Should I change jobs - Foreign Service edition
January 11, 2018 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm a US Federal employee, specifically an engineer working for the State Department as a Foreign Service Specialist, currently posted to the DC area. After eight years, I'm debating whether I should stay or go and could use some advice.

After about a year of passively poking around in USAJobs with mixed success (mostly rejections, only a handful of referrals), I finally got a call and was asked to interview for a new position at another Federal agency. After two DC tours and an overseas tour my wife and I are still on the fence on staying with State or bailing (I like my current job, and we both liked some aspects of being overseas, it's just the constant moving that we're not nuts about - that and the spousal employment situation), however the new position is starting to look like a more valid option so I might be forced into a decision soon.

I've listed some of the pro/cons below (sorry for the wall of text). My wife and I have discussed this repeatedly and she has been very supportive, indicating multiple times that she's fine with either option. If I do stay with State, she has stated she wants to stay in DC for at least the next 3-5 years at a minimum which I wholeheartedly support (closer to her family + more time to develop her career). Her line of work could possibly be done full-time remotely, although this isn't an option at the moment for various reasons.

Pros to current job:
- Pay: Currently I'm near the top of the FS-03/GS-13 pay range. Very likely to get promoted to the next grade (GS-14 equivalent) in the next 1-2 years, and could get step increases after.
- Retirement: I can get full pension + retiree medical benefits at 50. Could lock in a good retirement and still have plenty of time to do a second career. I currently have 8 years in (and am nearing 40), so I'm almost halfway to being retirement-eligible.
- Certainty: I know how the bureaucracy works at State and I've finally started to build a good professional network.
- Work: More hands-on work, and a huge variety of tasks (jack-of-all-trades) which keeps it interesting.
- Travel: My current position is ~30% travel. Great way to see the world and rack up miles/status, plus overtime pay.

Cons to current job:
- Bidding: The excitement or bane of every FSO/FS Specialist. HR rules basically say we can homestead in DC up to six years, but I'd have to go overseas eventually, likely in the next 2-3 years. 1-year unaccompanied tours are an option here to "reset the clock" potentially (they do suck and not our 1st choice. Most unaccompanied tours are not in garden spots either, they're unaccompanied for a reason - think Baghdad, Islamabad, etc. But it's only a year and my wife and I have been long-distance before).
- Commute: Currently ~45 mins door-to-door via Metro, when it's not delayed. Not great but not terrible. This could probably be shorter eventually - my last position was at an office a 10 min walk from my house.
- Travel: It's a mixed bag - being away from friends/family can get old sometimes. My current office is notorious for heavy travel; there would likely be less travel in future DC-based postings.

Pros to new job:
- Bidding: Just a regular GS position, no more bidding or moving.
- Competitive Status: I think I'd get competitive status, which could make it easier to transfer to other GS positions later.
- Team: I've only met them briefly, but future boss + staff seem friendly and hopefully not hard to work with.

Cons to new job:
- Pay: New position is capped at GS-13. Even if they match my current salary, I'm maxed out and stuck forever unless I can find a GS-14 position elsewhere (no guarantee, esp with the current hiring environment).
- Retirement: FERS - less generous (lower pension and have to wait till 62), although I know it's still a good benefit.
- Commute: Slightly worse (~60-70 mins door-to-door via Metro), unlikely to change. I'm not sure this position is telework-eligible either.
- Work: New job is in export regulatory compliance, not a field I'm very familiar with (actually a bit surprised I got the interview). Seems much more policy/standards-focused, which I could do but I worry I might not like it or get bored. Not sure what my perfect job is but ideally I think I'd prefer to do more hands-on work (project-management, design review, etc).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's no way I would leave for that new job. It also seems like you don't know enough about it, which is making your decision harder. From an outsider's standpoint, you might be a bit burnt out on your current job ... and I would take a vacation, not cut off my early retirement/have a worse commute/no potential for future raises.

It depends on how badly you want to not go overseas again. Also, there's no rule saying you can't keep applying -- this particular new job just seems to come with a lot of cons. Use your network and figure our what's out there that you can do. This might be your best option, but I doubt it.

All that said -- perfect is the enemy of good. If you're really tempted to take the new job, maybe based on gut instinct or something you haven't told us, listen to that voice.
posted by tooloudinhere at 4:58 PM on January 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

In your shoes, I'd stay with the current job, and indeed, my situation is not dissimilar and that is the decision I've made. Who knows, in 2-3 years the idea of going overseas might be more appealing, and if not, you can bail then. There's a lot to be said for a job that gives you options, promotions, and a good retirement package.

I agree with the noter above that you sound a little tired and burnt out. Is there any chance you could transfer laterally at HQ to an assignment with less travel? If not, a vacation or maybe even some extended leave might be a good idea so that you can get some perspective.
posted by rpfields at 5:12 PM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Was expecting to see new job at google with insane increase but uncertainty, current job seems like a dream to me, vote stay.
posted by sammyo at 5:46 PM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seems like your current job is the winner.

I wonder if, perhaps, you’ve shaded the pros and cons a bit to favor the current job. If so, I think your subconscious is sending you a message.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:13 PM on January 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

FSO here. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to bounce some ideas around.
posted by whitewall at 7:38 AM on January 12, 2018

I agree with others that this new offer is kind of weak sauce. You're pretty clear on your two main points of frustration: moving, and the impact on your wife's career. If I were you (and I'm not) I would put together a notional plan: you'll stay in DC for another 2-3 years, you'll go do an unaccompanied post for another year (tough, but it's a year and you'll get 2-3 R&Rs and likely interesting and meaningful work), then back in DC for another 5-6 years. At that point, you'll be about three years from retirement at 50, and you can decide if you'd like to do one more overseas tour and retire, or move into another field. I'd argue that the nine years with state, eight in DC and one in Pakistan or Iraq or wherever, would be better than the alternate mediocre offer even without taking into account the 12 year difference in retirement age (which is huge). You still get the benefits to your wife's career and stability (going off to a PSP for a year isn't a "real" move in terms of uprooting your permanent life). In addition to that, you get the better pay and better commute and more varied work environment and additional flexibility in terms of travel and, this cannot be emphasized more strongly, the chance of avoiding 12 years of financially-motivated work (you may choose to keep working for motivation other than money), all for the price of (practically speaking considering R&Rs) 10 months away from your family. I'd consider this a good trade-off.

Or, you could be more ambitious. You could decide that you want more fulfillment or more money out of your career, and go after that in a dedicated way. But this new job is actually a step backwards in those respects; so you should turn it down and really spend some time and energy looking for a job that's a solid improvement over your current position, not just the first thing that comes up that gets you away from State.
posted by exutima at 1:59 PM on January 13, 2018

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