How Do I Negotiate My Salary When Switching Careers?

negotiate salary transferable skills
Source: Tenor/ nogoodnick

Once upon a time, making a career switch was seen as something scary, uncommon, and worrying. It was something one resorted to, not something anyone would willingly opt to do. But in this modern day and age, job switching is increasingly seen as a new opportunity, and not a sentencing. In Singapore, job switching rates reached a 6-year high of 16.8% in 2022,  according to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) annual Labour Force in Singapore. 

But as exciting as a new career is, there’s one very real, very practical problem that comes with it—your new salary. Once you’ve decided to leave your job for a completely different industry, you’re starting over. Does your salary have to start over too?

The short answer is no. Salary is a discussion you have, not a decree you’ve given. It’s a conversation you’re going to have, and a conversation for which there are strategies, tips and tricks to market yourself. Here’s a complete guide to how to negotiate your salary when you make a career switch.


How to Negotiate Your Salary When Switching Careers

  1. Research the role
  2. Identify your transferable skills
  3. Prepare your pitch
  4. Anticipate different scenarios
  5. Make the ask
  6. Keep the conversation open
  7. You did it!


1. Research the role

They say knowledge is power, and you need all the power you can get when presenting yourself to the hiring manager. Research can take quite a bit of time, so don’t wait for your last day of work before you start preparing for your new role.

The first thing to research is the industry and role you’re transitioning into. Learn about the current salary ranges, as well as the skills and knowledge that workers in the industry and role have. This is so that you know what’s a reasonable expected salary to state, and what transferable skills you can bring to the table—more on the latter in the next section.

How can you get an idea of the salary range of a particular role? There are several online tools and references you can employ. The most official one is probably MOM’s Salary Comparison page. The tool aims to help you find out how your job’s current pay compares to others, so it asks you for your current salary. If you’re using the tool to see the salary range for a new job, just key in a ballpark figure (e.g. $5,000) and submit. Here’s an example:

Source: MOM

Another good tool is Glassdoor, where you can search for salaries and additional compensation for a job. These salaries are reported anonymously by employees in Singapore holding that job title. You’ll also be able to get an idea of the salaries to expect at different seniority levels. For example, here’s what the salary estimates look like for auditors in Singapore:

Source: Glassdoor

Another platform you can search salary ranges on is Indeed’s salary guide. However, the information they provide isn’t as detailed as Glassdoor’s. Here’s an example of what information you can see:

Source: Indeed

You may have noticed that the average salary reported varies quite a bit across the platforms. MOM’s salary comparison page is the most official, based on data collected by MOM. When using Glassdoor and Indeed, bear in mind that you’re looking at self-reported salaries.

ALSO READ: Singapore Job Agencies – 10 Recruitment Agencies for Your Next Career Move

Additionally, the salary you can get out of the reported range will also depend on your skill, experience, and education level. This brings us to the next section.

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2. Identify your transferable skills

You may be entering a completely new industry or role, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you start at the lowest rung. Assess your transferable skills and experiences, and figure out how they fit into your new job.

I know, I know. How do I even begin to identify my transferable skills? Let us give you an idea of what transferable skills look like to start.

What are some examples of transferable skills?

Here’s a mega list of transferable skills:

Source: Coursera

Source: Coursera

Your next task is to pick out the top 10 transferable skills from the list above that you feel you have. Then write down examples of how you’ve displayed or made use of these skills, and how they have impacted those around you. It doesn’t just have to be in the workplace—you can look at your personal life as well!

Next, you can rank the 10 transferable skills identified above in order of strength/impact, or compare your list of skills with the job description of the role you’ve applied for. For either route you choose, weave the top 5 skills in your CV and into your argument for why you deserve the salary you’re asking for. We’ll go into your pitch to the hiring manager in more detail in the next section.

According to a 2023 survey of nearly 39,000 employers across 41 countries by ManpowerGroup, these are the most in-demand soft skills today:

  1. Reliability and self-discipline (29%)
  2. Creativity and originality (26%)
  3. Critical thinking and analysis (26%)
  4. Reasoning and problem solving (26%)
  5. Resilience and adaptability (26%)

Generally, these skills above are good bets to have in your repertoire and to market yourself with.


Examples and case studies: How do you apply transferable skills?

