Twice during my work history I have taken a pay cut under the promise of a better career path, and it was a bad move in both cases. I would also like to mention that the time I took a job for an unreal amount of money in the consulting world, it was also a big mistake. After the company made tons of money off my fixing their mess, they found me too expensive. So I guess that was a wrong move as well… it was sweet for 6 months though.
Before I start talking about money I want to say that I am extremely happy with my current position even though it is not anywhere near the highest that I have been paid. Finding a job where you are doing something you enjoy doing will make your day feel better. Do not buy into the idea that you are not supposed to like your job, the moment you do that, you are compromising your well being and that of the people around you. Does everyone love their job? probably not, but you at least have to like some aspect of what you do because you will end up doing that for a huge percentage of your life. Always keep that in mind.
Now that the economy is turning around and more doors are going to start opening it is the time to be very careful about taking a job. As tempting as it is for someone that has been out of a job for a while to take the first thing that comes along (well and some people don’t have the luxury to say no) if you are in any position to keep looking and say no do so.
It is very hard to climb back out of a low salary. Every company you interview with will ask and check your salary history and make a decision about your pay based on that number. No matter how much you explain that you are worth a lot more, the reality of the situation is that you are probably worth more to the new company you are going to, but not significantly more.
While there are always exceptions when you are taking on more responsibility and such, in the end the company will try to get you as cheap as they can. At least in my experience you can get back up quickly if the company will give you a salary bump after a trial period, but always make sure you get anything like that in writing. And not just electronically, have it be part of your offer letter.
Never be afraid to ask during the interview about the companies compensation policy. Make sure you understand if the offer includes benefits on the final amount, and calculate what your actual take home will be. Some companies figure your benefits into the offer… and at the same time some benefit packages can be worth about 10K. Do they give cost of living adjustments every year? or are raises far and few between. This information is crucial to your negotiation period. Also be very aware of how they measure performance. Many companies do not have clear guidelines and your reviews, which most pay increases are based on, end up being very subjective and sometimes even unattainable. I still chuckle at the company that measured my personal appearance when I hardly ever saw any clients. Thankfully I love wearing a suit and tie and got an easy top mark on that one.
The first step in the negotiation is knowing how much you are worth. Research the title that you are shooting for and look for salaries around the area. If the company is offering you significantly less than what you are worth, pass on the offer. You are entitled to counter offer just like when you are buying a house. Once you figure out what you are worth strive for it. Climbing out of a low salary can take a long time.