Don’t Underearn By Overstaying
If I could offer one piece of career advice to new grads, it would be to avoid becoming an eternal intern. In other words, don’t under-earn by staying too long at the same job, especially your first real job. Neil almost committed this common career faux pas before getting a wake-up call and changing jobs. We finally realized why staying in one place for your whole career is thing of the past: it’s often the best way to stunt your career and income growth.
Like many of his engineering classmates, Neil worked an internship full- or part-time throughout the second half of his education. A year before graduation, he was offered a full-time position. He didn’t even have to interview. The salary and benefits were good. It was a Fortune 500 company and he’d continue working in the same department he was already familiar with.
The only problem? “I almost became an eternal intern,” he says. In other words, he felt like he could not shake the new hire status at his first company.
The Most Dangerous Job
While his pay increased significantly post-degree, his job was boring and under-utilized his engineering skills. We continued to view the position as a good job because it paid well and was low-stress. There was a sense of security in working at a big company.
Despite being a great employee with plenty of initiative, he reached a plateau in his career. He studied hard and passed a rigorous eight-hour exam to earn a Professional Engineering license. He talked to his boss about opportunities for advancement, but that required relocation. There was no way he was going to move our family for a job he didn’t love.
That’s when he realized this job wasn’t safe and secure at all. In fact, staying there was the most dangerous career choice he could make. He was going to be viewed as an intern forever. The most successful people in his group had been hired from the outside. He wasn’t gaining marketable skills and being bored at work didn’t signal job security. It was time to make his move.
Learning Your Market Value
He started reading up on the area he wanted to get into, and applyied for jobs. When he found the right position a few months later, he was astonished at the difference. He was hired at their highest level for engineers. Because he changed industries, he expected a learning curve, but feels a new momentum in his career. In the year and a half that he’s been there, his salary has increased over 20% compared to his last job. He finds the work much more interesting, and his boss is discussing career growth opportunities with him.
He’s noticed that the new grads his company hires have perpetual intern status, too. Even though they are very knowledgeable and hard-working, they aren’t always treated with equal respect and professionalism. He allowed his previous employer to continue viewing him as an intern simply by staying there too long.
Neil shared these new insights with a friend whom he believed was under-earning. With two weeks of beginning his job search, his friend was offered a job and asked to name his price! He secured a 40% raise. His skill set didn’t change; he simply found a company willing to pay his market value.
I’m so glad we realized the dangers of becoming an eternal intern and moved on. This is one of the reasons Millennials don’t stay at the same job for 30 years—and shouldn’t. Here are some lessons we’ve learned:
- Your company cares about the bottom line, not you. No one else is going to look out for you and your career.
- In many careers, staying in one place is the best way to under-earn. Every move you make is a chance to make a jump in salary and build your skills.
- The problem with your job may not be your company or boss, but your inherent status as a former intern or new hire. Changing jobs may be the only way to change this status.
- We should be more scared of the status quo than of change. We don’t grow when things stay the same, and we should be terrified to stop growing.
- Making the bold move to take a new job communicates a degree of confidence and initiative that is valuable to employers, and your career.
Neil enjoys work more than ever, but he doesn’t plan to stay at the same company until retirement. We’ve learned our lesson and won’t settle for stagnation ever again.
Have you grown your career through a job change? What is your top career advice for new grads?