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Shall I join a start-up, even with a lower salary?

Dear Coach Joan,

I am  28 years old and have been quite successful in commission-based selling for the last 6 yrs. My income has continued to go up each year but I do not like the stress of month-to=month pressure to make my numbers. I also don’t like working weekends and missing time to socialize with my friends who have weekends off.  I do enjoy two full days off during the week and work a structured 4o hour week, which I like.  Recently, I was approached by a start-up company attracted to my sales experience (they found me via my LinkedIn profile) and they want to consider me for a strategic sales planning job in the same product line I currently work in.  I had several phone interviews and then spent a full day meeting with key managers and seeing their products, impressive! The internal sales recruiter told me that the salary would be about 40% less than I am making now, But I would get stock options, too, as a part of my compensation package.  How should I decide whether to take the position?

Unsure about a career move,


Dear Lisa,

Congratulations on attracting a new possible career opportunity. I’m always encouraging clients to keep their LinkedIn profile fresh and attractive for just this kind of opportunity to happen. Clearly yours was, and look where it’s taken you.  I am so glad you wrote because I think your situation is a common one. People often don’t know whether a new job or career will put them in a better situation or not. Partly the answer is, who knows, because we don’t have a crystal ball and many variables are at play. Sometimes start-ups that don’t look promising at all do a surprising turnaround and become tremendously successful. Other times a start-up might look very promising and have a lot of investor money pouring in, only to fail because of poor leadership, a better competitor, a technology disappointment or many reasons. So that part we just don’t know.

What I suggest you look at are these key variables:

  1. Is the work itself something you are good at:  In other words, does this work play to your strengths.  We tend to be successful in those jobs that we naturally enjoy and do well in. Is this in a subject matter that both interests you and you are good at?   You mention that your sales performance is going up year after year. That is a sign that you are good at sales!  But does that mean you are good at strategic sales planning? To me, that sounds like a different skill set.  When you are selling you are working 1:1 with a customer on providing information and being persuasive and using strong interpersonal skills. The role of a strategic sales planner is more analytical and if often involved more solo work in an office, on one’s own. It could be analyzing a lot of data and making recommendations and plans based on data trends.
  2. Are you imagining that the grass is greener: You mentioned that you don’t like not having weekends off. But have you spoken to people who work at start-ups? Not only do they sometimes work on weekends but unlike your regular hours, it’s not unusual for them to work 12 hour days. You might not like having to work on weekends but you probably really enjoy having set hours. Also, you are used to a better income than what is being suggested in this start-up. You might have pressure each month to make the sales, but it sounds like you are good at it and getting the results. In a corporate job you get the same salary each pay period. So you might not have the pressure, but you do have a lower, read more disappointing salary. And stock options are not a reliable form of income. You need to look at your financial picture. If a salary reduction might not be too difficult to adjust to, the upside of a stock position might be a good risk for you at this early stage of your career.
  3. Trying a new career environment and developing new skill sets: On the positive side, you are under 30 years old. You are young and early on in your career. It might be a good time to try working in a new setting, meeting and getting to know different kinds of people in different professions. It would be interesting to compare working in a commission-based environment to a corporate based one. You might find you have additional skills and interests you could develop.
  4. My advise: Lisa, focus on getting to the offer. If the offer comes in, negotiate to your best ability (see if you can have them put you on a performance plan with bonuses for bench marked achievements as they know you are used to working toward specific, measurable goals)  and if the terms look good and you’ve considered the above aspects of the situation, then feel what your gut wants and your analysis suggests. The good thing is that once you have a proven track record as a sales professional, you can typically find another position in sales if you want to return to it.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Best of luck to you Lisa, and onward in clear-sighted decision making,  Coach Joan

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