Editorial by Carol Fishman Cohen

This post previously appeared on Fairygodboss

When looking at stats on people who return to work after a career break, studies are cited that show taking a career break for three years or more results in a compensation hit of 37%. The problem with these stats is that they mask the intentionality behind decisions to take a lower compensated role.

(magdal3na / Adobe Stock)

After years of working with thousands of “relaunchers,” we have found the reasons for taking lower compensation fall into five categories:

  1. Less Stress: Some people simply want a less stressful job! In a life stage that requires a heavy family care commitment, relaunchers may intentionally take a more junior role for less money in order to feel confident they can deliver excellent results to their employer with less stress and also manage their life outside of work.
  2. Planned Travel/Less Travel vs Spontaneous Travel/Lots of Travel:Those whose pre-career break role involved “spontaneous travel” (“you are on the first flight out tomorrow morning”) or 50% travel may be willing to take a lower compensated role that does not include those travel requirements. Travel may be fine, but better if it is less frequent and there is plenty of advance notice before it happens.
  3. New Career Path: The relauncher may discover during their career break that they were not on the right career path to begin with, and as a result, decide to relaunch in a completely new area and change careers. This could necessitate coming in at an entry level or lower level than where they had left their prior, pre-career break career.
  4. Long Career Break: Some relaunchers who have taken very long career breaks may want to get their feet wet again in their field before feeling ready to move up. OR they may discount the value of their services because they have been out of the workforce for many years. We see them move up over time. See this success story for an illustration of this strategy.
  5. Better Schedule: Some relaunchers decide to take less money than they think is fair or than they are worth in order to get the schedule they want. We call this “trading compensation for control.”

Unsurprisingly, relaunchers in these situations are frequently called “overqualified.” For some this is a veiled form of ageism. For others, the interest in a lower compensated job is intentional, and must be explained. If this describes you, here’s a “script” with a recommended response. Practice saying this out loud so you will be able to respond immediately in a way that educates the interviewer as to the intentionality behind your decision to apply for a more junior or lower compensated role:

“One of my top priorities is to deliver excellent results to my employer, while also managing my life outside of work. So while it might look to you like I am overqualified for this position, this is exactly where I want to be in my current life stage and I intentionally targeted this position at this level. I know I can succeed at this level of seniority and feel very satisfied doing it. ”

Carol Fishman Cohen is the CEO of iRelaunch, a career reentry firm that runs the iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences and works closely with companies to create formal return-to-work programs, usually involving professional internships. Her full bio is here.