MONEY best and worst jobs

The 10 Worst-Paying Jobs that Require a Master’s Degree

Librarian helping patron with book question
Hill Street Studios—Getty Images

Thinking about going back to grad school to pursue one of these careers? You might want to think again.

More education doesn’t always translate into more money.

Research engine FindTheBest recently analyzed median pay for hundreds of jobs in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections report, and found that a master’s degree is no guarantee of high pay.

In fact, in a handful of professions that typically require a master’s degree, average salaries are below the U.S. median income of $51,058.

Figuring in the cost of a graduate education, it’s questionable whether entering these low-pay professions that typically require a graduate degree makes economic sense. Here are the 10 worst paying jobs that typically require a master’s degrees, according to FindTheBest:

1. Rehabilitation Counselors

Median Pay: $33,880

What They Do: Help people manage and overcome mental and physical disabilities so they can work and live independently. Counselors work in many settings, including schools, prisons, independent living facilities, rehabilitation agencies and private practice. Note: Though employment of rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations, pay isn’t keeping up.

2. Mental Health Counselors

Median Pay: $40,080

What They Do: Help clients develop strategies to manage emotional disorders and improve their overall wellbeing. In addition to a master’s degree, counselors typically need a license to practice.

3. Survey Researchers

Median Pay: $45,050

What They Do: Design surveys and collect and analyze data to understand people’s opinions and beliefs. Survey researchers work for research firms, polling organizations, nonprofits, corporations, colleges and universities and government agencies. Some survey researchers only have a bachelor’s degree but more technical positions require a master’s.

4. Marriage and Family Therapists

Median Pay: $46,670

What They Do: Provide counseling to couples and families, and treat mental health and substance abuse problems. Most have a master’s degree and must have at least two years of clinical experience and a state license.

5. Curators

Median Pay: $49,590

What They Do: Manage a collection of items for an institution. Most commonly, they work with art or historical items for museums, but curators can also work in galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. Most curators have an advanced degree in their field of specialty.

6. Archivists

Median Pay: $47,340

What They Do: Collect, organize and manage items that have historical value. Archivists commonly work (not surprisingly) in archives as well as libraries. Most have a master’s degree in the field related to their work.

7. Healthcare Social Workers

Median Pay: $49,830

What They Do: Work with individuals and families to provide support for coping with chronic, acute and terminal illnesses. They work in clinics, hospitals, senior living facilities and mental health institutions. Though most social workers only need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, at least two years practical experience and state licensing is required to work in a clinical setting.

8. Historians

Median Pay: $52,480

What They Do: Research, analyze and interpret past events by studying historical information. Historians work in government agencies, museums, historical societies, research organizations, nonprofits and even consulting firms. Most positions require a master’s degree, but some research positions also require a doctorate.

9. School and Career Counselors

Median Pay: $53,610

What They Do: Help students develop social skills and succeed in school. Career counselors focus on helping students make career or educational program decision. School counselors work in public and private schools. Career counselors work in colleges, government agencies, career centers and private practices.

10. Librarians

Median Pay: $55,370

What They Do: Help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Librarians work for local government, colleges and universities, companies and elementary and secondary schools. Most librarians have a master’s degree in library science, but some positions require a teaching credential or a degree in the field they specialize in.

MONEY Ask the Expert

5 Strategies for Finding Meaningful Part-Time Work In Retirement

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I want to find part-time work to bring in extra income when I retire next year. But I don’t want to be a greeter at Walmart. How do I find a job that’s meaningful but still flexible enough for me to enjoy my retirement life?

A: Working in retirement has become the new normal. Nearly three-quarters of workers 50-plus say their ideal retirement will include working, according to a survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. But they also want a job that is flexible and fulfilling. Some 62% of working retirees said staying mentally active was the most important reason to work vs just 31% who said they simply needed the money.