Having critical thinking and problem solving skills is how one Sport Science graduate got a role in tech despite having no prior experience in the industry: “The emphasis was on my logical reasoning and ability to make clear and sound arguments, rather than a hard focus solely on coding or specific tech knowledge,” Lam Pui Shan shared.

Closer to home, our very own Partnership Manager at MoneySmart, Jordan Lim, arrived on our shores after a career switch from F&B. Jordan was previously working in the kitchen as Restaurant Supervisor of a high-end restaurant in Australia. People skills, hospitality, and relationship building are all skills that he’s carried over to his job today. 

Jordan compares providing service to customers in a restaurant to servicing clients today at MoneySmart. “How do you get the best relationship with this person? That’s what sales is. That’s what service is. I used to service a client for 3 hours over a $300 meal, versus now I’m servicing a client over a long period of time.”

There’s also a great deal one can learn from daily life outside of the workplace. During Jordan’s time in Australia, he grew used to how forthcoming and friendly locals there were. “Even just sharing a lift, they’ll be like: “Hey, how’s your day?” And that’s sales—people skills. I’m just there to build a relationship. I’m not selling myself, or the product, or the company. It’s just, if it works for you, it works for me too. I think that’s hospitality. It’s just finding a middle ground to creating the best experience for a partner or a guest.” 

It also pays to highlight any knowledge you might have gained from your current role that could ease you into your next career. For example, before becoming Partnership Manager at MoneySmart, Jordan did a stint at restaurant-reservation booking platform Chope. He made use of his first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of a restaurant to establish rapport with Chope’s partners.

Or, let’s say you’re switching from a civil engineering consultancy role to an accountant or auditor role. You could leverage your knowledge of how the consultancy model works, and your skills and experience using Excel and crunching data, as this Redditor did:

Source: Reddit


Resources to discover your own transferable skills

If you want the more direct path to discovering your transferable skills, there are plenty of online resources you can tap on. However, do note that many of these are paid services.

  • McMaster University’s Transferable Skills Self-Assessment: If you don’t mind how manual this is (you literally rate items from 1-5 and tally up each category yourself), this is a great free resource. Even just looking through all 172 of their transferable skills might give you a good idea of where your strengths lie.
  • Skillscan: A skills assessment that helps you identify your transferable skills. Cost: From USD 15.95. 
  • The Career Test: A 15-20 minute self-assessment that will identify things like your key skills that can be put to work, and your management and leadership style. Cost: USD 19.90.

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3. Prepare your pitch

“Why are you making a career switch?”

This is probably going to be one of the first few questions your hiring manager asks you, so you better ask yourself for the reasons why first. Could any of these factors be self-limiting during your interview? For example, if you’re making a switch to take home a higher pay and tell the hiring manager that you’re just “in it for the money”, you’ve probably left an unsavoury impression already. Similarly, naming clear “pull” factors to your new job that make you a desirable employee (e.g. interest, desire for growth) is better than stating “push” factors from your previous role (e.g. it was a toxic workplace).

When it comes to stating your reasons for switching careers, here are some do’s and don’ts:

“Why are you making a career switch?”
DO say DON’T say
  • I have a genuine interest in this field.
  • I want to gain experience in a new industry.
  • I want a new challenge.
  • I want to learn new skills and gain new experiences.
  • My goals/values have changed and are now better aligned with this new career choice.
  • I’m seeking greater professional growth.
  • I just want a higher pay.
  • I couldn’t stand my former colleagues.
  • I just want to leave my toxic workplace.
  • I had a bad boss.

Marketing your transferable skills

Your transferable skills are your greatest weapons in your salary negotiation. It’s strengths like those you identified in the previous section that you want to evaluate and keep in mind for you to bring up to the hiring manager.

Go into specific details—what particular achievements or projects have you completed that are relevant for the role? What’s your personal brand? You may not have direct experience in the position, but you can still have skills in your repertoire that set you apart from other candidates.

You can also consider your education level. Did you do a Masters? Even if it wasn’t in the same field, the rigour, discipline, and other skills from your postgraduate degree can contribute to your new job.

The ultimate goal is to know how and with what you can market yourself for the role. Feel free to practise your pitch about yourself and why you think your skills and experiences can add value to the company and role. Don’t be afraid to practise this spiel out loud—to a friend, the mirror, or even a stuffed toy. Whatever helps you feel more confident preparing for the interview.

