Sometimes a decision to change jobs or careers is really easy. For example, when you absolutely hate your current working environment or when you are going for your dream job. However, there are times when the pros and cons of the decision are much more subtle, or where there are different factors pulling you in opposite directions. For example, when you really enjoy your current role however a new job is offering you more career progression. Or when you are giving up a well-paying job for a much lower paying job that is in your dream industry.
I have certainly grappled with this tough task over the previous month, or more accurately, over the previous year. I had qualified as a Lawyer back in February 2014 but had opted not to practise law in favour of working in the Risk & Compliance team of a large, well known national group of companies. I found that over the last year, the thought of practising law was always in the back of my mind, causing me to constantly doubt and second guess my career path. An opportunity presented itself for me to work as a Lawyer in a mid-tier law firm and I had to very quickly decide whether I was willing to embrace the change.
I considered the following factors, however they are definitely not equally weighted. I downloaded a weighted pros and cons app so I could assign the appropriate ‘level of significance’ to these factors. Though the financial and lifestyle differences were quite large cons (it must be one of the best kept secrets that many Lawyers don’t actually make that much money!), the benefit of actually practising law (and thus avoiding future regrets and uncertainty) was too great and dwarfed all other setbacks, particularly at this early stage in my career. However, this list was still very helpful as it allowed me to conduct my due diligence in a methodical manner, so there would (hopefully) be no surprises as to what I what I was getting myself into.
The difference in salary package and your financial situation
- The difference in annual pre-tax salary
- Bonuses offered (or not offered)
- Whether you will be paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly
- The superannuation contribution percentage and whether you will need to contribute additional superannuation to keep your super growing at the same rate
- Whether the difference in salary pushes you into a different tax bracket
- The difference in your fortnightly or monthly take-home pay i.e. post-tax salary
- If you are taking a pay cut, whether you will still be able to meet all of your financial obligations. If not, are you willing to find other ways of meeting your financial obligations e.g. taking a second job, reducing your debts or cutting back on lifestyle expenses.
- Whether you are losing or gaining employer benefits such as study leave or study assistance
- Your projected salary increases for each role
- Maternity/paternity leave and other leave arrangements
How your lifestyle is likely to change
- Comparison of the additional hours in commute, the ease of commute (for example, 1 hour on a freeway or 1 hour catching 2 trains and 2 buses) and the financial cost associated with the commute (purchasing an additional vehicle, public transport costs, petrol).
- Whether childcare arrangements will need to be adjusted.
- The difference in hours worked and each employer’s expectations of your availability after hours.
- Whether there will be travel required.
- Whether you will be based in the CBD or the suburbs.
- Whether you will have to change certain hobbies or after hours obligations.
- How the career change will impact your family and other loved ones. What do they think?
- The timing. Is it a good time to take a risk in consideration of your current circumstances. Will you have similar opportunities later on?
Career path, opportunities and workplace culture
- To truly consider which move will be best for your career in the long term, it is necessary that you invest time in reflection to ascertain your desired career path, or at least understand your motivators, your working preferences, your ambitions, your values, etc. This is easier said than done and I have personally found that these personal beliefs and drivers change over time and can be clouded by external factors such as status and money. A wealth of tools and courses exist for the sole purpose of figuring this out and this linked article provides a great summary of personal preferences to consider.
- The reputation and the goodwill established in your current position compared to the uncertainty of a new workplace.
- The level of responsibility, autonomy, room for continuous learning and opportunities available for each role. Is it a step sideways, forward or backwards? Which step will take you in the direction of your goals? Perhaps one role is a step down in status and pay, but will provide you with critical skills and experience that you were lacking. If the change involves a new industry or career altogether, then the opportunities and growth in those industries, which will be a contributing factor to how employable you will be down the track.
- Which workplace will make you happy. In addition to my first point about aligning your personal working preferences/ambitions, you can gauge the potential fit by talking to people or researching online by looking at aspects such as the workplace’s initiatives around volunteering, diversity, employee well-being initiatives, etc. Do the values of each employer align with your own? For example, you may find it challenging working for a cigarette company if you are strongly against smoking.
- Whether you will have to re-train, up-skill or establish new networks. If you will have to make a significant financial investment to do so (for example, course fees or membership fees), you may want to include this in the financial assessment.
- Your career history and how the move will look on your CV. If you have only ever stayed with one employer for less than a year, this may raise alarm bells with future employers. My general rule of thumb is to stay in a role for 2 years, however early in my career there were quite a few stints of 1.5 year positions. Fortunately this has been offset with a solid 4 years with one employer.
- How the move will impact your current employer, whether you made any commitments to your employer, etc. At the end of the day, you need to make the decision that is right for you, but I know this is something that I still consider because I really value good working relationships.
- What your mentors and other trusted advisers think.
And lastly, having objectively weighed up your options, don’t discount what your instincts are telling you. After all, you have to live with your decision. If you aren’t happy, you will likely find out about it in the form of sleepless nights, doubts or regrets. That said, if it quickly becomes apparent that you regret the decision, you can always a) make the most of the opportunity where possible and then b) reverse the decision or rectify it by changing jobs. At least you have then learned by experience that the particular role/career/industry was not for you! In this scenario of choosing between jobs, I like to think that there are no ‘wrong’ decisions. I don’t regret my time in Risk & Compliance at all; I learned a lot, developed new skills and worked with fantastic people.
Take comfort in the fact that having to decide between two different jobs is actually a fantastic problem to have.
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