Making A Career Mistake

I’ve been at my new job for six weeks now and I am starting to get the hang of things. My boss has me working with a big, important, and innovative client. My team likes working with me. I have already made some impactful changes that is improving the way things are done. To top it all off, the company is doing very well financially and, should it make the right changes, could very well make its way to success.

In spite of all this, I think I made a mistake taking this job.

I was right to quit my old job. The organization had a lot of problems that, over the years, had led to a lot of emotional baggage. Morale was low, infrastructure was breaking, and the long term trajectory of the industry was iffy.

But there were good things at that job too. Friends whose company I enjoyed, interesting and moderate workload, lots of variety, and by the time I left some sense of expertise.

At my new job, I have… none of these things. Some of my coworkers are fine but none seem open to new friends. The work is much easier than my last job, but there’s so much more of it and my clients, somehow, are 10x more demanding than any I’ve ever had to deal with before. And every time I ask a question to technical contributors not on my primary team, they look at me like I’m an idiot to be endured at best.

If it were just that list, though, I wouldn’t feel as I do now. In fact, I worried for a while that I was just dealing with the new job blues. But I’ve realized that there are big issues that I hadn’t considered before at this place, the kind I wouldn’t have been able to gauge in an interview. My boss (contrary to the “let me know if I can help”) doesn’t have time to mentor me in any meaningful way (or if they do it just adds more work I’m super not interested in doing on my plate), there are significant process issues that senior leadership has failed to make, and frankly I find the client management part of my job to be tedious rather than invigorating (turns out, quality of client matters a lot!).

I also feel like the career change element was probably not what I wanted either. Like, what I am doing now is way easier than the work at my old job. That said, I feel so much less satisfied with the type of work I am doing. Far less technical and therefore in my brain less cache.

So now I’m here six weeks in wondering… well… what next? I could wait it out at this job for a couple years until my non-compete runs out and go back to my old industry, opening up my own shop. Or I could just bite the bullet and become a developer already. It’s still probably too early to quit, right? Sigh. Maybe this is all there is?

Anyway, that’s what’s up with my life, work-wise lately.

Have you ever made a bad career decision? Do you feel like you ever recovered? If so, how?

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First Thoughts On The New Job

A mishmosh of thoughts in no particular order:

My commute is so much shorter than at my last job and it is amazing. That extra 40 minutes a day makes a huge difference in my energy levels.

There’s a lot for me to do here. Which on the one hand is okay since I have a pretty good idea of the steps I need to take to make a real impact. On the other hand, I’m still feeling lazy and like I just want to continue to read books, idly amble about the neighborhood, eat at all the nice lunch buffets nobody else goes to because they’re busy working, and watch GLOW all day. Is that too much to ask? (Yes, obvs.)

I feel like I’m ramping up on our systems very quickly. It probably helps that I spent a ton of time in my funemployment researching the company, interviewing the team for pre-job input, and reading MBA-esque books to prepare.

I don’t understand people who get “bored” in retirement. Were it not for money and all that, I could have readily extended my month of funemployment for years without a problem.

How am I so freaking tired from sitting!?

My anxiety is being super mellow right now and I’m kind of concerned? This is the first time I’ve majorly switched contexts and have felt basically nothing. Like, super blasé. No anxious flutters, no desperately wanting to impress or please. No excitement either, even though I felt really pumped about this transition only a month ago. Is this normal? Am I depressed right now?

Everybody seems nice, inoffensive, and not cynical here. It makes me feel weirdly uncomfortable… what does that say about me as a person?

I think part of the reason I feel so emotionally uninvested right now is probably because fiancé and I have decided, unless there’s a significant turn in the political tides, that we need to seriously consider moving next year. I feel ambivalently like I am both overreacting and underreacting. It’s been taking up a lot of brain space. Ugh. I don’t even know how to live life as if everything’s “normal” anymore.

I’m so unused to talking to new people. So many times new colleagues came up to me with, “Hi!” and I responded, “Good! I mean, hi!” Facepalm.

Have you ever felt “meh” during the first week at a new job? Any tips for making the transition back to work?

 

Job Offer Negotiation Was A Success

It’s official: I took the new job!

I’m glad to finally have this out of the way so my brain space can be consumed less by anticipating work and instead truly embrace this brief period of funemployment.

Before I accepted my job offer I, of course, negotiated. It helps that I have a lot of very aggressive friends and mentors that have taught me to be relentlessly entitled. You won’t get what you don’t ask for and all that jazz.

In my negotiations, I asked for an extra $20k in salary and an extra week of vacation my first year of employment. In return, my future employer gave me a $10k bump in salary, title promotion, and a promise of flexibility when it came to the vacation, though one they wanted to handle off the books (i.e. we’ll see if they live up to those promises). My new salary is still a pay cut relative to what I’d been making before but is in line with industry standards for the size of the company. The vacation policy is pretty iffy, but I’ll live.

