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Finances & Money

Comparing Jobs: Why am I switching?

In my announcement that I got a new job, I promised to explain the details of the job change and a bit of comparison between the job. Well, here it is:

A Brief History of My Employment

I’ve been out of college almost 8 yeprars now, and in that time (counting this new job) I’ll have 5 different employers. That doesn’t count the various contracts/clients I’ve had while working in federal contracting.

For my first 4 years, I worked for a large, commercial enterprise, specifically in the oil industry. I was very fortunate to have been placed on a high-profile, new technology project that provided me very marketable skills that I used for my next 4 jobs (counting my new one).

In my second job, I commuted 90 miles away in Pennsylvania. I lived up there during the week and drove back to my Maryland home for the weekends. I left that job because the company got acquired by another company who had a competing division to my own. There was too much risk to the position at the time, and Stacie wasn’t on board with moving to PA anyway, so I left to come back to D.C.

My third job was my first federal contracting gig. In the prior 2 jobs, my client was my own company. Now I had to deal with formal contracts and, more importantly, the divide between clients and contractors. No matter how comfortable you get with your client, there’s always that formal, legal barrier between you called a contract that you must fulfill. Therefore, there’s always a sense of distrust: your client thinks you’ll swindle them at the first opportunity, and you think your client is going to extract every last bit of work out of you and not care your company needs to make a profit to stay viable.

That first gig lasted for 7 months before the contract ended. I’ll say that I got paid very well to do absolutely nothing, literally. Due to conflicts of interest between my contract and a new one they were trying to issue (and which I was hired to advise them on), I couldn’t attend meetings to do my job. I sat around for 7 months answering maybe one question per week. I left the company because I didn’t see any interesting jobs coming down the pipe, and didn’t want to be placed in a boring position where I would lose my skills. I had already lost 7 months of marketable experience, and didn’t want to get further behind my perceived competition.

My most recent employer, also a federal contractor, has been very good to me with regards to both benefits and employee interaction. I was there almost 3 years. In the first 2.5 months, the contract I was hired for kept getting delayed, so they paid me to just hang out, do little in-house tasks, and mostly just stay at home and lounge by my pool. But once the contract got going, I spent the next 17 months working hard to get requirements analysis, design and development done on a project that eventually went kaput because the client ran out of cash. We were so close to deployment, but had to end everything without notice.

I spent the next month on “the bench” (paid to sit and wait like my first 2.5 months), but I was also recuperating my back after herniating a disk. I was then placed on my current contract for the next 15 months, but from the start it wasn’t a good fit. I won’t get into the specifics, but I wasn’t being challenged mentally, and I really wanted to get back into more of a technical position.

And now for my new job…

Looking for Job Satisfaction

As I said, I was already making good money, but I wasn’t being challenged. While some friends and family wondered why I would leave my cushy job, all of my colleagues understood that in any field, you need to stay marketable by learning new skills. They also understand that sitting in an office all day with no meaningful work is like mental abuse. It’s fine to take a short break from a hectic work schedule, but not for 15 months!

Although I liked my coworkers and company, a friend from my first employer found a job opening at his employer, a higher education institution, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing: technical analysis and system administration. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. It also helped that my friend loved his boss, his employer and his work, and I trust him from knowing him for 8 years now.

My friend’s boss basically worked for about 2 years trying to open a position in his group specifically for me, because he also trusted my friend’s opinion. So I really have my friend to thank for getting me this new job, and it proves networking is vital for finding new opportunities.

Happiness over Money

When I was considering this job opportunity, I had to decide which was more important: job satisfaction or money. I had to figure out how much of a pay reduction I would be willing to take to get this new job. I knew the job was exactly what I wanted, but I know I wouldn’t take a 20% pay cut!

I eventually decided that I would accept up to a 5% pay cut, but only if my new employer would somehow cover the tuition reimbursement I would have to pay back. If I leave my employer within 1 year of getting tuition money, I have to repay it, and I just got over $5000 for this semester in January. So somehow I would have to get my new employer to pay $5000 for me.

So financially, I knew where I had to be for negotiations. I was ready to push hard against their initial offer to get where I was comfortable…

Negotiations

Since the boss was definitely going to offer me the job because he knew I was the best (and easiest to find) fit, I had a slight advantage in negotiations. As is usual, he asked how much I currently make, and I told him. Normally, in negotiations, you should tell them where you want to be, not where you are, but since I felt I was already overpaid, I was open with my answer. However, I didn’t let on that I would be willing to take a salary cut.