“A lot of people are in the same boat. They need to bring in some income and are happy to work but don’t want to go from a professional career to something mindless or boring,” says Tim Driver, CEO of RetirementJobs.com. Still, it’s often challenging for an older worker to find that combination. If you can, start the hunt while you’re still working and your skills are up to date—that way, you can leverage your current contacts. Here are five more tips to consider:

Look to your employer. If you like what you do and want to still use your professional expertise, a natural place to start is with your current employer, says Nancy Collamer, a career coach and author of Second Act Careers. “It might be possible to downshift into a part-time or seasonal schedule, freelance or be on-call as an in-house temp.” For advice on how to ask for a flexible work arrangement, go to WorkOptions.com.

Line up new clients. Does your career lend itself to consulting or freelance project work? Many fields do, from graphic design and event planning to tax advising and tech services. Consulting or freelancing is an ideal retirement job for retirees because of the flexibility it gives you to choose your projects and how much you want to work, says Driver. There are a number of sites that connect older workers to project work, including Driver’s RetirementJobs.com and RetiredBrains.com.

Fill in at a high level. For mid- and higher-level executives, another option is to temp as an interim executive. Interim execs fill an existing position while the company searches for a permanent replacement. It’s a great option if you still crave the prestige and pace of the executive life, but also want the flexibility to enjoy time off in between assignments, says Collamer. The Riley Guide lists firms that specializing in placing interim execs.

Find your passion. If you want to connect with work that you feel is most meaningful, you may be able to transfer your professional skills to a non-profit that focuses on issues important to you. “While nonprofits depend heavily on volunteers, most have at least a few paid staff positions,” says Collamer. Start volunteering now and see what opportunities are available. Nonprofits with tight budgets may be more open to part-timers. Check out non-profit job sites such as Bridgespan, Idealist and NonProfitJobs. Another good resource is Encore.org, which helps older workers transition to careers with a social purpose.

Seek adventure. Finally, if you’re looking for something totally new, check out CoolWorks.com’s Older and Bolder section. It is aimed at retirees looking for seasonal or temporary jobs at national parks, lodges, ranches and other outdoor destinations.

Do you have a personal finance question for our experts? Write to AskTheExpert@moneymail.com.

MONEY Careers

What To Do When The Boss’s Daughter Is Tough to Work With

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I work for a small firm of about 20 people. The problem is that the boss’s daughter also works there and is a trial for everyone. She is 25, not particularly bright, and very arrogant. She acts and speaks like it is her firm and has alienated just about everyone. No one will dare say anything to the boss, not even during reviews. What should I do?– Name Withheld

A: You have two options: Find a non-confrontational way to make your boss aware of the situation and see if he or she is inclined to act. Or look for a new job.

The latter might seem unfair, but that’s the reality of working for a small, family-run business, says Dana Brownlee, a corporate trainer and founder of Professionalism Matters. “Your boss clearly wants his daughter to play a role in the company, and he calls the shots,” says Brownlee.

It’s not clear if her behavior is just unpleasant or if her attitude is affecting the business in a material way. As much as your boss loves and supports his daughter, if she is driving valued employees away or hurting client relationships, he may not want to jeopardize the business, says Brownlee.

Even at a small firm, your boss may not be aware of what’s happening, especially if no one is speaking up at reviews. If you can get your boss to see what’s going on, there’s a chance the situation will change.

Set a meeting with your boss. Don’t criticize his daughter. Instead, talk about the issues that are having an impact on business and ask for advice on how to handle them. For example, if you have a client who has complained about dealing with the daughter or a decision she made, you can report that and say you’re worried about losing business. Your case will be stronger if you can get several colleagues or even the client to bring the problem up with your boss too.

You could also recommend a change in how reviews are done so that staffers have a way to give honest and frank feedback confidentially. Brownlee recommends a 360-degree review process, in which employees receive anonymous feedback from the people who work around them. That might not be an easy sell in a small organization, but if you have any influence with your boss, this would be an objective way to raise his awareness, says Brownlee.

The best you can hope for is that your boss gets concerned enough about her behavior that he talks to her about it. Even if your boss does that, however, it’s not very likely he will fire his daughter. “If that’s not a situation you can live with,” says Brownlee, “your best strategy is to find a new job.”

Have a workplace etiquette question? Send it to careers@moneymail.com.

