New job! But there's a catch. Help!
June 24, 2016 3:10 AM   Subscribe

I have an absurdly stable job with great pay and benefits. The problem is, it is not what I want to do long-term and it is not a good cultural fit for me. I have a much more relevant job opportunity with a very prestigious organization but with dramatically lower pay and benefits. Do I follow my heart or brain?

My current job is "fine". I work with people who are nice enough, have a good boss, and have a salary and benefits that are by all accounts above-market rate. Not to mention my role is solidly 9-5 and I rarely take my work home with me. The problem is the place is sort of a professional dead-end, and neither the industry nor position is what I see myself doing long-term. I am in my late 20s.

I recently received a job offer that is almost exactly what I want to do. It is an exciting role that involves working with big names and big issues. The organization is also one of the most high-profile in the business and would surely open doors for me down the road because of the group's name recognition and the contacts I would make while in the building. The pay and benefits, however, are abysmally sub-standard (I would need to supplement my health insurance, for example) and would almost certainly entail drastic life changes to accommodate (finding a less expensive apartment, etc.). The commitment would be approximately 1-2 years.

I have been looking for a new job since I started my current role and for most in my industry this is considered a dream opportunity, but I have been spoiled for the last two years in my country club of a job (with zero future prospects).

My family is of a different, more risk-averse generation and are lobbying for me to remain right where I am. My closest friends recognize how "huge" this opportunity is and are encouraging me to jump in the deep end while I am still junior/young enough to weather the storm.

What to do?
posted by lecorbeau to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a plan and this would be a big step toward achieving it then I can't think of any good reason why you shouldn't go for it. Living like a pauper may suck now, but it sucks more when you're older, so if ever there was a time to make this kind of sacrifice, it's right now.

Go forth and start building the future of which you dream!
posted by mewsic at 3:26 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

The challenge with jobs paying way less than market is - organizations who are doing that will continue to do that. Promotions will increase expectations but the pay will not keep up. So it's likely that, if you want to get paid what you are being paid now in this industry, you will have to switch companies. If you're going from private industry/government/academic administration to non-profit, you may find that you will have to switch industries again to get significant pay bumps.

The question I guess you have to ask yourself is - what's next after this? If you are career building, is there a direct line from this job to a job that will put you back in a salary you expect with full benefits? Have persons who previously held your title in that organization made that transition - or have they switched sectors/taken other jobs?

A lot of people think taking underpaying jobs is a small step on the way to something. Depending on the industry, supply of labour, and the organizations involved...many times it's stepping into a culture of being perpetually underpaid. Do a bit of homework on where this job may take you and what the pay and benefit prospects look like as you build your career. If you see a bright future, then take the leap. If not - I'd pause and consider whether there are alternatives to taking a job that underpays you and doesn't give you good health benefits.
posted by scrittore at 3:40 AM on June 24, 2016 [21 favorites]

What happens after the 1-2 years at the "abysmally sub-standard" paying job? Do you continue in the same industry at a permanently lower standard of living? Do you assume you'll get a better paying position now that you have a foot in the industry?

The question is not should you take this job. The question is what is the next job after the 1-2 year commitment to this "dream" job is over?
posted by LoveHam at 4:20 AM on June 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

My motto is you can always make more money- you cannot make more time, opportunity, love or any other of the intangibles along those lines. I have always gone for the opportunity that fills my soul- money can be made if needed. Especially at your age. And you never know what is around the corner. In 1-2 yrs anything can happen.
posted by shaarog at 4:48 AM on June 24, 2016

If you are on a specific career track, I think you should go with the job that helps your career track. Then it will be on your resume and you will have the satisfaction of doing the work you want. If you aren't on a specific career track, then just stay at the stable job. But you can always make more money later.
posted by gt2 at 5:31 AM on June 24, 2016

Thanks for your responses! I'll address the "next step" bit of this quandary.

The position is widely regarded as a (and in most cases, the only) stepping stone to becoming a full staff member of the organization, which would bring a salary and benefits exceeding anything I could hope for in my profession. It's not a great analogy, but I think of this as a temp vs staff situation. Temps have no promise of future employment, but if they prove themselves full employment is within reach as soon as a vacancy opens up. At this particular organization, for every lucky duck I've met there is a sob story of some unfortunate soul who slaved away for years without becoming staff or leveraging the gig to find a lateral staff position. This is truly the great unknown.

