Dear Work Space:
I’ve been recruited for a new job, and I’m not sure if I should take it. I’ve been at my current company for a long time, and while I’ve had my ups and downs with the job, I’m in a place right now where I have a lot of independence in what I do and how I structure my time. In the past year, I got pulled into a high profile project that’s really exciting to me.
I’ve been talking about this exciting work, and another company noticed and started recruiting me. They’re a new startup working in this space, which means that I’ll get a title that better reflects the work I’m doing and I’d be getting in at the ground floor as they build something new. It sounds exciting, and the team seems good, though they are a little untested.
On top of all this, my partner and I are hoping to have a baby this year. I’m torn. Should I stay at a place that I know already, which is very established in my industry and that I know is a stable choice? Or should I go after my big break to get a better title and build something new?
You have an enviable dilemma in front of you: You’re facing two different options that would make you happy.
You framed your question as either taking a new job or staying in your current role, but I see it differently. I think you either take the new position or reshape your current position based on what you learn through the recruitment process. From what you’ve told me, staying at your old job might be a solid choice, but you’ve got to be the one to weigh these two opportunities and ultimately decide what is right for you.
You’ve arrived at this inflection point because of how hard you’ve worked. Not only have you been recruited by a company that you’re excited about, your current job has been giving you new responsibilities and an important project. You’re on people’s radar, and that puts you in a position where you can negotiate and choose which job you want based on what is best for you.
I’ve written before about how to determine what you need from a job and how to stand out when you apply. Your situation is an excellent example of why it’s so important to know what you want your life to be like. That knowledge will help you make the right decision. It’s time to consider not just what you want from your role, but also how benefits, location, commute, schedule flexibility, work/life balance, and work culture will impact your day-to-day and future goals.
Use this dilemma as an opportunity to get clarity on what’s most important to you right now, and negotiate for the position that checks the most boxes for you.
When you took your current job, you were in another place in your life, and as you get ready for this next phase, you want to be sure that your job supports the life you want to live.
Start with an honest assessment about what you and your family need personally. You’re planning for a new baby, so job stability, benefits, a manageable workload and, of course, salary are all important. Working from home or flexibility around the work day would be high on my list too.
After you do your personal inventory, you’re going to gather more data, compare the two jobs, and then negotiate.
No two jobs offer the exact same things, and to figure out what’s right for you right now, take a data-driven approach by doing a side-by-side comparison. Create a scorecard where you list out the most important things by category, making space for your personal preferences and the components of the role (your title, responsibilities, growth potential, leadership, etc). This is for your own use, and the answers will naturally be subjective. They should be: This is your job and your life.
I found this scorecard example from Harvard Business Review helpful. In the HBR article, Allison Rimm explained that taking this data-driven approach can help you see the big picture, allowing you to assess the benefits and pitfalls of the two jobs against each other.
“The intangible parts of a job — autonomy, collegiality, prestige, purpose — can make an even bigger impact on our overall well-being than the easy-to-count factors like salary, benefits, and vacation time,” Allison wrote. “To avoid undercounting the ‘soft’ factors, try translating them into hard numbers. The way they add up might surprise you,”
As you gather data for your comparison, don’t make assumptions about the new job. Do your research. Look at what the company is doing, what they intend to do, and who else they’re hiring. You can learn a lot about the mission and focus of a place from the job descriptions for open roles, which tell you where they’re investing resources. Take time with their website or Linkedin—where they generally put their best face forward—and notice if how they present themselves publicly raises any red flags for you. If so, see if you can put those concerns to bed during the interview process or if they’re amplified by other comments you hear from current staff.
Use the face time you have with recruiters and hiring managers to ask them questions about your role, company culture, and what gets them excited.
Some of my favorite interview questions to understand company culture include:
- What does success look like in this role?
- How do you measure impact?
- What’s the team structure like? Who do you report to?
- How much access do you have to leadership?
