it might be precisely what will help you find a job you that really love and will satisfy your goals.

"Money is not everything when it comes to our work," says career coach Kathy Caprino. "There are so many other factors that need to be considered. Figure out what your top life priorities are."

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You're still career-building.

If earning a comparable salary to your last job is essential to you from a financial and ego perspective, be certain you deserve that pay based on your current skills, not on your years in the workplace.

"So much of getting what we want in life and work involves clarity, confidence and courage," says Caprino. "First, you need clarity — a solid, realistic understanding of what you have done, what you have to offer and what you can contribute to an organization, with evidence — proven metrics that illustrate beyond a shadow of a doubt what you're capable of and why someone should jump at hiring you."

The difficulty for many older workers is that they expect a certain salary level. Managers hire people who are enthusiastic about developing their careers by learning and adding skills that will boost the company and help it accomplish its goals. If your skills and experience aren't up to date, add a missing credential, or a take a class or course. The job posting will indicate what skills are required. It's hard to argue that you can learn them on the job.

"Hiring managers want to know that you can hit the ground running and effectively address the issues their department is grappling with this minute," Caprino says.

You're looking for flexibility.

Before you turn down a position because the salary is not up to snuff, ask about flexible work options such as job sharing or telecommuting, educational and training opportunities, time off and so on. Those sorts of benefits may make a lower salary more palatable.

Consider what core benefits you need and which ones you can live without. In addition to health coverage and vacation time, traditional benefits could include sick leave, short- and long-term disability insurance, life insurance, survivor income, stock options and retirement plans. If your spouse has health benefits through his or her employer, for example, you may not need them, and that can be a bargaining chip to trade for something else you want, such as more vacation days.

When asked for some "words of wisdom" for those thinking about changing jobs later in life, 17 percent of respondents in the AEIR survey cited the importance of flexibility, which included the willingness to work for a lower wage or being flexible about hours worked. One respondent wrote, "Sometimes you have to take a little pay cut, but in the long run it will pay you more."

Dig deeper to find out more about salary and benefits at the company where you will be interviewing. One place to start your research is Glassdoor, an expanding database of 6 million company reviews, CEO approval ratings, salary reports, interview reviews and questions, benefits reviews, office photos and more. This information is entirely shared by the employees. PayScale uses crowdsourcing and big data technologies to compile its database of 40 million individual salary profiles. Salary.com provides salary information for more than 4,000 job titles.

Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her books include What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and  Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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