MONEY Kids and Money

3 Ways to Make Sure a Costly College Degree Pays Off

Graduation cap on sidewalk with change in it
Brother, can you spare a better college experience? Paul Hudson—Getty Images

A new study finds a widespread "failure to launch" among millennials fresh out of school. How to make those four years count.

Two years after graduating from college, a significant portion of the class of 2009 was economically and professionally “adrift,” according to a new book by two well-respected educational researchers. And while these young adults had the bad luck to graduate during the Great Recession, how they spent their college years was a large part of the problem too.

Two-thirds of the roughly 1,000 members of the class of 2009 in the study were in the job market in 2011 (about 30% were in graduate school), and almost 40% of that group were unemployed, underemployed, or earning less than $20,000 a year, reports the newly released Aspiring Adults Adrift, by Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist, and Josipa Roksa, associate director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Many “are not making the transition to adulthood,” Arum says, noting that two years after graduation, 75% of the group were receiving some sort of financial assistance from their parents, with about a quarter living at home. Many weren’t engaged as citizens—more than two-thirds, for instance, said they didn’t bother reading about current affairs.

Low Expectations

Parents, colleges, and the students themselves share the blame for this “failure to launch,” Arum says, but, he adds, “We think it is very important not to disparage a generation. These students have been taught and internalized misconceptions about what it takes to be successful.”

One example, says Arum: “They have learned through their interactions with educational institutions that it is possible to succeed with minimal effort.” In their study, students who studied alone less than an hour a day still managed to earn an above-average GPA of 3.2.

Another problem, says Roksa, is that many colleges have shifted their emphasis from tough classes to social life and amenities because that is what attracts more students and tuition dollars.

Colleges applicants respond more positively to improved dorms and gyms than descriptions of demanding classes. Plus, add Roksa, schools are increasingly hiring non-tenured professors and keeping them based at least in part on student enrollment and reviews. Research shows that students tend to give better reviews to classes taught by easy graders.

What Goes Wrong at College

The college experience has left these millennials ill-equipped to find good jobs for three reasons, the researchers say.

  • Not enough learning. In their groundbreaking 2010 book Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa reported that 45% of their study group exhibited no gain in critical thinking in the first two years of college, generally because they took undemanding classes and spent little time studying alone. In this follow-up study, the authors found that the students who failed to develop higher-level thinking skills were twice as likely to have lost a job between 2010 and 2011 than were those who scored well on such tests as seniors.
  • Majors that are not valued by employers. As other studies have concluded, engineers had high employment and earnings rates. Business majors were more likely to land jobs as well. But those who majored in social sciences, humanities, social work, or communications had comparatively high unemployment rates, ranging from 7% to 9%.
  • Undemanding colleges. Students who applied themselves and chose an in-demand major were more likely to prosper no matter what college they attended, say Arum and Roksa. But when all other characteristics were held constant, college choice explained about 24% of the variation in student learning gains. Generally, students who attended more selective colleges did better—perhaps because classes were more demanding. Graduates of less-selective colleges were almost twice as likely to work in low-skill jobs.

How to Do Better

Students are unlikely to make spontaneous changes. Many of the undergraduates studied expressed the belief that social skills would win them good jobs. And many who spent their undergrad years socializing and coasting through easy classes were satisfied with their college experience.

Arum and Roksa note that parents may not realize how much leverage they have to push colleges and students for more academic rigor and a focus on skills valued by the job market. Here’s how to make that effort.

1. Talk turkey. Arum, who has two kids in college, says that parents need to show their children the relationship between discipline, learning, and success later in life from an early age. And keep the message going. “I don’t want to advocate increased helicopter parenting, but we need to orient our children so that they understand that college is a time when one needs to invest in rigorous academic coursework,” he says. “The social aspects of college should complement the academic core.”

2. Demand evidence: When a high school senior is shopping for colleges, remember that a “tour is a marketing exercise by the college,” Roksa says. Ignore the hype and press admissions officers and other officials for evidence of their school’s academic rigor. Ask what percentage of classes require at least 40 pages of reading a week and at least 20 pages of writing a semester, and how much time the average student spends studying alone, all of which this research showed led to greater learning.