- How much ownership do you have over your projects? Who makes decisions?
- What are opportunities for growth?
- How do you support professional development?
- Who will I collaborate with the most?
- What’s a project you recently worked on that they really enjoyed?
A new startup in a hot industry might mean a lot of work with less control over when you can say no to certain things, so try to get a sense of the pace when interviewing. Startup culture can be high-pressured, unstructured, and quick to pivot. It could be awesome — or it could be a real challenge after operating in a more corporate environment for so long. The more you can learn about how the company operates, the better.
After you take stock of your current situation and get as much data as you can from the new opportunity, start seriously weighing those options.
To me, the things that stand out about the new job are how exciting it will be to be a part of a startup, the ability you’ll have to help build a new company culture, and the possibility to create something new that may disrupt your industry. There’s potential to get a great package as an early hire, along with that nice title.
Of course, there are pros at your current job. You know what to expect. You can build your own schedule for the most part. You have a lot of independence and are well respected. Your job is giving you opportunities to grow. You might want to see that big project through before leaving. You’re at a more established brand, which means there’s some stability, and you can demonstrate that you’ve gotten that company to do something innovative with this new project. Like a bank that you’ve been with for a long time, you’ve been putting in deposits (your time, relationships, and expertise) that you can draw down on as your life changes in the coming year.
One thing you didn’t mention but seems important: how much time and brain space your job takes. The number of hours you work and how busy you are might be very different in this new role than in your current one, especially if you’ve been at your current job for years. You know how to do a lot of things and you have accrued a lot of institutional knowledge.
At the new job, you’ll be learning a lot and building up new processes, both for your role and the organization, since it’s a startup. Does that sound energizing to you right now? Or are you in a place in your life where it would be better to have more space and self-control over your days? How will that shift with a new baby in the mix?
As you look at your scorecard you’ll get insights into which is the better fit. With data that you get, perhaps the new job will stand out on paper. If not, it’s time to negotiate at your current job for a better position, salary, and title. They clearly see the value in you; figure out how you can leverage your tenure there and this other opportunity for more of what you want. Use your scorecard above to show you what’s most important to you and what you’d like to advocate for at your current job.
At a minimum, now is the time to update your job description to include your new responsibilities and get rid of things you’ve outgrown. Use the new opportunity to find ways to improve your current role and help you reframe how you see the role. Can you move into a job at your current company where you’re more focused on Cool Project X? Are there things that were in the other job description that you’d like to be doing where you work now? Talk to your manager about how you’d like to update your position and how you’d like to be compensated for the new work that you’re doing.
Making changes might take some time and conversations, but it’s worth the effort. You’ve grown within your job, and it’s time to get recognized and compensated for it. You can use examples that you prepared for your interviews at the new job to build a case of why your current company should invest in you.
When you have another offer, it can be a very powerful tool to use to negotiate at your current job, but also know that if you give an ultimatum, you have to be willing to take the other job if your current one doesn’t offer you what you want. If they say they can’t match it, you have to be ready to walk. If you’re not down to leave for the new job, don’t leverage it against your current one.
While it can feel hectic while you’re in the process, especially if you’re going through multiple rounds of interviews and preparing materials for the interviews, remember that your career is a long game and your life is about more than just work. Slow down to check in with yourself and to really process what you’re hearing from this new company, versus what you think you can do where you are.
“People tell you who they are but we ignore it— because we want them to be who we want them to be,” horrible boss and workplace philosopher Don Draper said in the show Mad Men. Jobs tell us what they are, too, though sometimes we ignore red flags because we have an idealized picture in our heads of what we want them to be. Take the time to process the data you’ve gathered about this new opportunity, what you know about your current company, and what you want your life to look like, then negotiate for what will make you the most satisfied.
Work Space is a monthly Q&A column tackling the work challenges that keep you up at night. You can read all columns here. If you want advice on something you’re navigating at work, send your questions to email@example.com.