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Generous salary creates worst kind of golden handcuffs

Dear J.T. & Dale: I was recently hired by a company and, by the end of the first week on the job, I realized they completely lied in the interview process. The workplace is totally toxic, and I’m not doing anything I was told I would be doing. However, the pay is high, and I know that I can’t find a job that pays as well anyplace else. Yet, every day I wake up miserable and dread going in because it’s so terrible. What can I do to find a new job that will pay me this same level? – Reuben

DALE: Some golden handcuffs are a beautiful affliction; for instance, when you have to wait for your company stock to vest, at which point you’ll have a nice fat cushion of cash. On the other hand(s) are the ugly kind of golden handcuffs, where you are paid to be miserable. Many people reading this will be thinking, “Just go out and get a new job.” Not so fast. Not only do you have to take a cut in pay to leave, but when you interview and prospective employers ask what you’re making now, they want no part of you – they don’t want to match your current pay and don’t want to hire someone taking a big cut. Furthermore, to explain is to complain, putting you in the No Hire Zone.

J.T.: I see it so often, where the pay is high for a reason, that I’ve come to think of it as “hazard pay.” You must be honest with yourself: Keeping that higher salary just might not be possible. I’d start by finding a job that will, at least, pay the bills and get you out of there. Then, you can focus on finding another job at a higher rate. One step at a time. The one thing I can tell you is that if you quit a toxic job without another job lined up, you will get a lot of questions about why you couldn’t stick it out. So that’s why I would encourage you to find some job that you can tolerate so that you can make the switch and then go from there.

DALE: While I hate to be as pessimistic as J.T.’s solution suggests, there is urgency here. Being miserable in your work is putting your career on a downward spiral: You have less and less energy, creativity and enthusiasm. You just might end up being wretched, drained and cast out of the garden of employment. So figure out a good upbeat reason to give interviewers – like you’re not getting to do the kind of work you love – and then take the cut and start moving in the other direction on the career spiral.


Dear J.T. & Dale: I just applied for a job that I really want and afterward found out that a friend of the family knows the hiring manager. Do you think it would be wrong to ask them to put in a good word for me? – Carmen

DALE: Not wrong at all. If it’s a great job, there will be plenty of applicants, and a kind word from a family friend can make all the difference – you go from being a complete stranger to a semi-insider.

J.T.: Normally, I would enthusiastically agree, but in a pandemic and with high unemployment, a lot of people will be doing the same thing. This can backfire on you if the manager suddenly gets multiple requests to consider their friend’s friend or relative. So I would first talk to the family friend and ask how well they know this manager and whether or not they think the manager would be open to an introduction. Otherwise, I think you should just try to be proactive and reach out to the person yourself via a platform like LinkedIn. Let them know how passionate you are about the company and that you would be honored to earn an interview. If that works, it might then make sense to have your family friend reach out to reinforce the choice to interview you.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2021 by King Features Syndicate Inc.