Among the evidence she suggests you ask for: student scores on tests of critical thinking such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or responses to questions about class assignments on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Many schools collect such data but don’t like to release it to parents or the public.

3. Emphasize career planning: More than 40% of the group found full-time jobs through their college’s career services office, or from an internship, volunteer work, or another previous job. Arum and Roksa discovered that the jobs students got through their college career office tended to be better than those secured through personal connections. So parents should push schools to improve their career services, as well as urge their kids to take full advantage of internships, practice interviews, and other services. To find out which colleges launch students into the best-paying jobs, check out Money’s best college rankings, including this list of the 25 schools that add the most value.

MONEY Careers

10 Social Media Blunders That Cost a Millennial a Job — or Worse

Fake Facebook post
Photo illustration by MONEY. Lumi Images—Alamy (inset); Sean Murphy—Getty Images (main)

A generation that lives its life on Facebook and Twitter learns the hard way that the bar for what can get you fired is surprisingly low.

As managers grow savvier (and Facebook privacy settings grow meaningless) it is increasingly foolish to assume that those years-old photos of you double-fisting shots won’t come back to haunt you—and maybe even wreak havoc on your career. A whopping 93% of recruiters check out social media profiles of prospective hires.

“Social media is now so woven into the fabric of young people’s lives that they forget not everything is suitable to put out there,” says former hiring manager Alison Green, who runs askamanager.org. “People are looking.”

So remember your boss, work colleagues, and hiring managers can see your most polarizing tweets, even if they aren’t following you. And even if your public Facebook profile looks like Fort Knox, anyone can see images you’re tagged in by using graph search. Typing “photos of person’s name” into the search window reveals hidden pictures. Test it out to see how creepy it is.

Also note that a social media mistake can ruin your shot at a job without you ever knowing. Green, for example, never told a certain oversharing applicant (let’s call him the “masturblogger”: see #2 below) about why he wasn’t hired for a job at her nonprofit. “To people who don’t lock down their accounts because ‘it’s never been a problem,’ I say, you don’t know whether that’s true,” she says.

If you’re not at least a little worried yet, here are 10 real-life mistakes, ranked from least to most egregious, that could cost you your next job—or worse, make you the next viral cautionary tale.

10. Drinking in a photo—even if you’re over 21. Yes, seriously. A teacher in Georgia was asked to resign because of a Facebook photo of her holding wine and a beer.

9. Complaining about your job. A British teen was let go from a marketing gig after colleagues saw a Facebook post in which she described her job shredding paper as “dull,” even though she didn’t mention the name of the company.

8. Posting while you’re supposed to be working. A city clerk in California’s Bay area was asked to resign this year for allegedly tweeting during council meetings when she was supposed to be taking down meeting minutes. In her resignation letter, she described the job as a “mind-numbingly inane experience I would not wish on anyone.”

7. Making fun of your boss / team. An EMS employee was booted for badmouthing her boss on Facebook (though she ended up with the National Labor Relations Board on her side), and a Pittsburgh Pirates mascot, whose work included racing on the field in a pierogi costume, was briefly fired for a post criticizing the contract extensions of two players—though he was back in his costume a week later.

6. Making fun of clients or donors. While working at a nonprofit, Green nearly fired an employee after the young woman snarkily tweeted a photo of a donation card on which a donor had written eccentric comments. Not only was it in bad taste, says Green, but it revealed the donor’s name. After deleting the tweet (and getting an earful about judgment and boundaries), the woman kept her job.

5. Talking smack about a job before you’ve even accepted it. Technically, the then-22-year-old in question says she had already turned down an internship at Cisco before sending out a tweet saying she’d have to weigh a “fatty paycheck” against “hating the work,” but her subsequent infamy serves as a lesson to other prospective hires.

4. Blowing your own cover. A bank intern who asked to skip work because “something came up at home” became a victim of internet shaming after his boss saw a Facebook photo of him holding a beer, dressed (more or less) like Tinkerbell at what appeared to be a Halloween party. The photo, plus screenshots of his supervisor’s response— “hope everything is ok in New York. (cool wand)” —went viral, though it turns out he was never actually fired.

