Growth or WLB? Yet another job search question [from mom of small kid]
June 28, 2021 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I have been tired of the politics and lack of growth in my current job for some time, so I went on the market. I now have three offers, all of which are tempting, but have very different tradeoffs. I could also stay in my current job. My conundrum is about the importance of WLB, given I am the mother of a toddler, but also career-motivated. Looking for perspectives from the hive.

I'm in software, and my role is a specialized-area engineer.

Current job: Public company. A+ benefits, A-/B+ pay. Company as a whole has great WLB for tech (I'd give it an A/A-), but I have been frustrated because I'm bored of the problems we're solving after many years here. I also tend to voluntarily take on more work (my work ethic and ambition are a bit higher than the average employee in this company), but I don't get recognized for it, and my extra work almost never ends up anywhere because there's a ton of politics and meetings which I dislike, and things move slowly.

New job 1: Late stage startup. B- benefits, B pay, and probably B for WLB, but the problem is much more interesting and meaningful to me, I would learn new things, I was excited by the potential teammates I met while interviewing, and it seems easier to make an impact and grow. (B pay could become A+ if the startup does well, but I accept the risk it won't.)

New job 2: Public company similar to mine. A benefits, A/A+ pay, B for WLB. Problems feel more interesting than my current job, though I can see getting bored of them as well in a few years, I didn't have great vibes with some of the people I met, and it will probably have almost the same politics as what I have now, but at least it seems that work is recognized and leads to growth (politics permitting).

New job 3: Old, solid company. B+ benefits, B+ pay, and it seems like A+ WLB (even more than current job). Lots of freedom to do what I want, no politics, but also almost no potential for growth.

Last option: I could stay in my current job and prepare harder for Google-type of job interviews (I didn't "leetcode" at all this time) in a few months, which would give A+ benefits and pay, and depending on the team, not too bad WLB or growth? At least it would position me well for future jobs. But of course, there's no guarantee I will get offers, and those places have their drawbacks too.

If I were young and childless, I'd try out New Job 1 or 2 with no hesitation. But I have a two year old child and no family nearby; it's just my spouse, me, and 9-5 childcare. If I do take one of those jobs, I'd have to spring for some evening and weekend babysitting since they won't be 9-5 jobs and my spouse has a stressful job himself. Not so concerned about the cost, but do I want to be one of those moms that works long hours? Not to mention, we're still on the fence about a second child and the clock is ticking! At the same time, my career is an important part of my identity and feeling fulfilled (even if that's not societally supposed to be the case), and I've been pretty unhappy and demotivated in my nice WLB but frustrating and thankless current job, and hands-on but unhappy moms are probably not great either?

Sorry for the wall of text, but I appreciate any perspectives.
posted by redlines to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea what you mean by WLB. Work something benefits?
posted by jdroth at 7:43 AM on June 28, 2021

(I think it’s work life balance)
posted by sillysally at 7:44 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oops, yes, work-life balance, which in my case, means work-parenting balance (I have no other life).
posted by redlines at 7:51 AM on June 28, 2021

I would probably got for New Job #3. It will give you variety and novelty, keep your pay level, and is a good platform for a career move in 2 years. It will probably solve your frustrating and thankless problem too.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:53 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest sorting by work/life balance, and then by pay (because in some cases pay = balance, as you can afford additional support).

Me, in my field (where I can "solve for growth" outside of company time), I'd go for #3. That's also because the absence of frustration would likely make a huge difference re: absence of growth.
posted by aramaic at 7:57 AM on June 28, 2021

It sounds like you're ready to move on, so I don't think current job is worth considering. Unless there's something you could ask for that would make you want to stay? Job 2 sounds too similar to your current company, so why make a big change in life for little upshot.

Honestly, I'd go with new job 1. It sounds interesting and will give you some great challenges. It's a bit more of a gamble, but if you'd got these 3 offers now, and this one goes south, it seems like you may be able to switch in the future if this just isn't right for you.

Re-reading the childcare conundrum, the other thing I'd consider is commute time and/or work from home opportunities. Which of these gives you the best options for those?