While I’m a little disheartened that I didn’t get quite the salary bump or vacation commitments I wanted, the title promotion by itself is a big plus in my book. One of the things I have been worried about as part of this career change has been moving far back in terms of seniority. My thought is, even if this job doesn’t work out for the long haul, having that “Senior” by my job title will help add legitimacy to my experience and make it easier for me to apply for bigger roles or justify to big companies to bring me on board down the line.

In negotiating my job offer, I did three things:

One, I established a high anchor for compensation early. A lot of folks new to fields try to be wishy washy and force the other party to name a number first. But then, if an employer low balls, you have a much harder time edging them up drastically. With enough data– I use Glassdoor and Paysa for tech roles– you can generally figure out the range which a company is likely to offer and pick a number above it as an anchor point. For me, my anchor point was my previous pay since I was coming from a more highly compensated role and other job offers I had received for that sort of work.

Two, I dug into and negotiated multiple areas of my offer. While compensation was most important to me, through the negotiation process the company was able to “clarify” (i.e. I think they figured this out for the first time) their quite generous maternity leave policy. I also think being flexible on compensation got me a little flexibility in terms of vacation time on their end, which they had started pretty hard-nosed about (for reasons I don’t entirely understand).

Three, and most importantly, I remained consistently open and respectful, even when there was tension between me and the company and when I did not receive exactly what I wanted. In game theory, one’s optimal strategy will differ if they are engaged in a single or repeated game. Salary negotiation is a repeated game. Establishing early that I am willing to assert my worth but also do it in a respectful way will pay dividends down the line, I think, when pushing for raises, promotions, and for being seen as someone who is willing to be “tough” and represent the company as aggressively as I do my own interests. This negotiation may have ended, but the next one is always waiting around the corner.

Have you ever negotiated a job offer? Do you do so by default? What strategies do you use to determine your market value and negotiate?

Will Changing Careers Destroy My Dreams of FIRE?

My interview last week went really well. There’s a very good chance I’ll be getting an offer from the company, I think, based on the conversations I had with the hiring manager. This role is a good opportunity to get my foot in the door in an industry I’ve been wanting to transition to for a while. And the company itself, while it’s early days yet and I’m sure in time I’ll find it doesn’t hit all my criteria, seems to be a pretty good one with low turnover and good growth. At the very least my commute would be significantly easier, and for that alone the transition might be worth it.

The biggest hesitation I’ve had making this leap has been, obviously about the money. As part of this career change, I’ll be taking a big pay cut. Probably 20% of my pay if I’m lucky. Also, as a smaller company, they are missing a lot of benefits I’ve gotten very accustomed to in the corporate world like retirement plans with matching and maternity leave, etc.

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Using rough estimates of what the company will offer based on my discussions with the hiring manager, the average pay for this role in the market, and the maximum I’m willing to take in terms of a pay cut, I expect our household savings rate will drop significantly from 64% to 55%. If I manage to negotiate up the cash compensation to just a “mere” 20% pay cut, our savings rate will only drop to 60%.

Luckily fiancé recently started working again after a six month period of unemployment, so in a sense it won’t feel like our financial progress will be changing that much at all since I never really got “used to” a 64% savings rate. However, the new set up requires that both of us be working in order to maintain a >50% savings rate. Once we have kids, for instance, if we do day care or if fiancé becomes a stay at home father, we’ll be hovering 30-40% savings rate territory. Not terrible by any means, but a huge difference if our goal is FIRE. Like, a ten year difference.

So long and short of it: Am I giving up FIRE to pursue this career change? Yes and no. For just a little while, I want to prioritize the now-me versus the future-me. If I angle this thing right, I should be back on a good career and income trajectory in 1-2 years. Sure, I may not hit all the dates on my FIRE plan. But really this stuff is all about flexibility and optimizing happiness along the way. Hopefully, I’ll be doing just that.

Is it worth it to take a pay cut in order to change careers? Any tips on how to negotiate maximum possible pay while still resigning to a pay cut in this sort of scenario?

My Staged Plan For Unemployment

Six weeks and counting until I leave my job. Time flies by quick.

I’m waist-deep prepping for work deadlines that wrap up right before I leave so I’m in adrenaline rushed, get ‘er done mode. Even though the burnout part of my brain is ready to check out, I’m doing pretty well at making sure all the big things go smoothly. I want to make sure my teams are in a good place by the time I depart. I haven’t told most of my colleagues I’m leaving yet. We’re all in a crunch so I’m waiting to announce until things slow down around mid-May.