3. Revealing company secrets. Back in 2011, it was widely reported that an extra on Fox’s award-winning show “Glee” was fired after tweeting spoilers for an upcoming episode. In tweets that are still visible on his feed, a series co-creator told her, “Hope you’re qualified to do something besides work in entertainment” and “Who are you to spoil something talented people have spent months to create?” But according to the extra herself, Nicole Crowther, she hadn’t actually worked on the show that season and the spoilers were just speculation—not inside information. That didn’t stop her story from going viral, complete with online harassment: “I received physical threats of violence, and death threats through social media,” Crowther told MONEY.

2. Sexual oversharing. Green once interviewed a young man whose resume included a link to a private blog—which described personal details about chronic masturbation. “I suspect he’d left that link on there by accident, but it demonstrated very poor judgment,” says Green. Needless to say, he did not get the job.

1. Posting something embarrassing on the corporate Twitter feed. A contracted social media strategist was canned after accidentally posting a tweet on Chrysler’s company feed, instead of his personal feed, insulting local drivers: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f****** drive.” Given the circumstances, Chrysler’s response was surprisingly sanguine.

MONEY Second Career

This PR Exec Launched Her Second Career by Raising Millions for Wounded Veterans

PHH Co Founder John Gallina and Vicki Thomas
Purple Heart Homes co-founder John Gallina with Vicki Thomas Lynnette Thompson for Purple Heart Homes

Marketing pro Vicki Thomas saw a news segment about a non-profit start up. She knew she could help them—and ended up with a new job and happier life.

Just four years ago Vicki Thomas was a successful public relations executive in New York City with high-profile financial services clients. But she was was growing frustrated. “There was a voice calling me to really make a difference in the lives of others, not just improve a client’s bottom line,” says Thomas. “I wanted to do something more fulfilling, but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be.”

Then one day in 2009, she saw a news segment on CNN about Purple Heart Homes, a North Carolina organization founded by Iraq veterans Dale Beatty and John Gallina to provide handicap-accessible homes to wounded vets. Beatty and Gallina, who also suffered combat injuries, focus on vets who lack the money and resources to renovate their own residences. Thomas felt an immediate connection and wanted to help the fledgling organization raise more money. Improving their marketing and public relations outreach was key.

“I knew they could use professional advice but couldn’t afford the kind of expertise I could give,” says Thomas. She cold-called Gallina and Beatty, leaving a message offering her services pro-bono. “It took them two weeks to call me. But we agreed to meet and we’ve been working together since.”

Thomas left her corporate PR career behind in 2009 and began drawing on her 35 years of experience in fundraising and marketing to bring attention to the non-profit. “When I met them, I couldn’t get a news story in the local paper about them,” says Thomas. A few months later, thanks in large part to her network of contacts, Gallina and Beatty were featured in a 2011 Time magazine cover story about a new generation of veterans bringing their leadership lessons home—they even appeared on the cover. “That opened so many doors. ABC News and Nightline did stories on them, and money started pouring in,” says Thomas.

Today, as the chief communications officer for Purple Heart Homes, Thomas has helped raised millions in financial contributions and material donations. In her first year with the start up, contributions rocketed from $67,000 to $2 million. With that cash horde, the non-profit was able to qualify for grants, including a major donation from Home Depot, which further improved its financial stability. She’s particularly proud of a program she launched that matches veterans with foreclosed homes donated by banks.

After providing her services pro bono for two and a half years, Thomas now 68, began working full time for Purple Heart Homes in 2012 and drawing a salary of $48,000 a year. It’s a lot less than what she earned in her PR career, and she’s fine with that. Her husband still works, but “we’re at an age where we’re not buying stuff,” she says.

She enjoys the different pace of her work life, which is far less hectic than her days in PR. “I have so much flexibility—I can take a play day when I want to,” says Thomas, who works from her home in Connecticut. “I probably have a more perfect balance in my life than I ever had before.”

As for retirement, it’s not happening. “They’ll have to carry me out on a flip chart,” she says. “I believe you remain much more vital and connected if you can work in some capacity, especially if you are doing something you are passionate about.”

