Taking a Higher-Salary Job Isn’t Always the Best Career Move

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The following is adapted from Ignite Your Career!

The worst career move I ever made didn’t involve quitting because of a bad manager or transferring jobs across the country. It happened when I chose one job over another because it paid better. As a result, I wound up stuck in a job that didn’t use my strengths or bring me fulfillment.

I learned the hard way—and through my years of working as an executive recruiter—that taking a higher-salary job often isn’t always the best career move. The secret to career success and happiness is finding the opportunity to build your skills, use your strengths, and pursue your goals, not making more money.

I’d like to share my personal story about choosing short-term gain over long-term rewards as well as my tips on visualizing your professional goals. By following this advice, you can avoid my mistakes, advance your career faster, and choose career moves that will pay off in deeper ways than a simple bonus.

My Biggest Career Mistake

Years ago, I was working at Kraft Foods. I loved it, but at a certain point I was offered two different manager roles. One of them fit me perfectly. It leveraged my strengths, and it built on something I had done in my last job that I loved. The other job was pretty alien and uncomfortable for me, but it had a higher base and a higher bonus, so I took it.

Looking back, it was the worst career move I ever made.

I wish I had a do-over. It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot in that job—I did, but it was a grind. It called for skills I hadn’t developed and that weren’t in my wheelhouse. It did not align with my strengths, and it did nothing to progress my career toward my desired goals.

I realized this very soon after taking the job, but by then I was locked in. I had signed up for a tour of duty, and I had to complete it.

The reason I’m telling you this story is to underline the importance of keeping your eyes on the long term. Career choices are not just about what you’re doing today, or even tomorrow. They’re about building your skills and experiences so that you can figure out and ultimately achieve your long-term goals, and those goals will likely evolve over time.

Visualizing Your Long-Term Career Goals

To guide your career moves in a way that will bring you long-lasting success, you need to have a clear vision of your goals. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint, and it doesn’t matter how fast you’re running if you’re on the wrong track. Clearly defined goals will help you move in the right direction and make improvements to your skills where you need them most.

To visualize your goals, Think about your Career like a Tree:

  • Your education and credentials are your roots.

  • Your early career experience is building your trunk. Early in their careers, everyone has a wobbly little tree. But as you build your experience, that trunk gets stronger and bigger and you move up.

  • Your goal is to get high up on the trunk before you branch out.

The higher up the tree, the more branches (i.e. career options) there are. But if you branch off too early, you cut yourself off from future opportunities. That’s exactly what I did when I took the wrong job option at Kraft. I put myself on a different career path, didn’t progress toward my goals, and lost some time before I got back on track.

If I’d had a clearer idea of my long-term goals at the time, I could have chosen the job opportunity that moved me closer to attaining my goals instead of the one that paid more.

Move Your Career Closer to Your Goals

Over twenty-five years in recruiting, I have seen many people make bad moves. They are swayed by money or a title or perceived short-term gains. It’s critical to keep focused on building your skills and keeping your long-term goals in mind.

As you’re confronted with choices about career moves, I hope you’ll keep your goals in mind. A higher salary might sound like the better choice right now, but ten or twenty years down the line, that boost in money won’t be nearly as valuable as experience and skill-growth relevant to your long-term goals.

In short, every time you make a career decision, think of your tree and the goals you want to achieve, and let them guide your career in the right direction.

For more advice on building a successful career, you can find Ignite Your Career! on Amazon.

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