Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Should you switch jobs?

Need to pump up your salary? Disappointed by HR? Ready to relocate? Three readers are in a quandary -- we help them decide whether or not to move out and move on

September  1997
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Deciding whether or not to change jobs is often very difficult. Is a higher salary your main motivator? What else should you consider? These questions become even more serious if relocation is also a possibility. This month, three readers are caught in three different scenarios all involving the prospect of new employment. We offer some perspective. (1,400 words)

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Dear Edgar,

Hello I'm working for a big communication company. My salary is entry level (mid $30Ks). I'm very good at what I do. The job is fine, and I like the people, managers etc., but I CAN'T AFFORD IT -- my mortgage is big, and I've got three kids. Where do I go -- to another big firm (make high 40s to low 50s), or to a consulting firm as a employee or as a contractor?

In a Bind

Dear Bind,

Climbing up the money ladder is difficult and takes time. If you're entry level right now, my best guess is that the company you work for is going to make you pay your dues before they up your salary. And even then, it will probably be in moderate increments. (They want to manage expectations.)

To move up more quickly you'll probably have to change jobs. But this can be tricky business. If you leave without having logged much time at the current company, prospective employers are going to wonder why you're looking to jump ship so soon and may be worried that you're a short-term kind of guy. Also, you don't want to spend all your time looking for work -- raising suspicions and making your performance suffer.

Contracting may be the way to go for you; however, I usually recommend that people have two to three years experience before they go off on this route. You need money now, but it's still very important that you keep an eye on the larger picture. You must seek out an environment that offers growth. You could, for example, get yourself into a maintenance role that pays you a significantly higher salary -- but a move like this could stall your technical growth.

The most important thing for you right now, being in an entry-level position, is finding work that affords growth and puts you in high demand. Always manage your career looking ahead a couple steps. Then, in a matter of years, you'll write your own ticket.


Should I lie about my salary?

Dear Edgar,

I have two questions for you: 1) if the HR person of a company that you are thinking of working for asks for your salary, and you quote them a number which you think you can get and are worth but is not your real salary, are you setting yourself up for disaster? I read somewhere in one of your articles that you should not lie about your salary. But is it really lying when all-together compensation can be that?

2) A small, entrepreneurial company has just made me an offer. Although it seems like a great opportunity I'm a little disappointed in their handling of the recruitment process. For example, the terms of benefits have not been fully laid out. Should I be concerned? And what is the best way to do all the due diligence before making a decision?

Making the Right Deal

Dear Deal,

Misrepresenting your salary is a calculated risk. When they ask you questions about your previous employment, they expect honest answers -- and rightfully so. If you made $50K and you attest to having made $60K, that's a lie. They may never find out. But if they discover the fact before the deal gels, they'll pass you over. And if they find out afterwards they may fire you.

Now, if extra bonuses and benefits brought your salary to $60K, and you expect a complete package that amounts to more than that, tell them so. When it comes time to discuss salary and benefits specifics, be clear.

In answer to your second question about benefits: you must set reasonable expectations -- know what you want and what you need. And be sure to convey this to your prospective employer. Then, when the deal comes down in the form of an offer letter, it will be in black and white. They can't screw you over by making you sign onto something that's not acceptable. If, for instance, you ask for medical coverage, dental, and a year-end bonus, and they agree orally, make sure it's all spelled out in the offer letter. If you're not so sure what the legalese is really saying, have a lawyer or someone experienced in such documents take a look at it before you sign.

Should I pack my bags for Silicon Valley?

Dear Edgar,

I'm thinking of changing jobs and cities, and I need your advice. I'm 27, with a BSCS and four years of experience as a VB programmer and consultant. Charleston, SC, is a lovely town, but tech jobs are rare, unexciting, and generally low paying. I'm longing for the big league jobs, challenges, and salaries plentiful in other cities. I'm also considering Charlotte, the Raleigh/Durham/Research Triangle area, or Atlanta.

My first question for you is: are prospects brighter in a big city booming with jobs of all types (e.g. Atlanta or Charlotte) or in a smaller town/city which is dominated by technical job growth (like Raleigh)?

Second, should I forget these southern towns and go for the big kahuna, Silicon Valley? Is the growth in the Bay Area sustainable? Friends tell contradicting stories -- some sing of the good life in California, with great weather (not so hot and wet as here) and plentiful jobs. Others decry the high taxes and high cost of housing, saying, "It's too tough for a young couple to get started in California."

Eating peanut butter

Dear Peanut Butter Eater,

Be careful not to get too caught up in the hype surrounding the opportunities and lifestyles of different geographies. There is no holy land in which money and opportunities drop, ripe, from the trees. Ultimately, it's not geography, but persistence and drive that makes or breaks your career.

A famous quote by Calvin Coolidge springs to mind:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

When asked this question I often think of the issue in terms of schools: there are hundreds of colleges around the country, from the MITs and Harvards to small community colleges. You can go to a great school and still be a flunkie and wind up in a dead-end job. Or, you can go to a mediocre institution and make yourself a superstar. Sure, some can give you a better education, but at the end of the day, it's not the college or the city it's located in that makes achievement. It's the person.

You need to find a place and a company that are fertile soil for you, regardless of the reputation and conversation. Ask yourself the questions: Where do you want to live? What kind of company interests you? Silicon Valley is a hotbed of activity and computer development; but that doesn't mean that it's a sure thing. There are also loads of exciting opportunities in cities, big and small, around the country. The trick is finding the right match for you.

If I am to leave you with one piece of advice, it's to narrow your goals. If you had said you want to work specifically in a start-up working on Web technologies, I might encourage you to go to the Silicon Valley. If you had specified other preferences at the top of your list, I might point you to Raleigh or Atlanta. The prospects for pay are certainly higher in big cities, but as you pointed out, such salaries can be more than offset by the higher cost of living, taxes, rent, etc.

There are particular advantages and disadvantages to each of the places you are considering. It depends on what you do or want to do -- a palm tree salesman will probably not do so well in Minnesota. If you need to live where there is good peanut butter, stay clear of France.

I get the feeling that you're interested in picking up and finding a new place to work. This is exciting. Don't be worried about discovering the holy land where all is possible. Make a list of what's important to you in terms of company type and location. Silicon Valley, Charleston, Raleigh, Atlanta, Boston, Austin, New York, Chicago...If you've got the skills and the enthusiasm, it's all possible anywhere.


[Edgar Saadi's photo]

Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for Pencom Systems Inc., the largest open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. He specializes in guiding advanced systems careers and helping employees explore all staffing alternatives.

The career advice team can be reached at

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