There was a period that I considered contracting for my company part-time. With Fiancé’s new job, I’d be able to make enough for us to live on pretty readily. I’d still be open to the possibility if it works out, and management seems to be on board, but the bureaucracy doesn’t seem to be able to get it together in time for us to have a contract in place by the time I leave. And I refuse to stick around in limbo all summer hoping that changes.

So I’m now outlining the plan assuming I won’t be contracting and I won’t find a new job before I leave. Originally I drew it up still relying on a separate finances model. (Honestly, I’ve been putting off combining my finances with fiancé because of my upcoming unemployment. I really hate the idea that right when we merge our financial lives, I’m no longer contributing to the family pot. He’s been very supportive about everything– pointing out that I’ve contributed the lion’s share while he’s been unemployed before and that I’ll probably be back to work again soon. Still, it feels weird and vulnerable and while I like that we can rely on each other, it’s very scary to loosen my grip and feel less in control.) But I’m coming around to basing things off our proposed joint budget.

Introducing a staged approach

Because this period of unemployment is going to include my first real summer in the six years since I graduated college, I really want to make the most of the time to decompress. But in order to make that happen, I want to set boundaries so that I feel free to really enjoy this time and not rush myself into hasty decisions going into my next job.

According to my monthly net worth projections (based on my monthly tracking), I’ve done pretty well enough adding to our cash position that even if I stuff most of my upcoming paychecks into my Mega Backdoor Roth 401k, we’ll be sitting on more cash than we would typically want or need in our emergency fund. How freaked out I plan to be will be based off of where we are in terms of that cash position: well above normal emergency fund, getting close, at or below, or in the red.

Here’s my unemployment in four potential stages:

Stage 1 – Guilt-free decompression

  • Primary goal: relax.
  • Spend money as I would normally.
  • Put together revised resume and LinkedIn. Otherwise, no obligation to search for jobs.
  • Only accept job offers from companies that align with my values as well as my professional and personal goals. No accepting low-balls or any position I don’t feel 95%+ about.
  • Duration: until 1/3 of “excess” cash position is spent, approximately two months (June 2018 – July 2018)

Stage 2 – Strategic workforce re-entry

  • Primary goal: get a good job.
  • Spend money according to joint budget.
  • Apply for jobs in product management. Use variety of avenues — recruiters, LinkedIn/Glassdoor/Indeed/AngelCo, Meetups, alumni networks, personal network
  • Accept job offers that align with professional and personal goals.
  • Duration: until remaining “excess” cash position is spent, approximately four months (August 2018 – November 2018)

Stage 3 – Aggressive workforce re-entry

  • Primary goal: get a job.
  • Spend money according to joint budget but cut personal allowances.
  • Apply for multiple types of tech or tech-adjacent roles- product management, software engineer, data analyst, QA, technical writing. Continue using variety of avenues. Use side hustles to supplement income while waiting for full-time work.
  • Accept job offers which meet minimum salary requirements, that I could deal working at for 1-2 years.
  • Duration: until half of emergency fund is spent, approximately nine months (December 2018 – August 2019)

Stage 4 – Drastic times call for drastic measures

  • Primary goal: stay afloat.
  • Revise joint budget and cut personal allowances.
  • Apply for work within and outside tech. Continue using a variety of avenues. Get in touch with temp agencies. Beg for my old job back? Use side hustles to supplement income while waiting for full-time work. Consider renting out second bedroom to roommate or on AirBnB. Investigate strategies for tax-effectively liquidating assets as needed (brokerage > half retirement > home > rest retirement).
  • Accept any non-illegal job that’ll keep household afloat.
  • Duration: ???

I refuse to write out a stage 5 plan. I’ll worry about it if we get there. Here’s hoping I stay in stages 1 and 2!

What would you do if you left your job? Would you start finding a new job immediately? At what point and by how much would you lower your standards during unemployment? What would you cut first?

Be Entitled

On my way out the door, I’m starting to impart my last words of wisdom to our newest hires. It didn’t really dawn on me until the past year that there’s a cohort of people who look up to me. Not just as a manager but as a… mentor? Whom they ask for… advice? It still feels awkward to think about.

When I joined my company, there were no other women in the firm’s technology group. Just twenty-five-ish guys, most of which were at least six feet tall, all of which were white.

Now, our team has six women out of a group of thirty-ish, not including myself. Two of which are non-white. In spite of the fact that I’d never considered myself the type of person to actively lean in, guess how many of those women moved into our group after I started getting involved in hiring decisions.

In my short time I’ve even been in the position to mentor others– not just women, but especially women– there’s one thing that I’ve wanted, desperately have tried to impart, over and over:

Be entitled!

