Take the leap? What to do when the first job offer comes your way.

 In career exploration, for grad students, for postdocs, jobs: preparation and placement, PhD/Postdoc Blog

Navigating a multi-prong career search can be tricky. I have been strategically applying to both academic, tenure-track, and non-academic jobs since August 2018. Trying to time out the process is complex. Most tenure-track applications (especially for a department with teaching responsibilities) are due in the fall with interviews in January/February for positions starting in July/August. So, the lag time between faculty applications and offers can be as long as 6-9 months. Most non-academic job search processes are relatively quick with a turnaround from application to offer of a month or two. So, if you are trying to keep both academic and non-academic career options open to you, the timing of when to apply is very complex. This is when you need to evaluate what type of jobs you really want and what is the likelihood of another, similar position being open in the future? It is highly unlikely a specific non-academic job ad you see in October will still be open come January. I recently faced this challenge.

As I mentioned in last month’s post, I am strongly considering careers in medical writing and graduate & postdoc career/professional development in addition to a tenure-track faculty job. So, while I was diligently applying to faculty positions, I was also on the lookout for careers in my other areas of interest. After talking with some medical writers whom I knew from my graduate program as well as via networking at Vanderbilt events, I figured I could apply for those types of positions in earnest in Spring 2019. I got positive feedback from these individuals on my medical writer resume and knew I would be a strong candidate when/if I applied.

Also, through some self-reflection after being forwarded a job ad for a position in graduate & postdoc career/professional development, I found this to be a career where my skills and interest in mentoring and helping others could be put to use. It seemed like a very rewarding career for me with a good work-life balance. I began exploring job opportunities in this area and found one that was in my ideal geographic location. I knew I had to apply to this position as they are still relatively rare. I applied, did a Skype interview, and then had an on-site visit fairly recently. The position fit my skills and interests quite well, and everyone I met on my visit seemed happy and fulfilled with their work. The office is very innovative and forward thinking, and I could see I might be able to help them build something special there. I got a phone call from that office a few days after my on-site interview in which my potential boss offered me the job…Yay! & Yikes!

I had to make a decision about this position soon without knowing what might lie ahead for me in other career areas. I was really excited about this, my first real job offer after being in graduate school and a postdoc for 10+ years. This job was in my ideal location, near family and friends, in an office that seemed like a great working environment, doing work I think is important and meaningful…what more could I ask for? Should I accept it? This is a big moment in my life…don’t screw it up!

Image from Pixabay

All these emotions swirled in my head while on the phone with my future (potential?) boss. The most important thing I did and that you should ALWAYS do when offered the job, though, was to say I needed time to think about it.

With some time to reflect on this job offer, I thought the starting salary was a bit on the low end. But, how to know for sure? I was able to talk to my network (others in this career area) to get their thoughts on my initial salary offer.

So, a key tip here: Have a support network of people you feel comfortable talking with about important life events. You often need a second or third set of eyes and more impartial viewpoint(s) to appreciate the full complexity of a situation.

Through my network contact, I was able to talk out the pros and cons of the position, and I was leaning toward taking it given all the pros I mentioned earlier (preferred location, near family/friends, positive work environment, fulfilling work). Talking to yet another colleague at Vanderbilt, they urged me to negotiate the salary, relocation allowance, and start date (see some tips on negotiating here, here, and here).

You only get one chance to effectively push for these things and while negotiating is difficult, I took it on. After a couple back and forth discussions with my potential new boss (Early performance review? Later start date for me to save up some more money from my postdoc? Larger moving allowance?), it seemed that this employer couldn’t budge on any of those  bargaining points, largely due to it being a state university with strict guidelines on budget and incentives. I understood this and reiterated to my potential boss that I understood they had constraints but I really wanted to make this work. It seemed, though, there wasn’t much more she could offer and I politely declined the position.

