“Should I stay or should I go.” The famous lyric by The Clash rung in my ears as I re-read the offer letter for the tenth or hundredth time. I was having trouble deciding between moving on to a new and exciting opportunity and staying with a job I loved. It’s simple, right? I”ll lay out the pros and cons, and that will make it easy. So I did, but it didn’t help. Comparing jobs made my indecisiveness even worse. So I wrote up a new method to compare the jobs based on four criteria: The logistics, future, environment, and team. It helped me and I hope it helps you. Please note that there is enough out there on the internet covering compensation and work-life balance, so I pretty much leave them out.
Considering the logistics of a job begs a simple question: “Is it worth my time?”
Consider the commute. I enjoy commuting up to an hour each way, but no more. It’s long enough to listen to a couple of IT podcasts, which keeps me sharp, but also allows me to stay away from the high costs of city life. However, multiple studies have found strong correlations that indicate that longer commutes impact health and happiness in road weary commuters. Questions to ask are “can I afford to be close to work?” “can my mind and body handle the distance?” and “what kind of personal time will I gain/lose?”
We have to contend with travel. Depending on your preference, travel can be very fulfilling or very stressful. Some folks only get out for a yearly conference, others spend lots of time on regional car/train travel, while some travel warriors rack up serious flight points while sacrificing personal time. I think too many people ask themselves “can I take this much travel?” setting themselves up for extra stress when asked a little more of than originally described. Instead ask yourself “how much travel would be comfortable?” before ever looking for a job. You need to answer that before considering any position. Further, if you are away from home a week per month, for example, and that’s already starting to hurt, don’t even consider a job asking for more time away. On the other hand, maybe you’re a person with no major obligations who would enjoy seeing new places. You might enjoy moving to a job with more travel. Keep in mind, though, most folks don’t really like exploring a new town after a ten hours straight on the job.
So, ask yourself how your current and potential jobs compare when considering the commute and travel. If the logistics of your current job have become your primary stressor, it’s probably time to find something more relaxing. If the logistical challenges at potential new job introduce new or greater stress when you’re already approaching your max, consider staying or looking into other opportunities. Now, if gaining a shorter commute means more time with your kids or the idea of flying around the world fills you with excitement, it may be time for a change.
Is the job compatible with your future? The former and following questions apply to both your current job and potential employers. I like to break this question down into one, three, five, and ten years from now. Do both jobs seem like they will have you better off in a year from now? If one does and the other doesn’t, it’s kind of just food for thought. A year isn’t much compared to a 30 to 50 year career.
Now go to your three year outlook. This is where two jobs, be it your current and a potential or two potential jobs, begin to separate themselves. Say your current job pays a salary of $65k and has an annual raise of 5% and potential position pays of $70k with a historical annual raise of 2%. In three years your current job would pay $75k and the potential would pay $74k. It’s just a thousand right? Well I personally don’t expect great benefits from a company with a 2% raise. That’s a red flag, so I’d stay put. And, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with asking a potential employer about their raise history and assessments methods.
Five years from now should include change. You may want to move up to a more senior position at your current job to take on responsibilities or compensations that don’t exist at the potential employer. Maybe there’s no room for you to move up where you are. For me, this has been a factor in deciding to move on twice. In both cases I had senior engineers above me who could be in those same positions in 5 years. Nothing wrong with that, but I hope I’m moving into a senior position in about five years. What about buying a house or having kids? Those come with responsibilities that should fit with a job. Are these even factors because you could move on to another new job again in under 5 years?
Your ten year outlook should be a perspective of looking forward to look back. Which job would have better prepared you for where want to be ten years from now? Do you want to look back from the perspective of a manager – your job decision should emphasize teamwork and administrative skill-building. A technical specialist? Then take the leap into a position focused on that tech in a VAR or with a vendor. Maybe you have no idea what you want to be doing in ten years (I sure don’t). Then, consider a position with variety and plenty of learning opportunity to will help you find your passion.
When I think environment, I brand names. We LOVE equipment in IT. Whirring routers and switches, shining servers and storage arrays filled with VMs and databases, beefy load balancers and firewalls, and that new (to me) workstation smell. That’s the good stuff. (Except for printers,we all hate printers.)
But is the equipment right for you? I think that question needs to be broken down to into two categories: now and future. Do you feel comfortable with the direction your current job is going on their systems roadmap? If you’re a physical infrastructure guy and your org is moving everything to the cloud, you need to decide whether you want those AWS certs or whether your love the hum of the datacenter. That alone tells you whether to go or stay. Maybe your family has a new baby or you’re approaching retirement and you want to coast on your skills for awhile. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to either be in or find a job compatible with that part of your life. Maybe you’re ready to learn new skills and an opportunity comes with the training for new and interesting tasks. In the (paraphrased) words of an engineer I respect highly “the day I find myself bored is the day I start looking for another job.” So go.
Equipment isn’t everything. The workplace environment must also be considered. Can you handle feeling cut off from the outside for 8-10 hours a day? I need to see the sun throughout the day, so being shut in the basement for a few years is not for me. Can you work in an open office/cube farm or would the hum of office life be distracting for you? These things affect your mood which affects your productivity, so must be considered when deciding to go or stay.
How much office support work will you have to do? Considering working for yourself or with a very small team? You may become your own secretary, accounting, project manager, and shipping/receiving dept. If that’s not okay with you, then the job on a 3 person IT team may not be for you. If you’re like me, you enjoy the awareness gained through constant insight to your POs, project status, and appointments. Other people hate it and wish to avoid the hassle of non-IT work. You might rather offload these duties so you can stay focused on the work you love. If so, consider moving to a larger organization.
Personality compatibility with your teammates is a huge factor when considering a potential change. I’ve worked with groups before who I really enjoyed working with for awhile, but personality differences turned a once happy team into a grump group.
I just left a team in which my team and I hit it off in the interview and now I count my former co-workers among my family. How do you find that? Look for laughter and smiles – and maybe a good gut-buster in the interview. In that spirit, don’t take on a new opportunity if the interview didn’t have a jovial tone. I’m a social and generally happy guy, so that’s my rule. Maybe laughter isn’t your thing. You may like quiet or privacy. If you’re team has become so interested in your personal life that you feel pried upon, maybe it’s time to try another team.
How do your skills fit into the team? Are you a specialist or prefer skill sets shared in common with the rest of the group. I’ve learned I like to be a big fish in a small pond. I’m happiest when either I’m the sole network guy or paired with someone else with a little less experience than I have. I also like working with multiple types of systems instead of siloing myself into route/switch. My small team mentality combined with my love of many things IT means I also have to be resourceful when I don’t know what to do. I fit best with small-medium sized companies that keep guidebooks on hand, or let me bring mine, and maintain their support contracts. If you’re already in that kind of situation, but you feel like you’re drowning in all of the different systems and knowledge-sets, then maybe you would do better in an organization where you can specialize. If doing the same kind of work day after day bores you, a smaller team on which you can spread your wings and explore many skills may be right up your alley. This may also be true for junior IT pros who want the chance to explore many systems.
Mentorship is undervalued in most companies. Don’t be part of that. An organization should support your personal growth by providing the opportunity for you to both mentor and be mentored. Your seniors or managers should discuss the how’s and why’s of what they do to better prepare you for your future and you should to teach your juniors. Mentoring is about skills and knowledge, but also building trust and personal bonds. These traits are of paramount to a successful and strong team. If the organization does not promote mentoring, thats a minus for that role. Keep looking.
The Bottom Line
This is the easiest and hardest part. Considering all the above, will you be happier if you stay at your current job or if you take new employment? There’s your answer.