Should I take a long-term position in which I don't intend to stay?
May 23, 2009 11:34 PM   Subscribe

Should I take a "career" position in a field in which I don't want to advance so that I can get the money to do what I want to do?

Factors:

Recent college graduate.

I know what I want to do. It requires a little money to get started and is a little off the beaten path. My skills are well-suited to it and it makes me happy. There is no question that this is what I want to do; I have both practical and theoretical experience. It may be more of a networking-based, intermittent employment thing, possibly requiring me to pay for things like my own health insurance.

I have interviewed for a job for which I am very qualified. It is an entry-level position with an entity that isn't going anywhere soon (read: good benefits and a future that I could depend on); part of the reason I'm qualified is that the skill set for this job and what I would like to do are similar. The problem is that this is the institutionalized version of what I want to do. The skills don't seem to be immediately transferrable to other work, since at least the first couple of months are spent learning very specific technology. This would be a desk job, and I have always wanted to avoid desk jobs, although --or because-- I'm good at them.

I have some student loans (less than $10,000) and don't like to be in debt.

Once in a place, I suffer from inertia and have trouble moving out. I am concerned that this job could be "good enough"; I worked in an office last year and was surprised by how content I felt. I don't want to settle for being content and am worried that if I start this job I will miss out on opportunities later. However, it offers pretty good pay for an entry-level position (over $30,000/year) and could help take care of those student loans pretty quickly. I am normally all about experience and making connections, but it's tempting to take care of the debt in this case.

I am applying for programs and grants to do what I want to do and would go into this job, in any case, expecting to get out of it within a year or two. I was planning to make this clear in the interview but it never came up. My plan is sort of to pay off the debt, get some savings, and go off to start doing this other thing, having strengthened my skill set in the interim as best I can.

If I didn't take it I would be stuck with the rest of humanity, looking for a job (and I want to move out of my parents' house), but I would also have the flexibility to apply for internships, and the job I took would probably be easier to leave (retail or food).

Other things that might play into this: Is the economy bad enough that it's ridiculous to turn down work? What would enable me to make money and pay off the debt ASAP, or is that not my first priority? What is your experience in trying to pursue something while working full-time in a different field? --did you find those good intentions falling by the wayside? Any advice on doing my very best in this position if I take it? I need practical input here. I've been thinking it might be best to keep following my "dream" and not accept substitutes, but this could be a short track to what I want. I recently turned down a very cool opportunity because it was too good, if that makes sense, and I don't want to do that again.

If offered the position I will of course be forthright (in an intelligent, corporate kind of way) about the fact that I don't see myself continuing in it long-term. I will probably say that I am open to exploring the field (because who knows, right?) but see myself somewhere else in five years.
posted by ramenopres to Work & Money (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The problem is that this is the institutionalized version of what I want to do. The skills don't seem to be immediately transferrable to other work,

I have a feeling this is due to you being a recent college graduate. Take the job.

Once in a place, I suffer from inertia and have trouble moving out

That's where you're at now, too. Don't blame jobs for you only wanting to work at the perfect place, and your plans--such as they are--are very vague. I'm not just talking about the cloak of mystery you keep around this magical avocation of yours, but in the way you say your plan is "sort of...", "as best I can," and yadda yadda. Pretty weak language. You're not yet independent enough for your goals.
posted by rhizome at 11:48 PM on May 23, 2009


As long as you don't do it for "too long" -- do it. It's great to be out of debt and nothing gives future employers/customers/whatever confidence like prior experience. Just don't get trapped by the illusory feelings of security a "real" job appears to offer. In the current environment, ain't no such thing as a sure thing so it's important to be smart, perceptive and strategic about how you spend your time and what it gets you -- in every way. Both in the immediate term as well as how it sets you up for the future.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:00 AM on May 24, 2009


Take the job. Sounds like you have some groundwork to do on the life plan and better to be paid while doing it. Don't lie, but you also don't have to tell them you don't plan on sticking around forever. Unless you have a contract, any future plans more than a year out are none of their business.
posted by libraryhead at 12:25 AM on May 24, 2009


Yes, it is ridiculous to turn down work. Especially work that seems closely related to the work you actually want to be doing, that would help you pay off the debt you need to pay off before you can start doing that work. You're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here. It makes no sense to turn down experience in a field like the one you actually want to be in for retail or food service work where you won't have any opportunities to network, or anything to put on your resume.