But I also made it very clear that I was worried about paying back the $5000 in tuition, and asked what he could do about that. Whether he could reimburse me or pay for my last 2 classes (which would have been out of my pocket at my current employer anyway), I left it up to him, but kept reiterating the importance of that amount. However, the question was whether my company would commit to their policy and actually make me pay it back, or either forget or forgive the amount. Based on talks with past managers, it could go either way. Plus, I left during corporate tax reporting time, which is a headache for accounting and payroll anyway, so they may overlook the amount.

The Offer

So the boss called back with the verbal offer. I was rather surprised. Whereas I was prepared to take up to a 5% pay cut, and maybe getting them to agree to reimburse half my tuition, I got:

  • A 1.5% pay increase
  • Agreement to reimburse the full $5000 if my company requires me to pay it back

However, in my excitement to accept the offer, I failed to ask to get the same amount of vacation days as I currently have (18) rather than their default (15). I would have to wait 2 years to get back up to 18, but then I found out later they separate vacation and sick leave, unlike my current employer. I’ll get 15 days of PTO (use it or lose it policy) and 12 days per year of sick leave (earned time rolls over to the next year). Not too shabby!

So without trying, they met, and exceeded, my financial requirements for the job. I would have an exciting, challenging and rewarding job, working with a trusted friend and excellent manager for a very comfortable salary. How did I get so blessed?

Benefits Comparison

As I previously mentioned, my current employer (well, most recent as I write this after my last day) had pretty good benefits:

  • Our PPO medical plan costs under $100 a month for both of us
  • They paid up to $5k per year for tuition,
  • They give out free shares in the company (aka ESOP). Luckily I vested in my ESOP shares on 3/31/09, so good timing! (They’re now a public company so those shares are worth something)
  • They reimbursed health club memberships (50% for <3 years, 100% for >3 years service)
  • They matched our 401k contributions up to 4% if we put in 5% for a total of 9% contribution.
  • They participate in WageWorks, which takes pretax money out of your paycheck for commuting expenses. This really helped me save some cash on using the metro for work the last 2 years.
  • We got off all the federal holidays
  • They and they have a rockin’ sushi bar at the holiday party.

They’re still a relatively small company, but they’ve done well with saving their employees money on benefits costs and adding special perks you don’t find at many other companies.

My new employer has some pretty good benefits too, but I don’t expect to use them anytime soon, specifically their tuition benefit, as I’m almost finished with a masters degree at another institution:

  • They have 3 medical plans to choose from, but the cheapest is still double the monthly premium as our current plan. This is the biggest drawback financially, and uses up all my pay increase. We’ll end up going with Stacie’s employer’s plan, which is slightly cheaper and has better deductibles, coinsurance and coverage. Same goes with dental insurance.
  • They pay 96% of your tuition at their school, and a majority of your spouse and dependent’s tuition too, if they choose to use the benefit.
  • They match your 401k for up to 10% contribution, slightly better than my current employer. They also give 4% just for the heck of it, so I’ll be getting between 4%-14%, depending on how much I contribute. Unfortunately, the matching doesn’t kick in until I’m there for 2 years.
  • They’re an education institution, which means big discounts
  • They do have an on-site, free-to-use gym, plus showers and locker rooms for employees. It’s not a big building, and no students are in our building, so this is a major benefit (to me at least)

Those are the biggest benefits (the medical and dental being the only downsides). But I also had to consider the commute.

The Commute

Right now I commute about 30 miles on the subway. It costs me $9 per day (partially tax deductible), plus $4.50 per day when I need to drive to the metro and park.

My new job will require me to drive 30 miles to work, but up to 40% of the work will be near a metro line, according to the boss. I had to think hard about whether I wanted to drive so far to work each day, but after the last few weeks I had riding the DC metro, I can’t wait to get back on the road!

With my truck, I estimate that gas will need to be at $3 per gallon to match what I pay on the metro, not counting tax breaks or wear and tear. But that’s just a day-to-day comparison. Since I’ll still be riding the metro some of the time AND since I can drop the wife off at work sometimes (adding 2o miles onto my daily commute, but also saving another 20 miles), the straight cost comparison is difficult and useless as I would accept the job anyway. I actually like driving, so I’m happy to change up my routine.

Summary

That was a lot of information, so let me summarize it all in a few sentences. My new job will be challenging, yet very rewarding. I’ll be working side-by-side with a trusted friend. Most of the new benefits are more expensive than my current benefits, but other benefits may prove to make up for the difference (i.e. the tuition, if we use it). The commute is long, and if gas goes up really high again, then I might regret it, but I like driving and it’s mostly against traffic. And if I stick around long enough, I get a pretty sweet 401k match πŸ™‚

If I were to look at the job decision from simply a financial view, then the extra benefits cost and potential for high commuting costs would lead me to decline the position. However, the qualitative rewards from the job itself far outweigh a couple hundred dollars extra per month. I’ve been unhappy in my career for about 4 years now, and it’s time to go do something that makes me happy.