Finally, don’t forget to identify both your strengths and weaknesses, because you want to be ready for any scenario during the salary negotiation.

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4. Anticipate different scenarios

You can and should prepare your pitch, but you have no way of knowing how the hiring manager will respond. Perhaps they’ll put forward a counter-offer, or try to negotiate non-salary benefits. That’s why you should prepare for both successes and negotiations that don’t work out. Consider alternative options that may be proposed to you, or that perhaps you may propose. For example, would you be alright with a delayed raise and/or greater non-salary benefits instead of the higher monthly pay you asked for?

One helpful thing you should do is prioritise what’s important to you in the job. Make a list of what you’d like out of the job, then rank them. Your monthly remuneration, yearly bonuses and additional cash compensation are obvious monetary concerns.

As far as non-salary components go, consider:

  • Company health and wellness benefits, including insurance
  • Annual leave
  • Employee perks
  • Work hours
  • Flexible work arrangements and remote options
  • Allowances, e.g. for business travel, local transport, tech gadgets

Once you have a firm idea of what you will and will not stand for, you’re ready to negotiate your new salary package.

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5. Make the ask

Now that you know the role, your worth, and your priorities, we’re going in. You’re officially ready to speak to your hiring manager and have that discussion about your salary.

When you’re asked for your expected salary, you should respond in 2 parts:

  1. State your expected salary. At this point, this stated salary is usually higher than the salary you actually want. While this is common practice, don’t go overboard. If you’re only expecting an average salary of $4,000 based on industry standards and your background, don’t say you want $10,000.
  2. Crafting a compelling case for the salary you stated. This is your time to shine! Make use of the industry research and self-assessment you did in steps 1 and 2. By identifying and expanding on your leverage points, you should be able to present your value proposition clearly and confidently.

So far, we’ve talked about what to say (content), but let’s also look at how to say it (delivery). The first thing to bear in mind is to sound confident—I know, easier said than done! But it’s important not to falter so that you inspire the hiring manager to have confidence in you.

You can also employ subtle persuasive tactics to aid your negotiation process. These can come in a number of forms. According to psychologist Robert Cialdini, there are 6 laws of persuasion:

  1. The Principle of Liking: People like those who like them.
  2. The Principle of Reciprocity: People repay in kind.
  3. The Principle of Social Proof: People follow the lead of similar others. 
  4. The Principle of Consistency: People align with their clear commitments. 
  5. The Principle of Authority: People defer to experts.
  6. The Principle of Scarcity: People want more of what they can have less of. 

Some of these can be delicately applied during your salary negotiation—just be sure you’re subtle about it. For example, suss out your hiring manager and collect little pieces of information about them as you go. If you can establish some commonalities between you both, you’re building rapport and using The Principle of Liking to influence them. You could also present yourself in relation to the respected figures or well-known companies you’ve worked with (The Principle of Authority), or emphasise your unique selling point to drive home how special your skill set and work experiences are (The Principle of Scarcity).

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6. Keep the conversation open

Once you’ve said your piece, you might have to ping pong back and forth for a bit with the hiring manager. They may counter-offer, voice out some concerns, or even state outright objections.

This is where you have to stay flexible, yet stand by the priorities you’ve decided before to make an informed decision. What you don’t want to do is cave in the heat of the moment and make concessions you aren’t truly alright with. Weigh the pros and cons, and ask for at least 1 or 2 weeks to think about their final offer(s) before you give your answer. There are some stories out there of hiring managers who try pressure tactics. They may say something to the effect of: “This offer is only valid for the duration of this interview, so take it or leave it right now.”. If you’re on the fence and met with this sort of ultimatum, consider how this reflects the company culture and values. It may not be a company you want to work for after all.

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7. You did it!

We’re not going to lie to you—even if you do everything right, salary negotiations can go either way. If your conversation with the hiring manager goes the way you want it to, congratulations. You’ve just negotiated your new pay, your way!

But what if things don’t pan out so smoothly? Even if it doesn’t work out, handle the situation with calm and grace. Thank the hiring manager, and ask for some feedback to learn from the experience. And at the end of it all, walk away with a positive attitude for future opportunities.

No matter the outcome, you did it! You’ve just had firsthand experience preparing for and executing a tough negotiation—essential skills for any new job, what more a new career you’re transitioning into.

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For more career-related advice and tips, check out Careers on MoneySmart.