Should I stay or should I go? 2011 career satisfaction edition.
July 6, 2011 7:11 PM   Subscribe

In this economy, can I actually take a step back and have it lead to a step forward? Or should I cling to what I have, even if it isn't enough income, until the step forward appears? (Or, more accurately, until I hunt that sucker down, maybe, eventually. Rambling long-form snowflake details, etc....)

For over a year now, I've worked in a position I mostly enjoy, with people I like, which has offered me the opportunity to pad out my resume with skills I'd already had but hadn't used professionally. These skills, however, were not the only skills for which I was hired, though getting them on my resume has been a large part of the reason I like and have stuck with the job, despite its lack of benefits or full-time status.

In the last few months, I've noticed a bit of responsibility creep in the wrong direction - being assigned tasks which would be the duties of an office manager or AA, if we had one. I don't find the tasks unmanageable, as I've been an AA. I just worry that because I'm the youngest and female, these things are going to come to be seen as my job, and slowly eat into the limited hours I have to do the work I actually came to do.

My hiring manager and mentor both think that it cannot hurt to be a yes woman, but I'm worried it can. If I continue to just grin and bear it, working extra hours as needed, for extra pay but no benefits or more stability, I'm not sure this actually will turn into a career step forward. I'm afraid that, if I'm ever offered a full-time gig at all, it will be with the assumption that I'll continue to play AA, a role I am decidedly trying to escape. And even that possibility is far down the pike--we're talking another year, possibly. I make enough to survive if I rob Peter to pay Paul, but not enough to save, be comfortable, or enjoy life for more than a few minutes at a time before the worry of living paycheck to paycheck sucks me under again. Don't get me wrong; I always say yes. I'm just worried I'm shooting myself in the foot by not pushing back.

The twist? I've happened upon an opportunity which would be entirely administrative in nature, but which would also be full time, with benefits. I haven't seen a doctor in over a year. That's awfully tempting. And if I'm doing admin work anyway, it would be nice if it were at least stable and helped me pay down my crushing student loan debt. And after I get back on my financial feet, I can return to pursuing career growth. Right?

TL; DR: Lady MeFites: Have you actually gained esteem and respect for rolling up the sleeves and fetching the snack tray, or found it ultimately pigeonholed you?

MeFites of any gender: In this economy, given my situation, would you jump at stability or hold out for the possibility of career advancement, building what skills you could for as long as it took to reach the next rung?
posted by OompaLoompa to Work & Money (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As a person of the male gender, I would strongly consider a less-than-ideal job that offered stability and benefits over a job that did not.

That said, age is a factor, health is a factor, career aspirations are a factor.... On the last point, it's hard to know what effect either position will have without knowing more details.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:26 PM on July 6, 2011

Why can't you ask for benefits and full-time status at your current job?
posted by unannihilated at 7:42 PM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry, was trying to keep it somewhat vague, but I probably do need to add more detail.

J. Wilson, I'm not a recent grad, but not quite mid-career, either. I'm early thirties, but relatively healthy so far. Old enough to start worrying about health, old enough to need to start carving out a career or risk getting stuck, I guess. And I absolutely would not be happy if I got stuck on an Admin track in either of the industries the two jobs represent.

unannihilated, the carrot has always been "if/when the economy picks up, this could be a full-time-with-benefits gig." But I've been told that until then, an additional FTer is too much for the small business to risk.

Thanks for the comments!
posted by OompaLoompa at 7:57 PM on July 6, 2011

If it were me (I?), I would go with the FT job with benefits. I've done that in the past, starting as an AA, in large enough companies where I could then move up. I worked my tail off and it was noticed and I was able to get better positions.

I would encourage just about anybody to go for the benefits (I'm talking to myself here, because I don't have any, and I really need to get them!). In my experience, the "this could be a FT with benefits" at some point in the future has the possibility of not working out. Also, if it's a very small business, they will need to have a certain number of employees (2 or 3) who need insurance to get a group rate that isn't underwritten. If there aren't enough people, then they would only be able to give you individual insurance, and if you've had any health issues, you might not qualify (not trying to scare you, but I've been through this).

No matter how old you are, you can get sick with something small or (hopefully not) big, and then you'll wish you had the insurance....
posted by la petite marie at 8:05 PM on July 6, 2011

Go with the other job with benefits until you figure something else out, or go back to school. Get the other job, then if you decide you want this current one - put your new job offer on the table and let them match it. Otherwise, walk...

