Recently I was head hunted for a management position with a different company in the same industry. It would have been a promotion with a higher salary, and with the type of organization I was interested in working with. The opportunity came as a bit of a shock because I’m happy where I am, and haven’t actively looked at job postings at all for the past 1.5 years. So while I was flattered that they were interested in me, I knew I was never going to seriously consider the position. And after talking it out with a few friends and stressing for a few days, I knew I had made the right decision.
This experience got me thinking again about what I look for in an employer, and how much that has changed over the years as my career has progressed. When I first graduated, jobs were pretty easy to come by, and I spent a lot of time chasing dollar signs and job hopping. While I was concerned with the integrity of the company, admittedly I was more concerned with my salary. And because of this, in the first four years of my career, I was able to double my income … but my resume looks pretty horrible. :)
Related: Why I don’t want to be self-employed
Now the job market is a lot tougher, and my career direction has become a lot more focused (which means less jobs to choose from). 10 years ago, I was a marketing generalist by choice. I knew that by not specializing in anything, I could try a variety of different roles to find what aspects of marketing I enjoyed and where my strengths were. Now, it’s safe to say I’ve become a specialist with a somewhat niche skill set. With a decade of experience under my belt, I know that a pay cheque isn’t everything, but I also know that I have the luxury of saying that because my salary is comfortable.
Related: When it’s worth it to take a pay cut
Deciding not to pursue this job opportunity has really reinforced what I want out of my career. I’m also happy to see that the gamble I took by entering into this industry 3 years ago (by taking on a junior position) was a good decision, because this isn’t the first time I’ve been head hunted before. It seems that this type of marketing is always in demand, and there just isn’t a huge pool of people to choose from here in Vancouver.
Aside from salary, here are a few key things that I look for in a job and a career:
- Work-life balance. Overtime cannot be avoided in this fast paced, deadline-driven industry, but there has to be a trade off. Because my job isn’t my passion, I value my time away from the office. I want a 40 hour/week career and flexible hours because so many things that I love (like freelancing, sports, and travel) happen outside of the office.
- Good people. I don’t necessarily want to become best friends with my co-workers (and I’m a pretty introverted person), but being able to be social while at work is more important than I realized when I first started my career. When I look back at all the jobs I’ve had, the best ones were where I’ve had friends.
- A company I can believe in. I want to be proud of the company I’m working for, and I like knowing that they are helping to make a difference. Whether it’s through the work that they do, or through giving back to the community, I love companies that help make lives better. :) AND I find it so inspiring when others around me truly believe in making the company better.
- Ability to learn. Getting stuck is a huge concern for me. I want the ability to keep on learning and growing as an employee, and if those options aren’t available to me, eventually I’ll have to look elsewhere for employment. And that’s not something I want to do, because I also value…
- Long-term potential. I want to be able to stay with a company long-term. Job hopping is tiring and stressful. Finding a role I can settle into is something I value, and it looks good on a resume when you have stayed in a position for at least 3-5 years.
- Location. I’m done commuting long distances, but it’s hard to get by in the city without a car. I drive a lot for field hockey and hiking as it is (where transit is not an option), and where we live right now, I wouldn’t even consider applying for jobs that aren’t located within walking distance of a SkyTrain stop.
What do you look for in a job (and in your career)?
I was 29 when I quit working in a cubicle and became self-employed. It was a huge step, and I was excited to experience the freedom of setting my own schedule, working wherever and whenever I wanted, and creating a lifestyle that I had always dreamed of. I was eager to test myself to see how much I could accomplish on my own. Plus, I was moving to Germany for a year with my boyfriend, and that just added to the excitement.
My passion for my new freelance life was further fuelled by the fact that so many of my friends were either already working for themselves, or aspired to one day work for themselves. I felt like I had finally achieved something important: after two very difficult years of working 70+ hours/week at both my full-time job and freelancing, I had grown my freelance writing gigs and this blog from nothing, into something that I could actually make a decent living from. I had steady clients in place, and a good amount of extra freelance work rolling in.
However, after a year of doing my own thing, I knew that being self-employed wasn’t the right fit for me … which was interesting to learn about myself after years of wondering if I could make it on my own.
Although the year I spent freelancing proved that I have what it takes to work for myself if I ever wanted to go that route again, I am much better suited working for someone else for the rest of my career. Freelancing and self-employment isn’t for everyone, and I honestly think it’s a lifestyle that not many people can handle (no matter how much they dream of being their own boss). I’m constantly impressed by my friends who are thriving as freelancers because I know it takes a special kind of person to make it work.
Here are four reasons why I left freelancing and went back to my cubicle (and none of it had to do with not making enough money!):
Yes, freedom! So many people talk about wanting to have the freedom to create their own schedule, and not feel like they’re chained to their desk. Well, I’d rather be chained to my desk for 8 hours a day than feel like I’m chained to my own laptop and smartphone 24/7. Honestly.
Sure, I got to work whenever I wanted, and travel when I felt like traveling. But as it turns out, I was kind of a demanding boss on myself. I always felt pressured to work harder, and when I wasn’t in front of my laptop? I was either checking my emails and looking at social media, or worrying about checking my emails and looking at social media. I didn’t want to miss any new opportunities, and it drove me crazy. It’s pretty horrible to feel like you can’t be without your phone, ever. I had major anxiety, and started to lose all sense of balance. My work consumed me, no matter what kind of schedule I tried to implement. I wasn’t practical, because I was too scared not to hustle as much as I could.