With that said, either way, it would look stellar on a resume so after the 1-2 year commitment it *could* lead to great things either within the organization or elsewhere.

Really tough call! Trying to wrap my head around the risks...
posted by lecorbeau at 5:34 AM on June 24, 2016

Is there anyone you can talk to at the organization that started at the position you are looking at and is now in the position you want to be? to verify the path exists and how bumpy it is..
posted by typecloud at 6:21 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it matters a lot whether we are talking about $100K vs 50K, or $50K vs $25K.

If you accept a low pay level, even for a short time, you are marking yourself as a low level person, at least in some people's eyes. So, I would think that dropping from what might be though of as a professional level of income to a blue collar level of income might be a big mistake.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:58 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thing I know now but didn't really grok when I was younger is that "high-profile/very prestigious organization[s]" can also be dramatically toxic, dysfunctional places for their employees. It may even be more likely, because their reputation means that there is always a queue of bright, motivated applicants ready to jump into the meat grinder and justify to themselves all kinds of mistreatment (because it could lead to great opportunities, will look great on a resume, and so on).

You may already know that your high-profile, very prestigious organization is not exploitative, but the weird pay and hiring practices would give me pause. Have you had candid discussions with "graduates" of this 1-2 year low-pay commitment, or the people who washed out?
posted by pullayup at 7:24 AM on June 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

There's a lot of uncertainty here. From what I can see in your question, it's a total crapshoot whether or not you'l be screwing yourself by taking the new offer. I see two basic scenarios here.

Scenario 1: Job consumes your life, stepping stone turns out to be a dead end, pay continues to be low, organization is toxic and dysfunctional, no new opportunity appears after the 1-2 year committment is over. You end up poor, broke, exhausted, burnt out, and with no prospects.

Scenario 2: Job has good work-life balance, stepping stone turns out to be real, pay becomes better, organization is good to work for, opportunities do appear after 1-2 year committment is over. You end up in a great position to launch into a long and lucrative career doing something you love.

There are definitely some red flags here that make me worried that this would be more like Scenario 1. Very prestigious organizations often abuse their most junior employees, and the "abysmally low pay" makes me worry that this is one of them. You wouldn't necessarily know that's going on unless you talk to somebody who works in the position you're interested in, and even then only if they feel comfortable being frank with you. So talk to some people in that position.

You talk about how your current job has good work-life balance but say nothing about work-life balance at the new place, leading me to think that either you don't know what the situation is or that the situation there is worse than your current one—this is a big deal, don't underestimate how big a deal it is that you have a stable 9-5 right now. Losing that would suck and potentially lead to burn-out, even if you love the work.

You say that the job is a stepping stone to a better one, but that there's a huge pay differential between the job you're being offered and the career you want to step into—this leads me to believe that the "stepping stone" position is likely actually part of a winnowing process wherein many junior employees are hired to do shit work for low pay, worked to the bone, and then only a few of them actually make it through to the next step. "This shitty job is a stepping stone to a great job" is a siren call that has destroyed countless young professionals like yourself. It's one of the oldest bait-and-switch tricks in the playbook of shitty, exploitative employers. It might not be true here, but you need to find out how many of the people in the position you're looking at actually move on to the types of positions that you actually want. If it's very few, why is that and what is special about you that would make you one of those few?

If any or all of the above stuff is true, the entire company may very well be hyper-competetive internally, and the hazing and intra-office politicking and backstabbing will probably continue even if you make it past the first stage. Many people have prestigious, well-paying careers doing things that they love, but are nevertheless miserable because of the culture at their workplace. You don't want that. If you're doing a job you love but which makes you miserable, then you're miserable. End of story.

These are all really common problems with entry-level positions at Big Famous Companies working in Big Sexy Industries, and while there's nothing in your question that lets me know for sure that this is the case at the company you're thinking of moving to, there's also nothing that helps allay my concerns either. If I were you, I would take a step back from this. Gather more information—unbiased information, ideally from people who are outside the company but in the same industry, and also from people who are currently working in the position that you're thinking of moving to. You sound very excited about this opportunity, which is understandable, but you should cultivate a little cynicism and avoid talking yourself into a position where you'll be exploited and used. It's very easy, when faced with this kind of opportunity, to mentally downplay your concerns and paint yourself a rosy picture of what working there will be like. Exploitative employers know this and use it to their advantage in attracting junior employees who they then throw into the grinder of punishing, low-pay, dead-end work. Don't let that happen to you. I'm not saying you shouldn't take this job, but from what I can see here I think you need to be cautious and get more information before committing.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:33 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

What will the lower pay do to you? Can you cover your necessary costs and still have a comfortable buffer for the unexpected?