When this economy picks up (unless a very, very small business) usually means - until someone better comes along or you screw up bad enough. I've never seen a valuable employee be dangled this stick especially for a year. Plus without benefits, accidents happen and an ER visit isn't cheap.
posted by lpcxa0 at 8:06 PM on July 6, 2011

take the job with benefits. TAKE IT. you can do career advancement at the new job or as a volunteer or whatever. benefits are not to be taken lightly.

if you stay at the job you're at: if you're a sweet young female that always does the shit like make the copies and get the coffee, you will always be seen that way. even when you're 40 and should have gotten 3 promotions (if you stay at the same place all that time). i'm not saying you should flat out say no when they ask you to do things that aren't affecting your ability to do the job you were hired for. but you should also point out that you're doing all this work and should get compensated for it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:07 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: They've been dangling you like this for over a year? "When the economy picks up" is extremely vague. I think it's time for you to lay down your cards. Let them know you have another offer. Tell them why you are leaving. Give them the opportunity to give you what you want -- benefits, full-time position, specific job duties. After a year I think they know whether you bring enough value to the table to take a risk. This may be dependent on your industry, but generally speaking the economy is not expected to improve in leaps and bounds. If you just simply leave without telling them why you may be hurting both yourself and them.

Also, run, don't walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and get Ask For It and Women Don't Ask by Linda Babcock. It will help you negotiate these types of situations. Her strategies are based on scientific research done in this area. As a woman, they were the best books I ever read for my career.

Finally, I would definitely push back on anything like snack trays, making coffee, or taking meeting notes. It needn't be a big production - simply, I'm sorry, I'm in the middle of a project, or I don't know how to make coffee or I will be too busy to do that or Can't everyone take their own notes? Simply act a little baffled at even being asked.
posted by unannihilated at 8:48 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If by "this economy" your current employer is talking about the U.S. economy, I wouldn't wait with them for it to "pick up." There is something like $322 billion dollars of "bad assets" still on the books of American banks, as of the end of 2010, according to Wendell Cochran of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University School of Communication.
"... The amount of bad assets on bank books started to decline in the second half of 2010. But bad assets still have nearly tripled since the end of 2007. The FDIC reports show that the combination of non-performing loans and foreclosed property peaked at $382.1 billion at the end of March and fell to $322.6 billion as of Dec. 31. Troubled assets totaled $109 billion at the end of 2007.

Last year’s improvements helped stabilize the number of banks facing significant stress. According to the Investigative Reporting Workshop analysis, 389 banks ended 2010 with more troubled assets than capital. That’s down slightly from 411 at the end of March.

By contrast, on Dec. 31, 2007, only 24 banks were in that group. ..."
To put that in perspective, that amount of "troubled assets" is about the same as the total amount of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) money that the Federal Reserve forced on the top U.S. banks in 2008 and early 2009, and which they've since mostly repaid (but not entirely). Translation: Smart American bankers and political leaders haven't yet found a way to get out from under the housing market collapse, and are still struggling to do so, by carrying worthless "assets" on the books of hundreds of Federally insured banks, at vanished valuations, with the full compliance of the Federal Reserve.

The U.S. economy still needs to "swallow" $300 billion of worthless bank asset paper, before the banking business is back to normal, and maybe another $500 billion or so of unrecognized derivative losses to non-bank entities, before "this economy' is even ready to "pick up." That means, most likely, several more years of credit stagnation, flat wages, high unemployment, and hopefully, low inflation. Because if inflation takes off, powered by continued high oil and commodity prices, higher interest lending to the U.S. government from China, and a struggling world economy with Japan, Europe and Africa continuing to struggle with their disasters, political and military instability, and economic problems, the prospects for the U.S. economy turn from barely optimistic, to really, really awful.

Strictly from a macro-economic viewpoint, you'd do well to take the job with benefits, and learn to do those AA tasks with grace and aplomb, so long as that job puts ready money in your pocket and offers you health insurance and other benefits.
posted by paulsc at 9:25 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

My hiring manager and mentor both think that it cannot hurt to be a yes woman, but I'm worried it can. If I continue to just grin and bear it, working extra hours as needed, for extra pay but no benefits or more stability, I'm not sure this actually will turn into a career step forward.

I think you're right. Take the full time job with the benefits.
posted by desuetude at 9:25 PM on July 6, 2011

I used to work at a company that would string people along like this. It's a bad sign. You don't want to waste your time working for people who treat employees so badly. Go get the job with benefits.
posted by islandeady at 10:26 PM on July 6, 2011

Best answer: I waited 5 years for my dream job to give me the wage and benefits that I deserved- they just kept taking advantage and in the end I left for a job that offers benefits and job security and most importantly RESPECT! I worked really hard at my first job and took on tasks totally unrelated to my job, took work home, worked unpaid hours, just poured my heart and soul into the job in hopes I would be rewarded-I totally wasn't. In the second job, I was on a similar path- I started with no benefits, I worked HARD but I didn't do anything that was outside my job role- and I left at the end of the day, didn't take work home with me, and never did anything work related at home (unless it was answering emails) and by the end of the year, I was promoted. In my opinion you should take the other job with benefits- work hard but not too hard, have healthy boundaries about what you will do and you should feel better.
posted by momochan at 4:36 AM on July 7, 2011

>>unannihilated, the carrot has always been "if/when the economy picks up, this could be a full-time-with-benefits gig." But I've been told that until then, an additional FTer is too much for the small business to risk.

