It's easier to look for a job when you have one, but this is ridiculous
December 7, 2017 7:38 PM   Subscribe

After a number of months of effort, I finally got my first job out of grad school in September. Now I seem to have stumbled into serious interview process for another company and I have no idea what I'm doing.

I graduated with my Masters in May. After a truly ridiculous job hunt that I let go almost as much as I could afford, I finally managed to get a job at Company Alpha in September. Alpha is pretty good. It's not my dream job, but it's comfortable and its paying the bills. I'm the youngest professionally (possibly also by age) on my team, and while this can be awkward, my opinion gets listened to enough that this feels more like mentorship going on than anything else.

Which is actually important because I often feel like I'm the "diversity hire" on my team: only woman, youngest, only non-white, and only unmarried. With roughly 2 exceptions, everyone else is an older white man who have children my age. It's kind of uncomfortable at times, but I kinda knew the score when I picked my major in college, so I'm not terribly surprised (mechanical engineering has been a boy's club for a very long time). And I don't actively hate my life and I actually talk to co-workers, which is putting it higher than my only other stint in non-academia.

Like I said, I'm comfortable enough. Company Alpha isn't the place where I necessarily see myself in 3 years, and I've always kind of intended it to be a place where I learn some skills and then leave.

I just didn't expect that point to come any sooner than, say, 18 months in. But I never took myself off some startup mailing lists and the week before Thanksgiving, Company Beta emails me twice directly saying that they saw my background and would really, really like to talk. I was somewhat bemused so said sure. Next thing I know, I'm talking to a high-level exec in the company the day after Thanksgiving, and this week they're Skyping.

Beta is an extremely early-level start-up that's also not quite in my field, but closer to what I find interesting. It's the definition of a high-risk, high-reward venture. It's also got the bonus risk of being out-of-state, meaning I'd have to move. I know myself well-enough at this point to know that this 9-5 pace at Alpha will absolutely drive me nuts eventually. And that it was the parts of academia that start-ups (you win or you die, complete ownership of a project, etc) share that makes me happy. Additionally, when I say "high-risk, high reward", its possibly one of those once-in-a-lifetime things, the sort of thing you'd kick yourself over for turning down.

Nothing is certain, though and this could all be pointless conjecture. I'm fully aware of that. But these interviews with Beta feel like they're possibly getting more serious and I've honestly liked everyone I've talked to so far so it feels stupid to not think of this scenario. On the other hand, I just started at Alpha three months ago and I'm not actively unhappy. I worry about leaving a job right out of school after such a short period looking really terrible. To say nothing about any sense of guilt over bailing on a project team mid-stream. I don't think just talking to Beta to see where this goes will endanger my current job, as long as I don't mention it there ever.

I guess what I'm asking for is advice on how to proceed. Should I keep talking to Beta or start feigning disinterest? And if something positive does happen, how much do I have to worry about bailing at Alpha? Should I just focus on plodding along until some more-optimal time, or possibly risk everything?
posted by ultranos to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't tell from the information presented what I'd do in your position, but some things I would be thinking about:

- not sure what the average longevity is these days in engineering, but staying put in a first job at least a year seems to me to be a bit better on a resume than bailing at 3 months. And this being a startup, you could be looking again in a few more months. I wouldn't worry so much about "guilt leaving a project," provided you give reasonable notice. But the longevity worries me a bit on a first job.

- you seem to understand this, but having been around some startups lately myself, I got a bit of a crash course in the nature of startup company risk. When you get around them and realize, really realize, that MOST of them fail, and not necessarily because their core idea is terrible. They run out of money, the owners get into a fight with each other or with key team members, on and on I could go. Of course, when they hit, they hit big. So would you be coming in with some equity, or a very large salary and/or starting bonus? It can get very easy to get swept up in the excitement and the culture and then find that you had no guarantees that they would take you along and/or compensate you for the big chances you took with them if they do succeed.