My reasoning process came down to the choice of taking a job that seemed great in nearly all aspects except starting salary. It is important to remember that where one starts regarding salary sets the pace for career earnings, especially if you could see yourself staying there for many years to come (which I could at this place). It wasn’t just about salary though; it was about feeling financially secure and ready to make a permanent move (i.e., buy a house and settle down). Knowing I have funding for my postdoc position until May 2019, I thought it important to save up a few more paychecks to be ready for the down payment on a home when I moved for my new job. So, I told myself, given all the pros of this job, I could probably justify taking the lower salary and being happy if the start date was flexible by a couple of months. But it wasn’t and that was that…or so it seemed.

Fast forward a week after my telling this potential employer I would be declining the position despite really wanting to accept it. I am driving down to my parents’ house the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and I get a phone call from that potential boss. She tells me after talking with the Dean; they were able to offer me a starting salary ~8% higher than their initial offer. Holy crap!

This job offer that I thought was dead and buried has sprung back to life. I felt that given all the pros of this job and now the higher starting salary, I couldn’t say no, even if the start date was sooner then I might have wanted. I told her I would most likely accept but give me the night to sleep on it, and I would let her know first thing on Wednesday. Talking about the pros and cons of making this choice with my family that week of Thanksgiving, I realized how important family was to me. This job would bring me closer to them, give me time to see my parents more, see friends I have in that area of the country more, etc…I could not pass up this opportunity.

I accepted the position: Postdoctoral Affairs Program Manager in the Graduate School at North Carolina State University. I am excited to start this new chapter in my life later this month…January 22nd.

So, what have I taken away from the events of this past couple of months?

  • Be open to a variety of career paths and think carefully about where your skills and talents can be used to give your life fulfillment and meaning
  • You can’t plan out everything no matter how hard you try. Sometimes opportunities arise at “inconvenient” times
  • You must be willing to take the leap when the right opportunity arises for you, which means…
  • You need to know what you really value in your career: Status? Salary/compensation? Respect? Meaning/Purpose? Balance?
  • When you get a job offer, you need to know your limits. What can and can’t you compromise on: salary, start date, etc…?
  • You need to be willing to say no if your needs aren’t met.

Saying no is so hard, though. You start thinking to yourself: Am I making a huge mistake? Will I get a better offer somewhere else? Will I find a job this good somewhere else? Will I get an acceptable offer before my current funding/position ends?

While these fears are expected and may bias you to accepting your first job offer, you also need to know your worth and continue to remind yourself that there isn’t just one “perfect” job out there for you.

If you have started early and been strategic in your search, you should know there are alternative paths and careers out there. I knew the medical writing path remained open to me and so was OK turning down that initial job offer. I can’t reiterate the importance of starting a job search early. It is such a benefit to know you don’t have to take the first job or two offered to you because you need a job now.

 

Sometimes, though… things work out. I was a bit surprised to get that call a week after declining the job offer, but I guess the fact that they called me back speaks to their belief that I was the right person for that job…which gave me more confidence in my ability to excel on the job. Offering me a higher starting salary also showed that they were also able to go the extra mile for me and that is something I won’t forget…it breeds loyalty and respect toward my new employer.

In the end, one’s job search is an incredibly personal process. YOU have to decide what is important to YOU in a career, YOU have to be proactive in seeking out positions that YOU think would be a good fit for YOU and maintain strong networks to help you in the search and negotiation process, and YOU have to be willing to negotiate the best job offer for YOU.

A year ago, I would not have thought I would be starting this type of job in January 2019. However, I think it is the right fit for ME…it ticks the boxes I want in a job: location, purpose/meaningful, and work-life balance. I guess the fact that I am writing for a career & professional development blog should also have been a hint that I enjoy doing this, and now it will be my full-time job.

I look forward to covering my transition into this new role over the next few series of blog posts as well as talking, candidly, about my feelings of moving away from the inertia of pursuing a tenure-track academic position.

My new role will focus heavily on helping postdocs navigate their career search processes. I hope to lead them to the same sense of fulfillment and fit that I think I have found in this new role.

After settling into my new position, I will better know if it was the right fit for me. Even if it isn’t, though, I know there are other career paths out there (medical writing) for me. You should always have a backup/exit plan, even if you don’t plan or hope you have to use it. Stay tuned for an update!

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