When a company hires an employee, they rarely harbor the illusion that that employee will hang around forever. Doubly so for a new college grad. They'd love for you to stick around for a year or more, but beyond that they're not making any assumptions.
posted by crinklebat at 1:03 AM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Take the job and learn from it. It will help you in whatever you eventually end up doing. Even if the fields are totally different, you can learn a lot about working for yourself by working for someone else.

Also, keep in mind there is a difference between contentment and complacency. Contentment is a wonderful thing, but that doesn't mean you have to be complacent.
posted by The Deej at 1:20 AM on May 24, 2009


Other things that might play into this: Is the economy bad enough that it's ridiculous to turn down work?
Yes.
posted by craichead at 3:17 AM on May 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


n-thing the sentiment that you can't afford to turn down work in this environment.

But more than that, it's also the case that this is definitely something people do. Having experience is really, really important, and for most jobs it's a sort of chicken-egg problem: they won't hire you unless you have experience, which you need to be hired to get. Not only will this job help you financially, but a few years working there will probably set you up much better to do whatever it is you want to do on your own in terms of experience.

Also, there's nothing wrong with finding out that something is "good enough." Maybe you'll find out that what you think you want now isn't what you want five years from now. Nothing wrong with that. People and situations change, and you have to be prepared to deal with that.
posted by valkyryn at 3:24 AM on May 24, 2009


I'd have to disagree with folks upthread advising you to take the job.

I work in banking, a field that intrigued me from a very young age. I'm fortunate enough to work in a profession that I love, and I've pursued finance to a very high level of education because I wanted to. But in banking there are lots of folks who don't share my delight.

You see, lots of people are attracted to banking solely because of the sky high salaries. At best they have little or no interesting in the topic and at worst they totally totally detest what they do.

Over time they end up hating not just what they spend the bulk of their careers doing, but, sadly, also themselves. Sometimes this negativity is perceptible, and it taints relationships to the point of rendering them non functional or even toxic. But other times the hate is internalised and these people self medicate; alcohol, drugs, maybe erratic behaviour. Not surprisingly, over a long enough period of time in situations like this one's health is compromised.

Why don't they just move on? Simple answer: lifestyle. One can very easily get used to having a monthly net cash flow that is larger than the gross annual average wage. But most folks aren't careful with their money, they aren't prudent and they end up spending it all, getting themselves in debt. They don't use the cash flow as a opportunity to acquire their own capital, so the end result is they are trapped. They can't move on because they need the money, and because there is no easy way out the stress and self revulsion escalates.

The vicious cycle is only broken by a life changing event; major health problem, job loss, divorce or worse.

I'd suggest doing what you love, even if you'd be in debt for protracted period. Especially so as you are self aware to the point of knowing you find routine comfortable, that you "... suffer from inertia and have trouble moving out."

A work day will consume a very significant percentage of your time. The question really is where will you invest this time to get the best possible return to yourself?

Every morning I wake up long before my alarm goes off because I can't wait to do banking stuff.

For me, finance and banking offers the highest possible return on my investment of time. Not in pounds and pence, mind you, but in terms of personal delight, intellectual challenge and wonder.

I'd advise anyone to seek out such a dynamic when considering where they are going to invest their time.
posted by Mutant at 3:43 AM on May 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


Take the job. Absolutely take the job. From your very vague description, it sounds like you're considering some kind of freelancing or consulting-type role in the future. Let me tell you, no-one wants to hire a freelancer or consultant with no experience, and managing debt without a consistent paycheck is very, very difficult.