This does not necessarily make it a bad career choice; you just have to really accept the risk you're taking, and preferably have financial resources to bounce back if the worst happens. If you were unemployed or underemployed 4 months after school and you've been in the workforce for just a few months, I doubt that's you. OTOH if you're young, single, and have friends or family you can fall back on, this is a good point in your life to take a chance.

Points in favor of the startup, in no particular order:

- are they not only nice, but seem like extremely good both in the technical end and in the business side?

- do they have funding to allow for a few months or even a year of burning cash to get off the ground, or are they winging it?

- are they transparent about their business plans?

- are they willing to give you equity for being an early employee?
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

So I'm not an engineer but I'm engineering adjacent. Do you have a PE? Do you need one in your industry? If you don't have one and need one you should probably stay where you are till you get it. And there is a lot to be said for being in a well structured company with a good development program early in your engineering career. Like until you're 35. It's not so much like business or sales or even programming- usually brand new engineers require supervision and while your group is not as sympatico with you socially I bet they have a LOT to offer in terms of mentorship and business contacts. They've trained up plenty of young people and will have realistic goals for your work and provide support. That's invaluable. Learning how to win projects and deal with clients is almost as important long term as being able to do engineering and you won't get that as start up. That's assuming it's a successful company that wins good contracts.

Socially- remember that start ups have been talking people into quitting good jobs and taking pay cuts for a few decades now, don't be a sucker. Expect the same perks, contracts etc you would from a regular firm and don't fall for the "we're so cool" line. I've seen more bad behavior and fraud associated with start ups in the couple years I worked in the industry than in the entire rest of my life. In the engineering field- well, I'm old enough that I've seen a lot of staid firms go from old bearded guys in plaid shirts to a more diverse workforce and it's been fairly painless at most of them. Internally. Dealing with clients can be another story but there again, having an old white guy who believes in you sit in the meeting with you can be very helpful for a younger engineer on their first lead project. Such is the world we live in.
posted by fshgrl at 8:47 PM on December 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

You're in a great position!

1) I see no downside to continuing to talk to Beta - you don't even know yet if you'd want the job, or if they want you! Just don't lead them on past the time you've already made up your mind. And keep in mind the caveats other people have brought up (mentorship + compensation) when deciding what you want to do.

2) Given how short your tenure is at Alpha, I'd leave it off your resume entirely. Not a big deal. However, if Beta winds up being terrible right off the bat, you're in a less-great position, so maybe pay a bit more attention to red flags. Don't let worry about this hypothetical get in the way of making career decisions that'll make you happier - or is it masking some other, bigger, deal?

3) You don't even mention the potential relocation as a factor. Do you think you'd like the new place?

(I'm roughly in your demographic, and in a hot field, so I may be less risk averse than many.)
posted by Metasyntactic at 9:47 PM on December 7, 2017

I work with engineers and at least in Texas, the market is tight...this may not be the last firm to try to poach you, even if you turn them down. And if Beta is really successful, they'll keep growing and likely still be interested in you in 12 months. But if you don't have your PE and Alpha will pay for it, I'd focus on that first. And at least from where I sit, engineering is always moving into new fields/innovations...we just hired an expert in dendrochronology, because we had projects needing that skill.
posted by emjaybee at 9:35 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a bit more information, I don't have a PE and I'm not really thinking of ever needing to get one. My specific field and field-adjacent options don't need it, and actually going to get one pigeon-holes me into doing work I really kinda hate. (I get a lot of recruiters calling me for this work because my undergraduate thesis was tangentially related and has a keyword. I absolutely do not want to go into that field.)

For anything, I've already made up my mind that Beta (or anything after) would have to match or beat Alpha in terms of compensation. If that means including equity, that's one thing. But I already turned down a job that would have required moving for bare-minimum and less than I was worth. The status quo is good, for once in my life.

The city Beta is in was one of 4 I was even looking at for jobs when I was on the hunt. So no, moving isn't a huge scary thing.
posted by ultranos at 7:29 AM on December 12, 2017

« Older Modern Guitar Gods   |   Racism at work that is not intentional Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.