Now, being entitled doesn’t mean what you might think. It doesn’t mean being a jerk, doesn’t mean to obstinately block progress lest you get exactly your way. But it does mean getting what you deserve and really knowing you deserve it too, even if the little gremlins in your head tell you maybe it’s an overreach, maybe you aren’t ready.

Here’s the thing: over the years, I’ve had the benefit of learning from some really smart and talented men. One thing I’ve learned is that when those men have very strong convictions about something, they make sure those convictions are heard. Sometimes prolongedly, sometimes stepping on the toes of others, sometimes ad nauseum until a poor new hire is checking the clock every thirty seconds to see if she’s going to make it out of this meeting in time to catch the train to a dinner party she needs to get to. And these men do this not because they are trying to be jerks, but because we work in an environment premised on collaborative argumentation and in that environment they are entitled to have their opinions heard in full and considered by others in good faith.

It took me a while to get used to this way of working. When I was new I would often come and go from meetings not having said a word, feeling unsure of how to interrupt and make space for my opinions. Managers would have to call on me like I was still a student, YAPFB, what do you think about this? YAPFB, you’ve done the analysis, does this fit what you’ve seen?

It took a few good mentors, men who are staunch feminists and walk the walk, to reiterate for me again and again: You can interrupt. You are entitled to have your opinion heard. You are allowed to take up space. It had been so engrained in me all my life to be as background as possible, to take up as little oxygen in the room as I could, that my understanding of my own desert was warped. While I didn’t need my mentors permission, I did need their reminder:  I am not just allowed, I am entitled.

This revelation of entitlement expanded to other areas of my work life. I was not just entitled to be heard, I was also entitled to be paid. I was not just entitled to be paid, but I was also entitled not to take on all the career-stunting admin work that nobody else wanted to do because I was so “organized.” I was entitled to work-life balance and, as a human, I was entitled to sometimes make a mistake. I am entitled not to hear sexist jokes by the water cooler and I am entitled when I hear them to call them out.

When I see newer, younger women in my group, I often see a mirror of my younger self’s habits and behaviors. Recently, one of our newer hires jumped back into projects the day after a semi-serious head injury and working into the late hours of the night to hit a couple of deadlines. Because she felt like she had to fulfill her obligations to the team, she ended up exacerbating her injury. When I told her manager that I was concerned, he said, “I think it’s cute that she works so hard.” #nope, going to go flip some tables now

Because she, you, I, all humans in decent living conditions are entitled to drop tasks after a head injury. (Hopefully not silently, but whatcha gonna do?) Basic things, health being the first among that list, nobody else should be able to take from you. Not your employer, not anyone. You as a person, an identity you had way before you as an employee, are entitled to that.

It’s taken a lot of practice to feel comfortable being entitled. To learn to assert my own desert than to wait for others assert it on my behalf. To learn to state what I feel entitled to instead of asking if I am entitled to them. To be– if I’m being flip about it– like “one of the boys,” who haven’t had a sense of diminutiveness, of sweet and passive deference cudgeled into them from the day they were born. I hope to pass this along to the next cohort of women as well as I can, with what little time I have.

What advice would you give young professional women in your field?

Senioritis

Whenever I read threads about retiring early, people talk about feeling elated and almost nostalgic at their jobs before they leave. They often say things like how leaving takes the pressure off the office politics, how for the first time in years they’re able to really focus and crank out their work. Sprinting to the finish line.

On the one hand I definitely feel less annoyed at office politics. Knowing that I’ll be gone in two months has helped me take a lot of really painful changes in stride. Though I still continue to think about the long term wellbeing of my group– and in particular about the colleagues I really care about– I no longer feel like each change at the organization is going to upend our team. They’re bad business decisions that require annoying workarounds. And that’s okay. Not my circus, not my monkey. It won’t affect me for much longer anyway.

On the other hand, I don’t feel any less stressed doing my actual work. I still feel this need to make clients happy, to be “on” weekends leading up to a deadline. Lately too I’ve started having work dreams where my brain works on projects while I’m unconscious. This is something that hasn’t happened to me since college, when I’d debug difficult assignments during the course of my most restless sleep.

Sadly though this stress hasn’t translated into motivation. As I get closer to my leave date I can feel my motivation levels suddenly and precipitously drop. I find myself sitting in front of my computer minutes at a time blankly thinking, “Just type. Just type. Just type.” Or, “Why am I here? This is meaningless. Maybe I should quit sooner.” In some ways I feel like I’m in those couple of weeks leading up to finals and my brain’s convinced if it don’t do well I won’t graduate or something. So it’s procrastinating, hard.

I’m still two months out from when I leave, so maybe my mood will change a month out, a week out, on my final day. Right now I’m feeling a bit of senioritis, but I’ll try my best to push through until the end.

How did you feel on your last days/weeks/months before leaving a job? Were your motivation and performance affected?