Take the job, throw as much money as you can at your debt while you've got it, save up six months or a year's worth of expenses, learn everything you can and work hard in your spare time at building the experience and contacts to do your 'dream' job.

If you really want your dream, you'll have a much better chance of making something of it with experience, a cash buffer and little or no debt behind you.

If you're worried about getting too comfortable and settling in, give yourself a time or savings-based target, i.e. I'll ditch this and go do my own thing in three years, or when I've got $20k saved. Then you have no excuses. Track it in a spreadsheet. Don't spend your whole paycheck on nice food or going out or IKEA furniture, just because you can. And don't, whatever you do, take on more debt 'because you can afford it' with your new salary. Seriously, if there's one thing I could go back and tell my newly-graduated self, it would be to avoid consumer debt at all costs. Debt is the killer of dreams.

Good luck.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:55 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's the way I see it: You have short-term needs (get your own apartment, pay off debt, save seed money for your dream job, meet people within your dream-job area of business). You've found two different ways to meet those needs:

Option 1: Do something outside your dream job, in an office, for $30,000. After hours and on weekends, pursue grants and programs.

Option 2: Do something outside your dream job, on your feet and with physical labor, for about minimum wage. After hours and on weekends, pursue grants and programs.

Only Option 1 will meet your short-term needs.

You have long-term goals (your dream job). With the 2 options:

Option 1: You might "settle" into it and not pursue your dream, but you will gain general work experience (since this is an institutional version of your dream job) and make valuable work connections. The experience and connections might help you be successful with your grants and programs.

Option 2: You will not be able to wait to get out of it, will not gain applicable work experience, and will probably make good friendships but not necessarily helpful work connections.

It seems that the only downside to Option 1 is fear of inertia. My advice is to take Option 1 if offered it, and work on improving your tendency of inertia by keeping your short-term and long-term goals and needs constantly in view. Write out your goals, and each of the steps you need to take to meet the goals, put the steps on a calendar, make checklists, etc.

And please, although I see why you think it proper, do not tell your employer that you don't plan to stick around. They do not make you long-term promises, and neither do you. This is not "sticking it to the man," this is part of the real working world. There is no need to explicitly point it out, unless you subconsciously want to jeopardize your chances of working there.
posted by Houstonian at 4:24 AM on May 24, 2009


Best answer: I think it'd be helpful if you told us what the jobs were that you are talking about.

I'd say take the job. How long would you need to work it to get what you need? Schedule a date to start thinking about leaving, another day to start actively looking to leave, and a day to really leave. That might help you with your tendency to get stuck.

I took a job I really didn't want when I was 26. Coincidentally it was September 12, 2001. It was draining and depressing but it kept me going for 3 years when things were pretty tough. I probably should have left sooner and been more proactive about looking but I can't complain too much.

To a degree: there is a reason they call it work and not play. If you can find something you really love to do and get paid for it, you are doing better than 90% of the population. If you are working towards that, you are doing good. You just can't assume that at any time you are going to be in your dream job. But don't forget what your dream job is.
posted by sully75 at 5:28 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


YES. Never turn down a job just because you might feel bad about quitting in the future. That's the cost of doing business, and employers expect people to quit. I wouldn't even necessarily be upfront about it either... who cares?
posted by bengarland at 6:03 AM on May 24, 2009


Mutant makes a very important point. It doesn't sound like the job would be the kind of misalignment Mutant talks about. If you feel it might be you may be better off not taking it. The reason being that any kind of career job takes a lot of time and effort. You will only be able to sustain that and be happy doing it if you actually enjoy what you do. You may think it's still worth doing a job for a year or two. The danger then is that you get used to income levels and take on financial commitments that mean you cannot just leave a job you have come to hate....

