By: Revanche

Classic career conundrum?

December 27, 2008

Many young folks are advised that when starting out, if faced with the choice between a lower-paying job with more opportunity, and a higher-paying job with less opportunity to learn or less mobility, experience trumps money. That makes sense, to a point. You probably want to choose the lower paying job that offers the chance to learn and grow because you’re building the foundation of your career and will be able to make better money as you move on if your skills are good.

The opportunity to develop is essential if you expect to move up, around, or through your current job to the next step, whatever that is. Since I enjoy working, I want that movement to be upward to more responsibility, challenges, and of course, money! [Caveat: It has little to do with lifestyle inflation, but, see note below. I simply enjoy achieving in the workplace as long as it’s in line with my values.]

But at what point, or what age, does the experience stop trumping the money?

The premise of that choice only works if you eventually take that experience and make it pay off by working for a company that will pay you what your experience is worth. [Allowing for the fact that it’s commonly said that people always think they’re worth more than they really are. It’s a subjective measure, I understand, and I refer to industry standards when I refer to “worth.”]

Based on the “experience = bonus points” theory, I stuck with the post-college job for much longer than expected, despite the frustrations, because I was gaining managerial experience without risk. Made sense at the time: no one was going to hire a kid in my field with no command experience, so why not try it on for size and experiment while I could? And it worked out: the money did come because taking on that work made me an MVP, but only to a certain extent.

Now that I’m ready to step up to a whole new level, and with it, a huge step towards a six figure salary, I’m facing the same question. Do I pursue the job that offers some major development in management accompanied with a much more restrictive budget? Or continue searching for a position that offers more money?

The limiting factors on that “huge step” towards a high salary, of course, is the availability of jobs, the economic environment, and the industry norms. For example, I’m realizing that if I want the money to follow my experience, I have got to stop working for non-profits, they don’t have money to throw about. FB’s a great example of someone who parlayed her training from an employer into consultant work with, thus far, some pretty fantastic success. I’m not interested in going the freelance route with my niche, for various reasons, but it is one way to go for those with skills in high demand.

In this economy, the answer is: both. But at some point, I’m going to have to make a choice. And at some point, I’m going to have to take the job I can get, because it’s still at least three times better than being unemployed for who knows how long.


On lifestyle inflation: I keep saying I’m not interested in lifestyle inflation, but reading MoneyMonk’s post on the perception of a $100k income, I got a funny thought. Moving to take a new job while continuing to support my family IS lifestyle inflation. And not the fun kind, either!

Note: I’m not against nice things. I like nice things, but only in moderation. I mostly like freedom of choice which is muuuch more accessible if you’re not poor.

3 Responses to “Classic career conundrum?”

  1. I got pretty lucky that’s for sure.

    Most people don’t enter my field until they have 5-7 years experience. (Source: BF)

    And you have to strike while the iron is hot and take the opportunity.

    Many more experienced consultants never made the leap I did because of confidence and they had families. *shrug*

    I had nothing to lose, really. But those consultants should have saved up an EF… anyway.

    I’m probably the youngest independent out there but I learned a lot in the couple of years in the field, more than some consultants who’ve been in it for 5-7 years.. only because I got lucky and got put on great projects

    Fabulously Broke in the City
    Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver…

  2. Miss M says:

    I could go independent at this stage in my career, it was an option for my current assignment. But I have a mortgage to pay and I’m not the greatest networker, so for now I’m sticking with traditional employment. In my field, civil engineering, salary advancement only comes from jumping ship. In 10 years I’ve worked for 4 firms, I know many who have company hopped more than me. If you’re young you should soak up experience, one of the assignments I took on turned into my main specialty. I can still fall back on other skills as well. I don’t know that the model of – start at the bottom and work your way up still exists. Sometimes you have to take the position that makes the most sense at the time.

  3. Revanche says:

    FB: Granted, there was luck involved, but you were definitely smart enough to take advantage of the learning opportunities with the good projects; a lot of people would have just done their bit and went on their way.

    If there’s something you didn’t lack, it’d be self confidence! 🙂

    You’re one of my forward-moving career models! Just so you know.

    Miss M: Thanks for the thoughts. My field isn’t in a hot industry, and my networking is a work in progress so traditional employment it is. And I need health insurance. 🙂 I am totally open to supplementing with freelance work, though.

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