The other day I had coffee with a friend who was facing a difficult decision. She had two job offers, and was trying to decide between them. Granted, this is a good problem to have, but that doesn’t make it any less agonizing. Both positions were local, so would not involve moving, but otherwise they were very different.
The first job was the known quantity. It would be going back to a company she had worked for previously, though in a neighboring group. She had actually applied for the job a year earlier and been turned down, so was very gratified to receive the offer of a permanent position this time. She knew many of her potential co-workers, and they got along fine. The work would be things she knew how to do well, and she would be running her own lab in a lot of ways. It was a large company, so salary and benefits were very good. Though the company had gone through massive, repeated layoffs in the past; they were currently stable, but it was definitely a high pressure, high stress environment. This specific location was a smaller one, so she would certainly run into her former group members from time to time. While she had not felt appreciated in that group, she felt she could be cordial to them. However, the commute would be bad, and she knew the entire company was highly political, and she would have to tread carefully throughout her career there.
The second job was much more of an unknown. It was a one year contract position at a very prestigious institution – just having that on her resume would be very valuable in future job searches. She would be doing some things she already knew how to do, but part of the program was designed to teach her new things. There is a slight possibility, but no guarantee, of finding a permanent position at the end of the one year period, and she would be much closer to a new field that she was very interested in moving into. Since it was a contract position there was no retirement plan or other benefits, though she could buy into the group health insurance. The environment was congenial, relaxed, and during her time they would be moving into brand new laboratory space.
In listening to her talk about the two options, it was pretty clear why she was torn. The first offer appealed to her ego and sense of security. The company had actually changed the job description to make it fit her, and they were aggressively pursuing her. Working for a large, stable, global company offered a great deal of security, with options for other places to move as her career progressed. While she knew it was a stressful and political environment, she had been successful in that environment previously.
The second offer appealed to her sense of adventure and challenge. She would be working with a number of early career scientists, teaching them about her area of expertise, and learning about theirs. The thought of setting up a brand new lab, exactly the way she wanted it, was exciting. The commute would be short, but she would have to continue to look for her next position. If she couldn’t find something within the institution, in a year she would be back in the same position – although with new skills and a better resume.
Which option would you pick? The stable, stressful, known position; or the temporary, exciting, unknown? For some people, this would be an easy choice. For others, it’s a much closer call.
It all comes down to a matter of personal values. What is most important to you in your professional life – security, challenge, balance, autonomy, altruism, advancement…? While each of these are important to everyone, the relative importance is different for each person, and in fact, changes over the course of your life. When evaluating professional options, it is important to think about how well it matches not just your scientific aspirations, but your personal values as well.
If the most important thing to you is having a stable paycheck every month, or setting your own professional direction, you are most likely going to take the first job. If you’re most important value is being able to balance personal and professional life, or the challenge of learning new things, you would probably take the second position.
In the end, the right decision is simply the one that’s right for you.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.