By the sound of it though your main concern is that you might enjoy this job too much and may end up giving up your dream years down the line as a result. Firstly, your dream two years down the line may not be the same as your current dream. Secondly, if your dream stays the same this job would still be time well spent. You will build networks, strengthen your skills set and gain valuable experiences all round. All of this will help you realise the dream. Most good consultants/free lancers don't set up their business straight after graduation. In most cases you need to fine tune the skills you want to sell, learn your craft properly if you like, before you are good and experienced enough to sell the skills outright.

To combat the inertia you mention establish a habit of taking stock of your life every 6-12 months. Question where you are currently and where you want to be and identify any changes you need to make to get to where you want to be.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:36 AM on May 24, 2009


It seems like having a job in your field would make you a lot more attractive a candidate for those grants you're talking about applying for. It would demonstrate that you have some experience and understanding of the real nature of the position, moreso than a job at McDonalds.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:59 AM on May 24, 2009


Best answer: Set up a 'mail to my future self' to arrive when you think your plans for world domination should be put into practice and you must abadon the stable gig. It should say something like this:

"Hi me!

Are you still the same person as sent this? If so, that money you banked has been accruing nicely and it's time to go out and do [x]. Don't feel like it? Check to see that life has not changed your goals, and adjust either your life, ore the goals as needed.

Love,
You"
posted by Phalene at 7:16 AM on May 24, 2009


If offered the position I will of course be forthright (in an intelligent, corporate kind of way) about the fact that I don't see myself continuing in it long-term.

Uh, don't say that.
posted by jayder at 7:21 AM on May 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: It seems like having a job in your field would make you a lot more attractive a candidate for those grants you're talking about applying for. It's not quite that cloes to "in my field." :( The parallels I see are experience with a certain demographic (loosely defined), some language practice, and the fact that it's stressful and team-based.

and your plans--such as they are--are very vague. The area I want to go into is a little amorphous and I'm not sure yet how best I will fit into it. Flexibility and uncertainty are required and I'm all right with that, but it's one of the reasons I would be concerned about entering a job that would greatly reduce that flexibility. However, you all make very good points.

The danger then is that you get used to income levels and take on financial commitments that mean you cannot just leave a job you have come to hate.... This may be the crux of my fears. What kind of financial commitments should I be careful of?
posted by ramenopres at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2009


I am applying for programs and grants to do what I want to do and would go into this job, in any case, expecting to get out of it within a year or two. I was planning to make this clear in the interview but it never came up. My plan is sort of to pay off the debt, get some savings, and go off to start doing this other thing, having strengthened my skill set in the interim as best I can.

Okay, I guess it depends on what you mean by "over $30,000" salary and "under $10,000" in loans, but it seems pretty unrealistic to pay off $10,000ish in debt on a $30,000ish salary in one or two years with enough left over for savings, at least unless you have a situation where your expenses are extremely low (living with parents or something)-- have you done the math on your after-tax income and your projected budget?

Also, what's the interest rate for the loans? That might affect how important it is to get the debt paid off.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:31 AM on May 24, 2009


Best answer: As someone who knows a lot of struggling grads take the job. I can almost guarantee that you will regret it if you don't. Right now any job that you are offered is something to be excited about, and like you said, it can give you the stability to do what you want.
posted by ishotjr at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2009


Response by poster: it seems pretty unrealistic to pay off $10,000ish in debt on a $30,000ish salary in one or two years with enough left over for savings

Really? (In all seriousness.)
posted by ramenopres at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2009


It's not quite that cloes to "in my field." :( The parallels I see are experience with a certain demographic (loosely defined), some language practice, and the fact that it's stressful and team-based. The area I want to go into is a little amorphous and I'm not sure yet how best I will fit into it.

The words I have bolded say it all. An area that is "amorphous," that is "not that close to [your] field," and which you're not sure how you will fit into, is certainly not an opportunity that you want to give up a solid job offer to pursue.