Vicki Thomas was the 2013 Winner of the Purpose Prize for Future Promise, sponsored by Symetra. The Purpose Prize is a program operated by Encore.org, a non-profit organization that recognizes social entrepreneurs over 60 who are launching second acts for the greater good.

TIME Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Is Not Happy About a Tax on Its Free Lunches

A Tour of Google's New York Headquarters
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

If the IRS has its way, tech employees would have to pay taxes on their free meals

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By JP Mangalindan

For years, many tech workers in Silicon Valley have enjoyed free meals — one of several cushy perks offered the likes of Google, Facebook, and countless startups. But complimentary grub could become a thing of the past if the Internal Revenue Service has its way.

A report on Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal revealed the IRS is pushing to tax employees for their free meals. Companies would have to add in the value of free food when calculating employee tax withholding.

News of a potential tax on free meals has many worried in Silicon Valley, where all-you-can eat buffets are a basic recruiting tool. They’re also a subtle way to get employees to work longer hours by giving them no reason for them to leave the office except to sleep.

“Having food available or catered in is kind of expected of most tech firms, so this is a bit of a concern,” admits Steve Sarner, VP of Marketing, at the social networking site Tagged, where employees get at least one free meal a week cooked up by nearby restaurants in San Francisco’s Financial District.

Nathan Grady, a front-end engineer at Weebly, a service that lets users build web sites with custom software tools, called the idea of taxing free food awkward. The practice is a social catalyst that makes it easy for a company’s staff to talk to one another, he said. Weebly makes that easy enough by serving free catered lunch daily.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Secret to Not Flubbing a Job Interview

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Zero Creatives—Getty Images/Cultura RF

A phone interview can be a convenient first step for job-seekers and employers alike because it takes less time and expense than an in-person meeting. Be aware, though, that phone interviews present some unique pitfalls.

Want the edge on your fellow applicants? Read on. If you’re looking for a job, here’s what experts say you need to do to make sure that time on the phone gets you a call back.

Do your homework. “Have handy a copy of the job description, talking points about your qualifications, and the questions you’ve prepared for the interviewer,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at mobile career network TheLadders. Read over them before the interview to refresh your memory.

Find someplace quiet. “Make sure you are in a quiet place with the doors closed so no one can barge in and disrupt the call by creating noise,” says Scott Dobroski, a career trends analyst at jobs and salary site Glassdoor. A crying baby or barking dog in the background isn’t going to help you project the professional image you want.

Don’t use, like, verbal filler. “Avoid verbal crutches like “um,” “like,” and “uh” that can undercut your communication skills and make you sound like you’re not confident,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of staffing service OfficeTeam.

Make clarity a priority. “Over the phone, the interviewer needs to be able to hear what you are saying as clearly as possible,” Hosking says. “Make sure you have at least one glass of water before the interview so your voice doesn’t crackle or become dry,” he says. It’s not a bad idea to keep a glass of water at hand in case you get a tickle in your throat, too.

Practice “verbal nods.” “Remember, the interviewer can’t see you shaking your head through the phone,” Augustine points out. This means you’ll need to give the interviewer verbal cues that take the place of a nod. Phrases like “I understand,” “Sounds great,” “Alright” and “That makes sense” will all do the trick, Augustine says. “Basically, you’re making sure the person on the other end of the line knows you’re following along with the conversation and on the same page,” she says.

Keep on track. Since people tend to ramble when they’re nervous, Hosking says it’s important to make sure you get to the point quickly. “While you certainly don’t want to give a series of one-word responses, aim to be thorough, yet succinct. It’s OK to pause and collect your thoughts before you begin to speak,” he says.

Sound confident. “Your interviewer is likely trained to glean from your conversation your level of self-confidence, personality and ability to communicate effectively,” Arnie Fertig, founder and CEO of Jobhuntercoach, writes in US News & World Report. Don’t rush through your replies to the interviewer’s questions, ramble during pauses in the conversation or slip into overly colloquial language. “At the same time, do show something of your personality,” he says.