Are there any sacrifices that spouse can make to their job so that you don't have to be the only one to compromise here?
posted by hydra77 at 8:34 AM on June 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Good question about commuting. I think it's relevant for future replies, so I'll answer that here. Current job and job 2 are fully remote friendly (can go into office if I want, but never have to), Job 1 is a 40 min commute but only one day a week, and Job 3 is a 30 min commute three days a week.

(Thanks tech world and Covid for not imposing any 5x/week requirements.)
posted by redlines at 8:45 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would go for Job #3 --- with the freedom available there, you could develop really interesting projects and prepare for a move to something more like Job #1 or #2 when your kid(s) are a bit more independent.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 9:09 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nice problem to have but still a difficult decision. I would lean towards 1 if there's any way you think you can make it work - given you have other offers, can you talk to them or the recruiter about your concerns? The balance of power with the employer can be better at this stage - if they're growing they need good staff quite quickly - and you have a good chance of being in place when they get bought/go public.
Even if it doesn't work out, you will get different experience there than at the other companies and be able to bring that back to a future employer.
Second choice would be number 3 - the freedom is worth a lot.
Any move is likely to be positive for your future career though - much easier to get a raise when you move somewhere new, and variety of experience is valuable.
posted by crocomancer at 9:22 AM on June 28, 2021

Job 3, especially if a second kid is a possibility. Enjoy the WLB and interesting work, change jobs when the kids are older if there's no room to grow.

Don't stay at your current job if you're bored. I've taken two career leaps to harder but more interesting jobs while being the single parent of a small child, and both times I've found that more interesting work left me with *more* energy for my kid at the end of the day. Boredom can be exhausting in a way that satisfying work is not.
posted by xylothek at 9:27 AM on June 28, 2021 [9 favorites]

Something I now take into consideration: what's the percentage of female (at least, as much as you can assume) employees and female managers/leadership? From being a fly on the wall for many years now in tech, in companies with few female employees and little to no management you can assume a hostile environment toward parents of young children and any woman who might get pregnant. That doesn't mean a company with heavy female presence and leadership will be guaranteed a delightful WLB but I do believe it's a prerequisite.

I feel like #3 is probably the best place to get in and decide from the inside whether you're going to aim for a longer ladder-climbing haul or use it as a stepping stone while your child is really young and then reassess. On your update though, the commute sucks.

A caveat here is whether your B ratings on pay means you're taking a cut or moving laterally, which I think is generally a bad move if you're not making it up in benefits or commute/work-adjacent time (which matters too when your kids are little).
posted by Lyn Never at 9:28 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Current job: I also tend to voluntarily take on more work ..., but I don't get recognized for it

So... stop taking on work people don't want you to do and see how you feel about the job? Just work fewer hours, giving you the best WLB. If it's really A- pay then you have little upside to leaving.

Getting stuck with no growth opportunities in #3 is bad. #2 is just your current job but worse WLB, let's be honest here, most big company problems are the same. That leaves startup or current job. Do you want to work extra hard to make someone else a lot of money and spend a lot less time with your kid?
posted by flimflam at 10:18 AM on June 28, 2021

Schedule yourself an entire block of time alone sometime soon and go for a long walk or a long bike ride or maybe weed-pulling or some other individual activity involving the kind of physical movement that also allows you the time and space to process your thoughts.

Identify 1-2 of your most pressing questions - not about the individual jobs, but about your values (such as: do I want to be one of those moms that works long hours? how do I feel about a second child? on a scale that runs from interesting-problems-at-work to interesting-problems-at-home, where do I want to put my energy?).

Spend that block of time listening to your gut. Many of us live too much in our heads. There's a lot of neurons in the gut. Ask your gut the questions about your values. Be honest with yourself. The answers your gut offers may be hard to hear. They may be obvious, and/or a huge relief. But the answers will be yours.

Once you have identified your values, your priorities will be clear. There will be consequences. But you'll know you've got your priorities straight.
posted by aniola at 10:36 AM on June 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'll just add to your thinking that although toddlers require intense adult care, my experience was that up until age 5 or so, good care was a plus for my child and I, not generally a negative as in "not enough time with me." A lot of the time was napping, eating, etc. I missed the time but my kids, not so much.