Experience has shown me that people with solid, entrepreneurial plans do not regard them as "amorphous." Nothing "amorphous" pays the bills. Trust me on this. When I was younger, before I had been out in the workforce, I did not realize how hard it is to get anyone to part with a dollar --- and I get the feeling you do not know this, either. When YOU regard your great plan as amorphous, that is a really bad sign, and almost certainly foretells that you are not going to be able to make a living at it.
posted by jayder at 7:42 AM on May 24, 2009


Oh, and is there some reason you can't just tell us exactly what you are planning? Are you not disclosing it because it is too "amorphous" to describe --- or are you afraid someone here will steal the idea --- or are you afraid it will be ridiculed?
posted by jayder at 7:43 AM on May 24, 2009


Think it terms of thirds: One-third for housing, one-third for transportation and related expenses (gas, insurance, maintenance), and one-third for other expenses (food, clothing, entertainment).

If you net $30,000/year, you can put aside $10,000 to pay of the loan (the first year) and save as seed money (the following year), and live like this each month:
Housing = $555
Transportation = $555
Food, clothing, entertainment = $555

Where you live, you may find (for example) transportation is cheaper but housing is more. So, you can jiggle the numbers a little each way to match up with what's possible in your area. But, if those numbers look reasonable for you and your area, you can apply $10,000 toward your debt and/or savings.
posted by Houstonian at 7:54 AM on May 24, 2009


(Oops, I forgot to mention, utilities go in with the housing. Cable TV and expensive cell phone services are not utilities.)
posted by Houstonian at 7:56 AM on May 24, 2009


Houstonian-- yeah, if you net $30,000. If you earn $30,000 pre-tax, though, you're probably paying $5000+ in FICA and federal income tax plus possibly $1000-$2000 more in state income taxes. You need to gross in the high $30s to net $30,000-- if you gross $30k you'll net low to mid $20s. (Google "paycheck calculator, ramenopres, to get the real numbers for your income and state.)

Also, you'll want to figure health insurance costs into your budget.

I'm not saying it can't be done if you live frugally, especially if you're there closer to two years than one. But it's not going to happen easily without careful budgeting and making some sacrifices. If you're committed, you can probably make it happen, but please run the numbers and have a plan.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:48 AM on May 24, 2009


Please note that Houstonian said "net" $30K - with taxes and other payroll deductions, you'd need to be earning more or less $38-$40K to take home that much, and that's without considering insurance or retirement plan deductions.

If you earn more like $32K, those numbers adjust to about $425. They also assume no drama - no serious illness, no accidents requiring trips to the ER, no huge car repairs, no need to travel, etc. I'm not saying it can't be done, but you should be realistic about how tight it's going to be.
posted by donnagirl at 8:55 AM on May 24, 2009


And, preview is your friend.
posted by donnagirl at 8:55 AM on May 24, 2009


On the bright side, if you're living on a tight budget to pay off the loans and save, you probably won't have to worry about getting used to a higher standard of living and making financial commitments (like high car payments, rent/mortgage, or even a pattern of high entertainment costs with friends, etc) that are too costly to afford after you quit!
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:59 AM on May 24, 2009


Here's another way to look at the numbers. Let's look at your second option, the minimum wage retail/fast food job.

In July, the US minimum wage will be raised to $7.25/hour. So, a 40-hour workweek is $290/week. That's $15080/year if you work 2080 hours in a year (40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year). Less than half the pay of your first option.

Filing as a single person, I believe that puts your federal tax rate at 15%. So, you keep 85% of his pay, or $12818.

Take away extra for FICA (7.5%), state taxes if you have them, health insurance if your employer does not provide it or does not fully pay for it. Plus you'll find that many employers will work you between 32 and 38 hours a week, so that they do not have to provide insurance. But, let's ignore that for a minute...

$12818 is $1068/month. Using the thirds rule of thumb:
Can you find a place to rent (plus utilities) for $356?
Can you find monthly transportation for $356?
Can you find food, clothing, and all other expenses for $356 per month?

