Best laid plan gets wrinkled
March 26, 2012 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Headhunter has interrupted my career-change plans, how do I know whether this is an opportunity or a blind alley?

I've been a web editor for around twelve years, mostly as a contractor in different organisations. For the past four years I've had a permanent job in a legal firm - it's not my natural environment and was very stressful for the first couple of years but I did well, got promoted and achieved my aim of paying off debt and saving enough for a down-payment on a house. I'm now at a point where I can move on and would like to return to the environment I most enjoyed working as a contractor: museums/heritage-type organisations.

My standard work is editing/content strategy/UX stuff but I've also been moving towards interpretation and narrative design. There is no opportunity to do this kind of work where I am now so I've been taking night classes to build up my portfolio with the aim of jumping ship as soon as an opportunity in 'dream career' presents itself. This might take some time as my desired field is intensely competitive, and the sector is experiencing huge changes due to funding cuts and programming constraints. I'd also have to go in much lower than my current salary/seniority because I don't have the requisite sector experience for jobs on a par with my current role.

Still, it felt like a good plan. Except that I have just been headhunted for another corporate job similar to the one I currently have, just for a more senior management role in the consumer-facing arm of a high profile regulatory organisation, with a 15% pay rise. I don't know what to do.

If I take the offer I'll need to commit to at least 18 months and it will be stressful. My SO is worried - I find the 'corporate persona' of my current job very tiring at times and he sees the meltdowns at homes when it gets too much. Partly this is because of the culture of this specific organisation rather than a general climate but I'm definitely less 'myself' in this environment than when I was working for places I was genuinely thrilled to be. On the other hand, it's an interesting project and I'd be getting more strategic experience whilst retaining my current interests might mean being able to go for management roles in museums later down the line - I have no idea if this is feasible.

So, what to do? I'm 36 now and can't work out the opportunity cost of taking the unexpected job. Can anyone advise?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you need money more than happiness?
posted by ook at 12:12 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

In situations like this, I usually right out two columns on a piece of paper, one for each outcome. Now make two sections: pros and cons. First, write out everything you can think of, no judgment, no thinking. Brain dump. What would be great about the first job, what would be great about the second job. Do the same with the cons. Like you said, there's an opportunity cost here and you might need to sit on it a bit before it becomes clear what it is.
posted by deathpanels at 12:26 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like that other than the pay rise, there's little that the new opportunity will offer. Your SO is worried about it, you see it as stressful.

I say stay with your plan. It's what you want. You gotta go after the things you want while you're still in your prime, to quote Avenue Q.
posted by inturnaround at 12:32 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why are you stuck for 18 months? Are they demanding a full employment contract, rather than at-will employment?

I say this because my first thought is that you can still jump ship if it's awful. Especially if you're in a position where you can save this extra money for a "war chest" to use while looking for a better position full-time.

I don't think it'll hurt to explore it a little more. But, if they're seriously looking to lock you in for 18 months with no way out, that's a deal-breaker.
posted by Citrus at 12:36 PM on March 26, 2012

Anonymous: "If I take the offer I'll need to commit to at least 18 months"

Who is telling you this? Because it's probably the recruiter who wants you to stay 18 months rather than the company. Typically, a recruiter does not get his/her fee unless you stay at the firm for a given time.

The firm, obviously, wants you to stay as long as possible, but without an employment contract (highly doubtful from what I gather of your position/status), that's just a lot of wishful thinking.

Look at it this way: interviewing costs nothing.
posted by mkultra at 12:43 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yup, may as well be paid 15% more at a more prestigious gig while waiting for the dream career to come along. I don't think this will derail your longterm plans... if you're leaving the field anyway, prospective clients/employers will understand why you're leaving so soon. The 18 month figure is hooey.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:51 PM on March 26, 2012

I really like all the advice here (particularly finding out what sort of constraint the "18 month" thing is and how that could possible be enforceable).

However, I think the first post was on the nose:

Do you need money more than happiness?

I'd actually honestly ask that question to yourself. How important is the money to you? You're not a bad person if your answer is, "Yes; the money is very important for me." If you know (or are reasonably certain) that this job will make you unhappy, then the only reason to take it is the money.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

In most parts of the Western world, they can't make you stay a minute longer than you want to.

My initial sense of this is that 15% doesn't sound like that much in headhunter terms, but I do like the idea of hedging your bets by improving your resume at a job that while probably not great, is no worse than the one you already know you don't like. So, at the very least, you're getting paid more for the same work, and if it's a more senior role it's probably not the same work and might not include some of the annoyances that your current job does. You can ask about these things when you interview, of course. What their policy is on assigning work, extra hours, etc.
posted by rhizome at 1:40 PM on March 26, 2012

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