A few weeks ago, before I moved from Melbourne to Sydney, I was chatting to a work colleague, let’s call her Rachel, about my decision to take this new job in Sydney. I told her that while it was a sideways move, instead of the upwards move I could have expected if I stayed in my old role a few more months, the change in career path seemed more important than a move up the ladder.
She agreed, telling me a story of her first “big break” in the corporate world.
Rachel had been working in a great team with a fantastic leader when suddenly, he decided to move on. Despite being much less experienced, the management team saw something special in her, and she was tapped on the shoulder to apply.
When she went through the interview process and started talking salary, they offered a significant decrease in pay compared to her predecessor. She felt really hard done by. She went in and spoke to them about her concerns and to negotiate a more equitable salary. Unfortunately, they weren’t overly responsive to her expectations, and at that point, started considering other candidates.
She freaked out a little. This job was going to be a BIG DEAL for her. So when her dad pointed out that money or no money, this job was going to open up all the right doors for her, she was relieved.
Now, this is a tough a one. The gender pay gap is a big issue and by all accounts, this isn’t going away anytime soon. At The Modern Ascent, we’re all for equal pay for equal work.
But here’s the thing:
A) Was this a case of discrimination? No one can say for sure but the management team certainly were big supporters of this promising, young female in their ranks. They identified Rachel as ‘one-to-watch’. They wanted her on their team and were willing to elevate her to a manager role and to dedicate themselves to developing her into a top performer; and
B) The reality of a single person’s unique experience is more nuanced than “he got paid more than me so I’m walking away”. Rachel went in and had the hard conversation, she listened when they explained that her old boss had a good twenty-plus years of experience on her. She understood the offer that was on the table, weighed up the pros and cons, took into consideration her dad’s advice, and she decided to take what was a fair salary and a big step up both financially and responsibility wise.
As you can imagine, there was obviously a lot to consider and perhaps today, with a lot more experience and living under her belt, Rachel’s decision would be different. Regardless, coming to learn that a career decision cannot be made based solely on pay was a career-defining moment for her. Had she made a stand and not taken the role, her personal career trajectory would have been very different, and likely not quite as steep. As predicted, that role opened doors that otherwise would not have even come into view for years. While there is definitely a time and a place to make a stand on behalf of the collective, sometimes we need to put ourselves first. And here she is all these years later inspiring me (and now inspiring you) by demonstrating that it’s the difficult decisions that define not only our careers, but the people we want to be.
And isn’t that what exemplifies a career-defining moment? Making a tough call that will set the tone for all career (and life) decisions, big and small, for years to come.
Over four years on, I’m only just starting to recognise my first career-defining moment. When I made a very early choice to call it quits on a job that was making me unhappy, I was subconsciously setting the tone for all career decisions that have and will follow. That is, not chasing prestige or status, but instead following a path that will make me most fulfilled. This mindset almost certainly contributed to why I now live in Sydney when only 5 months ago the thought of moving from Melbourne hadn’t ever crossed my mind.
So yes, negotiate your pay, your title and your benefits but don’t forget about the bigger picture. Be prepared not to get everything at once. Work hard and make calls based on your personal values and longer term prospects.
Not sure if you’ve ever had a career-defining moment? Don’t worry, I think we can really only identify them in retrospect. Plus, what’s a career-defining moment if it isn’t backed up by a lot of small moments and small everyday decisions that have brought you to exactly where you need to be 🙂
Have you ever had to compromise or make a tough call in the short term that set you up for a long term gain?