MONEY

3 Career Lessons From Kevin Durant’s Blockbuster Nike Deal

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant (#35) of the Oklahoma City Thunder backs up to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 31, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Richard Rowe—NBAE/Getty Images

On his way to signing a blockbuster deal with Nike, Kevin Durant faced some of the same decisions as anyone weighing compensation offers. Here's what you can learn from his choice.

On Sunday, Kevin Durant celebrated Labor Day weekend by signing a monster endorsement deal with Nike. Various news outlets report the contract could be worth anywhere from $265 million to $300 million over the next decade, and may span 20 years. That’s a lot of money, but Durant could very well be worth it. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Oklahoma City Thunder star’s shoes are a top seller for Nike, second only to four-time MVP LeBron James’s own line of footwear.

More noteworthy than the deal’s price alone, however, is that Durant had to make a choice between suitors: Sportswear maker Under Armour also offered him a similarly rich compensation package that Nike—which had the option of matching any competitor’s offer—was reportedly forced to top.

Sure, the numbers are astronomical, but Durant faced some of the same issues as ordinary people weighing compensation offers. Here’s what you can learn from his decision to stick with the swoosh.

Whether to Accept Cash vs. Stock

The most striking difference between Nike and Under Armour’s respective offers is that, according to ESPN, 10% of UA’s deal was in company stock. Even assuming the lowest estimates of Durant’s deal are true, that would mean Under Armour offered around $26.5 million worth of company shares. UA stock has more than doubled since January 2013 and is up about 90% year-to-date. If Under Armour grows as much in the next half-decade as it did in the previous one, Durant could have earned $300 million in in 5 years from stock alone.

Viewed that way, it seems like the the Thunder player may have picked the wrong offer—but the more lucrative deal also had outsized risk. There is no guarantee that Under Armour will continue its recent growth surge. Worse, Under Armour could falter, and Durant’s association with the company could end up hurting his brand. Nike might not offer the same upside as its competitor, but the shoe giant might be a more stable bet in the long run.

What you can learn: Even if you’re not an NBA superstar, you may face a similar decision, both when it comes to where you work and how you structure your compensation. Do you want to work for a startup that could be worth billions —or fail—in a few years, or join with an established corporation that is slower growing but more secure? Is it better to get a bigger paycheck or take some compensation in stock options?

Ultimately, it depends on how much risk you’re comfortable with taking. In Durant’s case, he chose the conservative approach instead of risking it for the highest potential returns.

Join the Leader or Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond?

Had Durant signed with Under Armour, he wouldn’t just get a fat paycheck—he would have become the virtual face of the company. Under Armour’s only major basketball endorsement is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Curry’s a good player, but he doesn’t have the star power of Durant. Had the OKC forward jumped ship to a new brand, his success would be Under Armour’s success, and vice versa.

That’s an enticing prospect, but, once again, Under Armour’s offer carries more uncertainty. Being the face of a brand sounds nice, it would also put a lot of pressure on Durant to carry the Under Armour torch. Joining Nike, on the other hand, means being associated with the company’s other big names: Jordan, James, and Kobe. With colleagues like those, Durant doesn’t have to worry about carrying all of the load.

What you can learn: That same thinking applies to your career too. Being “the man” or “the woman” can be exhilarating—or exhausting. Sometimes it’s more enjoyable to join a larger organization with other equally skilled colleagues, even if that means less personal prestige.

Play Prospective Employers Off Each Other

Durant also benefited from a bidding war. Before Under Armour entered the picture, Nike was offering Durant roughly $20 million per year. Once Under Armour entered the game, that number shot up to potentially $30 million annually for the first 10 years, and another $50 million over the following decade.

What you can learn: As Durant found, having multiple offers rarely fails to increase your value. If another employer is dangling a higher salary, ask your boss to match it. At worst, you could take the higher offer, and at best, both companies will compete, boosting your pay even further. It’s a game you should play carefully, so you don’t create bad feelings with either your current employer or potential boss.

MONEY Careers

WATCH: From IBM to Scooter Salesman

A North Carolina entrepreneur went from working in the computer industry to running a successful scooter store.

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