In elementary school the balance started to shift. First, because my kids went into public school, things suddenly got more rigid like if my after school provider was late I had no guarantee that my child would be okay for 10 minutes. My child needed me to watch whether he was actually doing homework and getting the math concepts. The kid activities started to take a life of their own - it wasn't just one lesson, it was practices and games and being invited onto the demo team and oh, my child wants to volunteer in the school garden and Earth Day and whatever else.

One example was Montessori camp went 8am-6pm; elementary school art camp went 8:30-5 (with aftercare!) and so whhhhoooooo was going to do pick up at 5 pm therefore leaving at 4pm.

Also as we got into upper elementary my child's problems went from "don't eat chalk" to "a supposed friend humiliated me in front of the school" and so how I felt was that really for the first time, my original trade (money for high-quality care/experiences) was not paying off because my kids needed A Parent, not just an Adult.

All of which is to say...if you think you can still access the other jobs on your list later, I might go for Job 1 now just because my experience suggests you are at the point where it is easiest to trade money for childcare that you'll be at for a while. (This is assuming your spouse is able to also be a support.) Then you get the experience and project that really speaks to you, and can go into the more stable roles later.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:23 PM on June 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

I am a guy but have two young kids and have worked at most of the companies in your question (including #4).

My experience is that if you are working harder than your peers now, #3 is a bad choice and will drive your job satisfaction through the floor. I definitely know people who have this kind of job and are happy but they are people who either are so-so talented or have a major other thing they do outside of work that is their main thing.

#1 is probably riskier than you think - not that the job won't pan out (probably they will prep to go public, do a 10:1 reverse stock split, then assuming you stick around you'll make some tens of thousands and it maybe makes up for the pay cut you took) - but risky in the sense that you're giving up most other things because you like the mission and the people, but it is really easy to join that kind of company, have a new bad manager come in, and then you hate your job and you've given up the other compensations, and because it's a startup, it's harder to get away from your bad manager. Startups are good for learning new things but they're also very shallow in some ways. I would consider this option mainly because it seems like it'd be the biggest change from your current job and I think that's what you're looking for, but it doesn't seem like the most "sensible" choice you could make.

#2 seems fine, it seems like the safest choice to get a little novelty without giving up too much.

Ok, so that's the choices. About other stuff:

Although you may be clocking more hours than 9-5, especially if you're remote frequently, you probably have a lot of flexibility about when those hours happen and can push them to bedtime or while the kids are watching tv or napping on the weekends or whatever. The main two things for me that are problematic are meetings and deep-focus stuff. Meetings you usually have more control over than you may think and can block off time that doesn't work due to childcare dropoff or whatever and people will understand. Deep-focus stuff is harder, and you'll probably end up doing some of that at night and reserving some time during the day on certain days for it. When/if you start a new job, it'll probably feel a little overwhelming at first but once you're over the initial hump you should be able to work out a routine that is sustainable.

Job #4: I'm biased because that's where I am right now, but my experience is that FAANGs are actually underrated by talented people at "medium-tier" companies. I do work of roughly the same difficulty and WLB as I did at previous jobs, but for 3x the salary and 10x the career opportunities. Have you looked at or Blind or similar to figure out what you're giving up by not working here? I don't mean to claim it's a perfect place to work, there is politics and red tape and big-tech morality questions, but I had all of those elsewhere as well without nearly the compensating benefits.
posted by inkyz at 10:32 PM on June 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ok but which of these jobs are you actually excited about? It sounds like only company 1, and so you should do that, or maybe stay where you are until you find something you're really excited about.
There are companies that will run you ragged, but it doesn't sound like any of these fall into this category. In the meantime you're bored and want career growth. Why would you take an even more boring job with no growth (company 3)? Don't do that. "More freedom" is rarely what people want in a job, whatever they think, especially people describing their frustrations as being bored, having too much politics, and not getting promoted.
Warriorqueen is also 100% right, now is the time to stretch yourself, when the kid is young. School years are much harder.
Definitely do not go to the company where you don't have good vibes with people even in the interview stage. The people you work with are going to be the most important part of your job satisfaction in the long run, it's totally not worth compromising on that.
posted by ch1x0r at 3:45 PM on June 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, don't neglect to negotiate! You've got several solid offers, see if you can get B pay up a bit, or at least get more equity so that the potential payoff is that much better
posted by ch1x0r at 3:47 PM on June 30, 2021

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