What are the general job prospects for your field? Is this a rare opportunity, or are these junior positions open fairly often with moderate competition? If you don't take this one, when can you expect your next opportunity, especially one that doesn't abuse its junior employees with the promise of "great experience." (You should be paid what you are worth, despite any intangible benefits, otherwise you are being exploited.)

I agree with others who suggest you find people in the new company who have gone from the "temp" position to the "salary" position and talk with them about what the work was like. I know that doctors generally go through that process, from long, grinding days as residents to being a full-fledged doctor, but is this company an intern mill that takes valuable time and efforts from young people with an empty promise of the job as a stepping stone?

Also, look up people who used to work for the company, maybe through searching LinkedIn or other sites, and see if you can find former company employees who worked in this position, and see if they progressed greatly from this job, or were set back by the lower pay.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:43 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you're really leaning towards taking this job, I would take this opportunity to be frank with them. Something like, "Look, I'm so jazzed about this opportunity, but I'd really be taking a hit here, compensation-wise. Is there anything else you can do?"

The 1-2 year commitment makes it sound like it might be some kind of codified program or something where the pay and benefits are predetermined, and if that's the case, that's one thing. But I don't see the harm in at least asking if they could sweeten the offer a little bit, especially if they KNOW it's a sub-market pay rate.

I agree with some of the other commenters: big prestigious companies can sometimes use their reputation as an excuse to underpay or mistreat their employees because they know they'll always be able to find more willing applicants if/when their current employees have had enough. I'd do a little bit more homework first to see how this story normally ends before jumping ship.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:59 AM on June 24, 2016

They want to take advantage of you. You may never make a high salary again. Moving is expensive. Health care is expensive.

They are giving you nothing.

Can you negotiate the compensation or otherwise pursue your career path without this drama? Because either one of those is better than what you are proposing.
posted by jbenben at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might also check reviews on Glassdoor; you can set up alerts for new reviews to be sent to your email.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:02 AM on June 24, 2016

Did you see this recent, similar question? Have you already negotiated the offer as hard as you can?
posted by daisyace at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2016

Having spent my life following my heart, I recommend to follow the money. I regret not doing the same.
posted by absences at 10:02 AM on June 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Wow, this seems to be an AskMe trend all of a sudden. I say fuck these "dream jobs" that are underpaying people. The cost of living is rising, and if it's such a superstar organization, they're making money. They should pay you competitively. If everyone declined such jobs, they'd figure out that they had to pay appropriately and find a way.
posted by salvia at 10:45 AM on June 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've been in the "golden handcuffs" situation of a well-paid job that was not my dream job, if this place recognises that you are so fantastic, then so will other places that will pay you what you are worth. Keep looking for your real dream job.
posted by saucysault at 10:45 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had to make a similar decision a year ago, when I weighed following my heart over a huge salary dip. I am now stuck, because even though I thought this experience and the way I had lined it up would guarantee me finding a better job this summer, it has not. It sucks. Really - I have so much going for me right now (highly regarded program, tons of network connections, tons of related experience) that finding a job should have been no problem, yet here I am without one. I'm also seriously concerned about whether or not I'll be able to dig myself out of this salary hole anytime soon.

Then again, I'm not sure if I would make a different decision if I could go back in time. I've been able to grow, and be challenged, and was able to remove myself from a professional culture that was making me miserable.

Perhaps you could look at it like that - what will you do if in 1-2 years, this job doesn't lead to bigger and better things? What can you do to make sure you're continuing to network broadly, whether or not this job gives you the opportunities you're expecting? Do you have the savings you need to support yourself through either having this job for a longer time (if that's even possible) or just not having something lined up directly afterwards? If you don't think that's going to happen...are you sure?
posted by violetish at 5:54 PM on June 24, 2016

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