About the author

Clever Dude

13 Comments

  • I took a huge pay cut to go back to academia to be a teacher, which I absolutely love. I think that it’s more important to do something that makes you happy than something that makes you money. Plus, I know I make a difference. In the three years I’ve been doing it, I’ve seen a 20% increase in pay and I’m one of the most well-liked (by students) and well-respected (by my peers) professors in the department.

    A challenging, rewarding job with qualitative benefits is better imho. You can’t buy those with money.

  • It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations on money versus satisfaction. But the cases we are presented with are usually more muddled and complicated. You have shown that through your analysis. Point taken πŸ™‚

  • Wow, thanks for the detailed breakdown of your decision. Those kinds of things are always difficult, but it sounds like you’ll be very happy with the new job!
    It’s probably a good time to get out of consulting with things slowing down anyway. My company (IT service consulting) seemed to be doing fairly well for awhile, yet myself and 4 others were laid off yesterday! Being an employee is always a completely different feeling, so enjoy!

  • Nice, great job (literally!:))! Gives me lots to think about for my own situation. I definitely agree with the part about not being meaningfully challenged… good reason to have an emergency fund in place so that you never have to compromise on job satisfaction. What length of time do you think is good for staying at one job before trying to move up and get better opportunities elsewhere?

  • I am new here but wanted to say I think the decision you made was fantastic! Most people choose money which is why most people hate their job. I like the line of thought that says if you love your job it’s less like work. Wise decision and good luck with the transition!

  • I’m new too, but I just wanted to add my two cents. I think it was a great move to be willing to take a pay cut in order to be in a job where you will feel happy. Of course, it’s an added bonus that in the end you got a pay raise, but as the old cliche goes “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”. Although I do many of the same things in my new(ish) life as a freelancer that I did when I was working for “the man” in project management, I’ve found that the small changes I made have made a world of difference in my life and overall job satisfaction. I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled. It’s a true example of how the power of small can change your life!

  • I have to say that you give me hope to eventually move out of my first job, looking forward a few years. As it seems you have done the same out of the same company/location. This is of course once I’m financially stable enough to take a significant paycut. Learning is to take the most out of it as I can with skills and take it with me to do something further and more in my interests in the future.

    Congrats on following what fulfills you instead of your wallet.

  • @J Money, yes it does mean I’ll be IMing less, and twittering less.

    @MoneyEnergy, if you’re unhappy somewhere, first you need to figure out what is making you unhappy and try to fix that. In my job, I tried to find satisfaction by asking for responsibility, more work, etc., but was always disappointed. I realized I just needed more challenging work than what they could ever offer on that contract. You need to exhaust your opportunities at your current employer before giving up, but I recommend always having a fallback before quiting a job! I didn’t put in my resignation until I had the firm offer from the new employer. They could always take it back, but you have to trust them at some point.

    @enemyofdebt, great insight!

    @All, thank you for your well-wishes. I still have tempered enthusiasm because this April and May are the toughest parts of my school semester (3 classes) plus travel 5 out of 6 weekends! I won’t be relieved until my schoolwork is done and traveling is out of the way (only one travel is for work; they’re sending me to Orlando!)

  • I’m glad that your new job has brighter prospects! I think that people are a lot more willing to make use of employees (based on my dad’s experience as both contractor and employee), so you should get some of the challenge you’re craving. πŸ™‚

    They also understand that sitting in an office all day with no meaningful work is like mental abuse.

    One of the best things I’ve read on your blog. That’s why I left my first job out of college. Even commenting on blogs all day wasn’t mentally fulfilling. This job has lulls and rushes, but I get enough meaningful work that my brain is happy. πŸ™‚

  • What I love about this post is the fact that you compared everything, but ultimately went with what would make you happy as opposed to the money. About 97% of our society goes for the money and that’s why they invented prozac! πŸ˜‰

    For myself, I wish I could just jump into what I want to do. Not that I’m not trying, but screenwriting is a tough industry to break into and it involves more than just interviewing. You have to have scripts. Between everything else I do, it’s hard to get a consistent writing schedule down. I often choose the money over my passion. Sucks, but there are bills to pay and commitments to keep. Eventually I’ll get where I want to be, but it’s a long road for me.

    Which is why I like stories like this because I can live vicariously! Congratulations on getting where you want to be in your career. I imagine it’s a great feeling and you’ll be great at it!

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