Why "Never Work for Less Than $X" Is Horrible Advice


One of the worst pieces of advice I often see people give is to “never work for less than $X”. Certain people, often with an already proven track record within their industry, will say that newbies in the industry should not allow themselves to be taken advantage of by employers. The common way to avoid this is by setting a price floor that all should never dip below.

If you’re trying to get into tech and you have an offer from a company, do not listen to this type of advice. Don’t think back on a Medium article you saw that said developers should never accept less than $70,000 a year because anything lower than that is ripping you off. That may be true for the author, but is it true for you?

Value Is Subjective

The first flaw in this recommendation is the implication that value isn’t subjective. Change the job offer you have to an industry you aren’t interested in. Even if the pay was great, you’re trying to work at a great tech company, not Cosmopolitan. Outside of paying your bills Cosmo wouldn’t offer you much.

Is the value provided to you by the company, in addition to the pay, enough for what you are looking for in a job?

Sometimes Money Really Isn’t Everything

It’s a cliche but it’s true. So you have to ask yourself, what else is this company offering me? What benefits should I consider that may make that offer more appealing? Here’s a few examples:

  1. If you’ve always done front-end development but the company is looking for a designer, this may be the time for a small role change within your career. Opportunities like this don’t happen everyday, so maybe the “lower than $X” salary they offered seems worthwhile to pick up a new set of skills on the job.

  2. The offer is lower than that Medium article you read and even a little lower than your previous job. However, it provides the opportunity to work remotely 3-4 days a week. You won’t have the same amount of cash being sent to your bank every two weeks but you will have the time savings of avoiding traffic going to and from work. Your quality of life may improve working from home or coffee shops instead of a noisy office. You may even have some freedom setting your own schedule.

  3. You don’t like working at large corporations because you feel they don’t fit your style. While the hours will be long at a startup and the pay is a little lower, you know the smaller development team and the ability to wear multiple hats will provide a lot of opportunity to learn and develop your skill set that you wouldn’t get at other companies.

  4. You like programming but you don’t like making software as much as you’d like to. But you’ve always loved video games. So you apply at a game company that does HTML5 games and impress them with your JavaScript skills. Does the offer seem more appealing knowing that you’ll be switching to an entirely new industry? Does the offer seem fair from the employer’s point-of-view given your lack of experience in their field?

The takeaway here is there’s usually more on the table than just cash. What’s important to you in a job is different from others and that should be a factor in your decision making. Working remotely wasn’t as important to me a few years ago as it is today and a drop in salary is entirely worth it.

Foot in the Door Value

Whether you’re trying to get your first job in tech or switch to a different field within the industry, getting your foot in the door may be your first big challenge.

If a company is interested in you in either scenario they’ll likely have other candidates they could pick from with an existing track record within the industry. They have a portfolio of work, references to provide, and real on the job experience. You may not like it at first but is working for less your biggest bargaining chip? If it is, taking a temporary pay cut may be your best move to get the value of having your foot in the door with your first job in the industry.

This isn’t unlike a completely inexperienced teenager looking for work. They need work experience to prove to employers they’re a good hire but they have trouble finding a job because they don’t have work experience.

Cycle of Teenage Unemployment

As many teenagers often find by working minimum wage or under the table jobs, pay is their bargaining chip and their way into the job market. From there, increasing pay gets easier with real work experience.

Don’t let someone else’s salary requirements get in the way of what may be a good career move. Do what’s best for you.

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