In my experience, employers that string people along like this don't make good.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:01 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in again to encourage you to take the job with benefits!
posted by la petite marie at 5:16 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: lpcxa0, I hear you. It's a small business with fewer than a dozen people nationwide, and several are part-timers, including some of the brass. So it isn't just me, that's just part of the culture. But that doesn't make it any better, or at least not any better for me in a material sense.

paulsc, you're right, of course, and it's compounded by the fact my company is in one of those industries holding worthless paper. It is picking up lately, but there were layoffs when the market crashed, and I believe for awhile the people who remained were basically being paid their base out of the President's pocket. He's not in any hurry to add another FTer.

I'm also not a direct revenue-generator. I'm basically building a supporting department from the ground up, and for half of my tenure I was trying to do it in less than half time, and now just over half time, with a mostly unstructured environment and no dedicated budget. There was the appeal and the rub: incredible potential for a resume builder if I stick it out long enough to get the department fully on its feet, but obstacles every step of the way. I've had some success, but no single attention-getting coup. And until that happens, I think they are going to think, "well what's she doing, anyway?" The kudos they get in the field from what I do are present but not yet loud or frequent enough.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments and experiences, folks. I think it was in the "yes, buts..." that I had to your comments that I've realized I need to take the AA possibility seriously, and also pursue a third option: looking for an entirely new gig that isn't a step back. I really, really don't want to abandon ship just as the department is seeing results, but I also need to accept that I may just have to do that.
posted by OompaLoompa at 7:20 AM on July 7, 2011

Best answer: I'm basically building a supporting department from the ground up, and for half of my tenure I was trying to do it in less than half time, and now just over half time, with a mostly unstructured environment and no dedicated budget. There was the appeal and the rub: incredible potential for a resume builder if I stick it out long enough to get the department fully on its feet, but obstacles every step of the way.

In my experience, the person who works their way up and builds the supporting department doesn't get the big credit anyway. A director with a track record of leadership is hired, who will probably be generous enough to acknowledge all your hard work thus far, but you'll stay in the supporting role, because "you know it best."

You're not abandoning them. You put in a lot of work and moved them forward, and now you're seeking new opportunities. If they wanted to ensure greater loyalty, they could have offered you benefits; it's not uncommon for small companies to have several full-time support staff but part-time leadership staff. And those part-time brass likely have other consulting gigs.
posted by desuetude at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Desuetude, that reality check was like a (much needed) glass of water in the face. You're right.
posted by OompaLoompa at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2011

Best answer: I guess I will dissent.

I am horrified at how easy it's been to get stuck in Admin. I think a lot of people, especially older people, mentors, friends and family who have helped me look for jobs, think that you just “start at the bottom and work your way up.” Which you do, I think. Except that I’ve found that when you start at the bottom of Admin, you work your way up through Admin. From Receptionist to Administrative Assistant to Office Manager. Maybe you can scooch over to Operations or even Human Resources or Accounts Receivable. Or even to the Holy Grail of Executive Assistant.

Especially dead-end tracks are places where you are admin to a bunch of professionals: you won’t get promoted from Paralegal to Attorney, or Receptionist to Architect, or Office Manager to Accountant.

Maybe if you’re starting out on an established track or assisting a specific department through will you will clearly learn professional skills and be promoted, like Editorial Assistant or ______ Assistant, there can be some room. Or maybe if you’re in an office culture where people are looking out for talent wherever it may be, and are open to rewarding achievement and giving you additionally responsibilities and opportunities that are in line with what you want. But even then… I got hired as a marketing assistant at a small firm and was eventually tasked with buying the cupcakes for employees’ birthdays.

Maybe it’s because I’m a young woman and I need to read those books recommended above. I have a sneaking suspicion that I have only acknowledged out of the corner of my eye that it’s easier for men to move up from admin than for women. Like lurking around offices is this feeling that men starting off in admin are go-getters while women are super helpful.

I do know one guy who got promoted from the mail room… to the copy room.

So my advice is to be extremely careful about this new admin position. Really get a sense of where you actually, literally can go from it and whether that’s somewhere you want to go. That doesn't mean that I think you should stay where you are, however; it sounds like crap. If you were to get promoted at your current job, and given a great full-time position full of duties and responsibilites that you are capable of and interested in doing, what would the job title be? Apply to those jobs.
posted by thebazilist at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2011

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