CareerFilter: for life or money?
February 25, 2014 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me navigate a tricky career dilemma! I have two similar but different offers; I'm qualified for both. In the absence of a choice I'd take either one. One is less certainty but more pay and better long-term, the other feels better but the pay and long-term advancement are poor, i.e. I'd have to change jobs to get promoted significantly. I'm 28. Snowflake details below the fold.

Job A is project engineer for construction management, requires relocation (covered by company) to Hawaii and project duration is 3 years. Base salary is 14% higher, which would give me about 1k/mo more after taxes and rent. Estimated salary grows 15-20% yearly. At the 3 year mark when the project is over, I'd be comfortable financially but I'd have to move somewhere else, either staying on with the same outfit or finding a new job. I may not like the next project location.

Job B is technical coordinator for architecture, doesn't require relocation, so I get to stay in Chicago which I'm growing to love. Salary growth is almost flat such that after the same 3 years, I'd be earning about as much as Job A's starting salary. Which worries me a little bit because although it's a livable salary for now, it's not enough to be comfortable buying a condo/house or starting a family on and doesn't grow enough.

My take-home is about $1000 per month more with Job A. Over the span of 3 years, Job A puts 150% (50% more) $ in my pocket as Job B. Benefits are also better, but B is more flexible about PTO and personal vacation. Architects/designers will never earn as much as project engineers and construction PMs, even after licensure (which isn't required on the construction side).

Mefites over 30, did you have a crisis about how much money you weren't earning and wish you'd taken a more lucrative path in your 20s? Conversely, do you wish you hadn't sold out and stuck around in a cool city where you had access to live music, art, etc?

My gut tells me to take the lower-paying Job B because it will make me happier on a daily basis and let me establish roots, but I worry that I'm shooting myself in the foot by locking into a lower-paying career track overall and will struggle with money into my 30s and beyond.

(MeMail me if you want more specifics, I just don't want to post salaries openly)
posted by a halcyon day to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I agree with you on Job B for your reasons - that if you're starting to want to put down roots, you need to stay in the soil where you want to grow.
Money means less than the opportunity to meet someone who loves the city you do and wants to start a family there.

But if you need to justify it to yourself, consider that in three years you may have to choose between unemployment or moving to ...Fargo. What will that cost, personally and financially?
posted by salvia at 8:24 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a tough call. One thing to consider though is that Hawaii is going to be vastly more expensive than Chicago (I guess depending on where in Chicago you live, but still it's going to be more), so that $1,000 a month 'extra' may not go as far as you think.

If it were me though, project engineering seems like it has more advancement potential, and 3 years in Hawaii sounds like a pretty sweet adventure. Plus it is more money, which will be helpful even in later salary negotiations. Chicago will still be there when you're 31, and that's not at all too late to put down roots or whatever.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:24 PM on February 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Three years in Hawaii with more money? Seems like a pretty easy to choice to me. You can always move back to the mainland later.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:42 PM on February 25, 2014

Best answer: Do you want to be a construction engineer? It's a pretty demanding career, lots of field work, lots of long days, lots of stress and decision making. Technical coordinator for architecture is a lot more 9-5 and lower stress.

I think you should figure out which career you want and take that job.
posted by fshgrl at 8:43 PM on February 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

Mefites over 30, did you have a crisis about how much money you weren't earning and wish you'd taken a more lucrative path in your 20s?
Long answer short: Yes.

But with a list of caveats like: I need to like the people, the location, the work I'm doing... it was never an apples-to-apples decision on money alone.
posted by sm1tten at 9:26 PM on February 25, 2014

Best answer: Some people can buy happiness. These people view work as a means to an end, and trade additional compensation for goods and services that make them happy. Some people can't buy happiness. Those are the sorts of people that need to enjoy their work and/or derive meaning from their work.

Neither group of people really understands the other. Each group speaks a different language. Neither one is wrong. However, you need to figure out which one you are in, because I think that drives your decision.

You need to be financially secure regardless of what you do. I have a feeling that you can be financially secure in either position, so that makes the decision more based on your own understanding of yourself.
posted by saeculorum at 10:13 PM on February 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

As a 30-something who worked in my chosen field but under market rates for years in my 20s at a "fun" job where my skills stagnated... Take job A. Bank as much money as you can while building skills and enjoying an adventure in Hawaii for a few years. Chicago and flat-salaried jobs will be accessible for the rest of your life.
posted by erst at 10:25 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I absolutely would do A. Take the risk, do something a little freaky and a little challenging. Even if it's a terrible experience it's not the rest if your life.

I'm only a few years older than you so I could be totally off my bean, but I can say with certainty that every time I followed my own advice and chose the harder, riskier path I have never regretted it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:36 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I"m a nesting type - chicago would be the better for option for me but I agree with saeculorum that personality and what makes you happy can very different for different people. However, I really came in to tell you to start reading Mr. Money Mustache and learn how to save like mad in either job so you will continue to have the financial freedom to pick the work that give you the life that you like best.
posted by metahawk at 10:38 PM on February 25, 2014

I say move to Hawaii. That's an extra $12,000.00 you could spend on SPAM in the first year alone!
posted by oceanjesse at 10:52 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dude, you are under 30, you have no mortgage or kids, and someone wants to pay you more money to live in Hawaii for three years?!?! MOVE TO HAWAII. Echoing that Chicago and salaried jobs will be accessible for the rest of your life.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:24 PM on February 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

I am glad I did the riskier, higher paying things. When I wanted to move back and get a low-key 9-5 with benefits I had no trouble doing so. I'd tried the alternative, so when I said it wasn't for me and valued work life balance interviewers accepted it.