Notice that is the retail/fast food option. Yes, you can apply for grants (same as the first option), but you won't chip away at your debt or have any savings.

Many people live on minimum wage. I'm sure they would tell you that it is not easy, and that they would do anything to double their pay.
posted by Houstonian at 9:19 AM on May 24, 2009


This may be the crux of my fears. What kind of financial commitments should I be careful of?


In my experience you can adjust your living expenses quite easily as long as you are not tied into long leases or a mortgage, because rent/mortgage is such a large chunk of your disposable income.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2009


Response by poster: I do not feel comfortable disclosing the field or the job on the thread because of the nature of the position but am more than happy to talk about it via private message. The work I want to do is international and network/experience-based. The job is with an entity that goes by the book and sets you up with a career track and opportunities from within their structure.
posted by ramenopres at 10:07 AM on May 24, 2009


Take the job!

It sounds like your ideas and plans for the long-term, what-you-really-want goals are still pretty inchoate. Being in this job will give you relevant experience and possibly relevant connections. That experience and those connections certainly don't have to be perfectly aligned with your long-term plans to be valuable. In any field there are pitfalls and challenges that aren't as visible from the outside. This gives you a chance to learn about those, so that eventually you will be able to create a smart and well-informed business plan for yourself.

Plus, you're going to have to pay the bills someone, no matter what. Working for yourself is not going to be profitable right away, especially if you're still not exactly sure what your plan is. So you can pay the bills via:

a) a hourly-wage job that doesn't pay very well, won't teach you anything about your field, won't connect you with potential future clients/partners, and won't help reassure future investors and clients that you know what you're doing; or
b) a decent-salaried job that will give you insight into both your field and the professional world at large, will potential put you in contact with people who share your interests and goals, and will look good and respectable to future clients.

Which is better?


Even if you end up really disliking this job and leaving even sooner than one or two years in, you won't have lost much--you'll have made a little money, learned some things, and you'll be that much more prepared for whatever you do next. For people at the beginning of their careers especially, I think that learning by doing is waaaaaay preferable to waiting for the perfect opportunity to fall into your lap.... cuz it proabably won't.

I understand that you're concerned about succombing to a rut and losing touch with your long-term dreams. To combat that possibility, you need to be super committed to developing your long-term ideas. Think of this an a 1 or 2 year training and incubation period. Make a timeline with specific goals--by what point do you want to have a business plan completed? How much start-up/seed money do you want to have saved up by the one-year mark? Create some kind of journal or place to keep your ideas, and be observant about what you're being exposed to at this job: what are the most important skills in your field, and what are the biggest challenges? Will you come in contact with other people doing something similar to what you eventually want to be doing? What can you learn from them?

Similarly, be very focused and deliberate with your money to forestall the "lifestyle-inflation-and-now-I'm-addicted-to-my-cushy-income" phenomenon. As much as possible, keep your lifestyle frugal and use your money to invest in your future plan (i.e. pay off your debt, save up money, possibly get more training if that's applicable).

I don't think you have to feel bad about (or be unecessarily explicit about) planning on leaving the job in a year or two. You're young and employers know they can't necessarily count on your staying with them forever. I do actually think, though, that you should be up-front with your employers about your eventual goals. You don't have to give them a timeline, but you could say, "You know, someday I would really love to be contributing to this field by doing independent work on X,Y, and Z issues." You might even be able to find a mentor.

What is actual and good is generally preferable to what is perfect but hypothetical. You don't know what you don't know, and I bet that this job has a lot more to teach you than you think it does. Plus, as other people have mentioned, your ideas might change. This job could expose you to things that help you shape your own ideas in ways you can't yet anticipate. Keep your plans to do your own thing in the forefront, put energy into developing and investing in them, and this job could b a really good opportunity that helps you get to your eventual goal of independent work.
posted by aka burlap at 12:11 PM on May 24, 2009


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