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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

How to Write a Cover Letter That Says You’re OK With a Pay Cut (or a Less Prestigious Title)

Years ago, I learned about a job opening from one of my former supervisors. It was for a company I was super stoked about, though the position wasn’t exactly in line with my skill set. In fact, it appeared I had too much experience and a salary history to match said experience. If I applied, even with my friend’s recommendation, I was bound to get overlooked simply because of my background.

But I really wanted the job and did not want to be ruled out on account of how much money I’d made in the past or what was on a business card I didn’t even use anymore. A practical person, first and foremost, I did the math, and, reasoning that I could afford to make less money and accept a title that some might say was beneath my capabilities—I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I understood that the company was young and new and didn’t have the budget that my previous places of employment did. All I had to do was figure out how to convey all of this to the hiring manager.

If you find yourself in a similar position—interested in the job and fully aware that it means a pay cut or a less prestigious title—how do you explain yourself? How do you make it so that you’re in the running, your application not simply tossed aside because the company’s HR person doesn’t think you’d work for X dollars or X title?

The only way to handle this elephant is to address it head on. You’re going to have to come out and say that you’re A-OK taking a pay cut and comfortable with the title that’s on the table.

Literally. In your cover letter. Because you’re not going to fudge titles on your resume or on LinkedIn, this is where you need to be candid about your situation.

Here’s a template to get you started:

Dear [name],

With the sincerest enthusiasm, I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company].

I understand that the position you’re hiring for may be a bit junior for me based on my work history and skill set, but I can assure you that my passion for the company and confidence about how I could make a major impact if given the opportunity cancels out any pre-supposed salary requirements or expectation of a certain title. At this point in time, those things mean less to me than joining a company I respect and believe in.

[Example that proves why you’re the right person for this position.]

I hope that my prior work experiences will be considered an asset—and not a hindrance in considering me for this role. I’ve long been of the belief that salary isn’t everything, and I’d very much like to continue this conversation.

If there was ever a job to get me to reorganize my salary and title priorities, this is it.

I look forward to discussing the role further and hope to have the opportunity to speak with you about how I can be an asset to your team.

[Your name]

In that spot above, you should obviously feel comfortable adding in an additional paragraph further outlining your specific skills and accomplishments, and how they’d be a boon to the position you’re applying for. Highlight work and projects that prove that you’re the best candidate for the job—even if you might not be the candidate the company had in mind.

The most important thing here is being honest. If you don’t explain why you want the job, in spite of the stated pay that’s noticeably less than you were making before, you probably won’t get the attention of the hiring manager reading your resume. Without an explanation, all he or she is likely to think is, “Why is this senior-level person applying for a mid-level job?” before moving on to the next applicant, who, on paper, looks like a better fit.

Use your cover letter to tell your (short) story. If you are able to get an interview, you can offer the longer version of why you are the best person for the job, pay and title non-issues at present. Plus, there are other things to negotiate besides salary once you impress the hiring manager and make yourself the obvious choice for the role.

Oh, and if you do land that interview and aren’t sure about what to say to in regards to your specific situation when you’re asked, you can book a 30-minute session with a career coach. He or she will walk you through it so that you can say your spiel with the utmost confidence.

Photo of person typing on laptop courtesy of Shutterstock.