Career Advice - Opportunity or Huge Mistake

Good people of GWJ,

I find myself with a dilemma I'm having a hard time resolving. I have an opportunity for advancement that would be good for my career, but might make me miserable.

I'm 43, and I've been a mechanical designer at my current job for going on thirteen years. Starting while in school, I've been fortunate to be employed in the drafting/designing field for one company or another for over 20 years--and I still find it extremely rewarding.

I've reached a point where I'm highly regarded among the engineers for whom I work. I've done well in my reviews, and I'm now pushing the ceiling of my job classification's hourly pay scale, where I earn some overtime as projects require it. This has prompted my supervisor to push me toward reclassification to an Engineering Associate, a salaried position which will likely start with a very modest wage increase (and no overtime). This process is intimidating to me enough as it requires multiple interviews and presentations to the approval committee. But I'd be doing essentially the same work in a more supervisory role. This is a step I'm fairly certain I will be taking.

The real catch is this. There is a posting in our division for an Engineering Associate to do non-design work. It would require indeterminate amounts of travel (a real minus for me), much more personal interaction and presentations to Gov't agencies (I'm pretty introverted and not particularly good with stress), a lot of document pushing, scheduling and budgeting responsibilities, etc. The only upside I see to this job is long-term advancement potential.

I've consulted a few colleagues, who've encouraged me to apply. I get a lot of "You'd be great" and "Change is hard" talk. I know that I'm in my comfort zone and probably stagnant, certainly maxed out. But I still come back to the fact that I can become an Engr. Assoc. and still be a designer. The question is will that further my career as much as this non-designer opportunity.

TL;DR version:
Should I give up what I know, what I'm good at, and what I enjoy for a job that might be better in the long run? How much weight should I give to job satisfaction/happiness over potential long-term financial benefit?

Thanks for any consideration you may give this. I appreciate any and all insight or advice.


D-Man777 wrote:

The only upside I see to this job is long-term advancement potential

My gut feeling is that, if this is the only upside you see to this other job, then it's not the best choice for you. But I place a higher value on job satisfaction than on potential for advancement, as long as I'm earning decent pay and in a reasonably secure job.

Well part of what you are saying is the common human element of fearing change. But if it is something you know you would be miserable in, I would advise against it. I have had times when I took perhaps more money in the past but I dreaded going in to work every day. Since then I tend to go with the potential work satisfaction is more important than money side now from it. When you are miserable in your job it just brings everything down in life.

First, in my experience, the best way to actually advance is to get another job. You get more money and there is no "he used to be one of us" crap.

It is far better to do the job you like for less money than to do a job you hate for more money. Plus it seems like you won't actually be making more money.

The one other thing I will say is that an engineering associate position may look like it has more advancement opportunities, you may still be limited by a lack of an engineering degree. It isn't fair, but that is how things work sometimes.

Based on what you said, I recommend the one that still has the design work. The other one does sound like more potential for advancement, if you want to get into management but would be a big change and it doesn't sound like you enjoy what that job requires.

Just remember advancement doesn't always equal happiness.

I'd stick with what you know. Is it possible to get an engineering degree in the Associate position? That's sometimes one of the perks of salaried jobs, having the company pay for education.

Thank you all for the feedback. I'm hearing a lot of what my gut is telling me. While I've never really had a job I hated, I've worked on projects I did. These were mainly due to poor management. During these times, I was pretty hard to live with. I can only imagine what it would be like being constantly frustrated and stressed out.

The only other real consideration is that my supervisor is concerned that traditional roles of Engineering Associate Designers will start to become more nebulous. I have a feeling this non-designer posting is an indication that he's right. So ultimately, if I change my classification, it may not matter.

I hate being a grown up.

A hedging bets kind of answer: Is there opportunity for a temporary secondment to the role to determine if you are the right fit for it prior to commiting to it?

If you are valued within the company they may be willing to work with you to ensure they won't end up losing you from your current role if it turned out you weren't suited to the new role.

There's a concept in business that people tend to be promoted just past their point of competency. It's worth knowing where that point is for you (comfort-wise as well as actual skills-wise) before you persue other (possibly wildly different) options. If it sounds good, go for it. If it fills you with fear... Maybe get some more information before you call it quits.

I would generally agree that it's better to be paid a little less and be comfortable in your role.

It would require indeterminate amounts of travel (a real minus for me), much more personal interaction and presentations to Gov't agencies

If you hate that stuff, there's no getting around it. You will dread travel unless you don't mind it.

The biggest mistake I've seen people make it chasing money. People will go from jobs that they like to ones where they hate going to work (usually an individual contributor -> manager leap) for sometimes as little as 3-5% raise.