The danger though, is accidentally acquiring roots in Hawaii... friends, spouse, in laws, and forever having to visit. It could happen anyway, but it's more likely the more you move around. But you know, I've been to Chicago and Hawaii a bit and like both.

There's no perfect answer... which trade offs will you regret less?
posted by jrobin276 at 11:28 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hawaii is a no-brainer. The tech coordinator job you mention is dead end. I have a good friend who does that and he would kill to get relocated to do project engineering in Hawaii, or even have some hope of future career progression.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 11:55 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mefites over 30, did you have a crisis about how much money you weren't earning and wish you'd taken a more lucrative path in your 20s?

Yes. During my 20s, I worked for companies that didn't give raises for various reasons, and I feel like I've had to play catch-up ever since. It can make future salary negotiation harder because some companies will ask for your salary history.

Also, I feel like many people find it easier to live cheaply when they're in their 20s as opposed to their 30s or 40s (I did), so it's a great time to sock away a lot of savings.

Conversely, do you wish you hadn't sold out and stuck around in a cool city where you had access to live music, art, etc?

Hawaii is pretty damn cool, and you'll definitely have access to live music, art, etc. there!

Honestly, your 20s are the best time of your life to take advantage of this type of opportunity, both for financial reasons and for life-experience reasons.
posted by neushoorn at 12:26 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Choose the more interesting one in your 20s.
posted by heyjude at 12:43 AM on February 26, 2014

Best answer: The Hawaii job sounds way more interesting, pays better, and has a much better chance of opening doors in unexpected ways. Sure, it will probably end in three years -- but Job B could also be downsized at any moment, too -- there's no guarantees about job security in most situations.

But fshgrl is right that those sound like very different jobs, over and above the location and pay issues, and you'd be smart to make the decision more about the career questions involved.

Mefites over 30, did you have a crisis about how much money you weren't earning and wish you'd taken a more lucrative path in your 20s? Conversely, do you wish you hadn't sold out and stuck around in a cool city where you had access to live music, art, etc?

I took the "interesting" path over the financially remunerative option, and haven't regretted it yet. I'll probably never have as much money in the bank as someone who followed the money, but taking risks early, traveling, and other choices I made in my twenties that didn't seem very career-focused at the time have turned out to be a lot more useful now than taking the safe path would have been. There are definitely pluses and minuses both ways, and the long term payoff can be hard to calculate. It's a bit like asking about getting a liberal arts degree versus something immediately applicable like accounting -- there's an immediate answer, but things play out differently over an entire life and other factors start playing larger roles.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:58 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is a Cost of Living Calculator. So pop in the money between the two jobs. I suspect that it's about even at the end of the day.

Now it comes down to the actual jobs. Which one do you think holds the best potential for future earnings? If becoming a project engineer is the direction you want to go in, then take that job. If technical coordinator is the route you'll enjoy, take that one.

Here's the thing. No one will force you to stay with either firm for the rest or your life. You may not even be in either job for 3 years.

With the job in Chicago, you can take that for now, and then, once you've gained what you can gain from it, MOVE ONTO another job!

If the experience you'll get in HI will put you in a position to make more money over the long haul, who's to say that you can't parlay that into other high paying jobs further down the line, either with the firm you're employed with or even on the open market.

To reiterate, you are not locking yourself into something for the rest of your life, just for the present.

So, if you have an SO, and a huge group of friends, and you love your life in Chicago and you don't want to move, don't move. Take the other job, for the moment, and keep your eyes open for something better.

If you don't have an SO, if your friends are there, but moving on, getting married, going to the suburbs, there may never be a better time than now to have a tropical adventure.

Go to Hawaii, learn about the culture. Do some amazing work, live in someone's lanai apartment, learn to surf.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Although construction and architecture follow many of the same boom and bust cycles, my sense is that construction management is a much better field to be in, as there are more opportunities, higher pay, and fewer busts. It's easier to leverage construction management into other fields, as well. I would take job A in a heartbeat. Your salary history is an important bargaining chip when it comes time to negotiate your next salary. Also, HAWAII!!!!
posted by chocotaco at 7:46 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody— you've definitely given me a lot to think about. I've marked a few of my favorites as best but everyone gave really relevant advice.

What would I do without you, AskMe?
posted by a halcyon day at 8:24 AM on February 26, 2014

Taking the lower paid job with the Job Title that mattered, seems to have been a good move (I don't answer questions about the salary, so boom, once you have the experience, you can move into a better paid job).

For example, I know a lot of Comp Sci graduates, many of whom took basically helpdesk roles. But they were well paid. Some, ended up working as, say, network engineers or junior programmers, for fly by night or non-profit orgs, and got paid almost nothing. Second job out, guess who was still stuck in helpdesk roles, and who jumped up in the pay scale? So, kind of like interning, but without quite so many of the problems of internships.
Which job will open up more opportunities for you in your next job?
Even, or especially, if you decide you're on the wrong track, which one can you switch jobs with transferring skills, or talking up what you were doing?
posted by Elysum at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

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