So even though I was only doing actual work for 30 hours a week as a freelancer, I never felt like I could step away. Whereas a full-time job brings me the freedom to leave work behind. After 5pm, I don’t have to worry about projects or clients or income targets, and my evenings and weekends are mine to enjoy however I want. Life is short, and I’d rather hold hands with my boyfriend in the park after work, than sit in front of my laptop trying to hit a deadline.
2. Time Off
I used to think that if I became self-employed, I could take as much time off as I wanted to. But it was actually pretty hard to go on vacation and complete unplug from the outside world. Sure, I traveled a ton, but the problem with being your own boss is that when you’re on vacation, you’re not getting paid. Plus, most evenings (and yep, sometimes during the day) when I was on vacation, I was checking e-mails and following up on work-related admin stuff, or stressed out about a client reducing their budget – none of which were relaxing!
My old corporate jobs allowed me two or three weeks of vacation, which obviously was not enough time for the amount of traveling I wanted to do each year. I yearned for more time to go adventuring, and thought freelancing was the answer. But what I didn’t realize was that perhaps it was just the industry I was in that was limiting my freedom.
I love the industry that I’m in now because of the flexibility it provides when it comes to time off. I feel lucky in that every little bit of time I work above and beyond a normal work day gets given back to me – which works out to having seemingly unlimited vacation time. Last year I took 6 weeks of paid vacation, and this year will likely be around the same. Maybe even a bit more. And best of all? I don’t have to worry about anything related to work while I’m gone.
3. I am not special
I have a very good idea of where I stand in the personal finance world. I’m an average writer with an average get-out-of-debt story. I don’t have any unique skills, and I’m not special. But what I do have is an above-average passion for personal finance, and the desire to help others. And that’s why this blog has been around for almost 10 years.
There are so many other people who have the self-employed thing
The ability to work for yourself opens up the doors to limitless streams of income, and I will admit that felt super liberating. But I’m a natural worrier, and even though I had steady contracts which gave me a steady income stream, having the rest of my income fluctuate caused my anxiety to skyrocket. Some weeks I would bring in thousands and I’d feel so confident. Then there were other weeks I’d make nothing and I would start to panic. Everything evened out over the course of the year to provide me with a perfectly livable income (that was actually more than my previous full-time job provided), I couldn’t handle the ups and downs with grace.
My desk job provides me with the stability I crave. I know that every two weeks, I’ll be getting X amount of money. It’s something I can count on, and I need that feeling of stability.
Being self-employed is a terrific option for some people. I have plenty of friends are are self-employed rock stars! But it’s a lot less glamorous and a lot harder than you might think. I know myself well enough to know this now, but it took me half a decade of freelancing and a full year of being self-employed to really understand it.
Have you ever wanted to work for yourself?
When I first moved to Vancouver, I took a job that paid me 15% less than my job in Victoria. It doesn’t seem like a ton, but when you’re making less than $50,000 that’s a huge amount. But I did it because 1) I wanted to move to Vancouver and establish myself with a very reputable organization, and 2) my boss promised me what amounted to a 12% raise after I passed my probation period.
I didn’t stay very long with the organization, but I learned some very important lessons that I still think about today:
1. Get everything in writing
I was young when I took this job, and I believed my boss when he told me that I would get a raise after my probation period ended. He was one of those managers who made a really good first impression, knew exactly what to say, and filled up the room with his energy. I was definitely the opposite of him, and remember timidly asking if we should put that into my formal offer letter. He quickly brushed me off and said that he’d get it done. He told me to trust him. So I did.
2. Nobody cares about your money more than you
Once my 3 month probation period passed and I didn’t notice a difference in my pay cheques, I brought it up with my boss. He assured me he would file the paperwork to make it happen.
The next time we got paid, I still hadn’t seen a change. So I inquired again, and he told me that it “wasn’t high on his priority list.” I thought, okay. No worries. This minor administrative task isn’t as important as other issues we were dealing with, but it was one of the reasons why I accepted the job. 12% may not seem like a big raise to him, but it was huge for me. And as the weeks went by, I got more and more disgruntled.
Related: If you don’t ask, you won’t get
Six weeks after I was supposed to have gotten the raise, I went into his office and asked about my raise again. It was rightfully mine, and I told him that. “Well aren’t you greedy,” he said, and dismissed me from his office.
I was in shock. I was mad, and I wasn’t going to take it. How dare he accuse me of being greedy when all I was asking for was what he promised me!
3. Fight for what’s right
Eventually I realized that he never intended on giving me that raise because he had never gotten it approved and didn’t have the authority to set my salary. But it was what was promised to me, so I kept fighting for it. Every week I would bring it up with him (always politely, never forceful), and each time he would make a comment about me being “bossy” or “aggressive” or his favourite, “greedy.”
Three months later, I finally got my raise. But it was only for 5% – not the 12% I was promised when I accepted the job. He said that it was all he could do for me, and I wasn’t going to be getting anything else. I nodded, thanked him for pushing my “raise” through, and promptly started looking for work elsewhere.
Two months after that, I left for a position that paid me a much better salary. But I often look back at that job and think about how much I learned in the 8 months I was there. I learned how to stand up for what I knew was right. I learned how to be assertive (not bossy or greedy), and I learned that the next time I negotiated something with an employer, to get everything promised to me in writing.