Always Be Looking (for a Better Job)

It’s time for an exciting Miller household update that has been a few years in the making – that also provides a valuable takeaway for us all. And no – it’s not kids – but the headline should have killed that guess (and yes, I know it’s not proper grammar, it’s a reference).

Those who’ve frequented the site for a while might remember that my wife decided to make a career change to nursing from landscape architecture.

Despite nursing being a growing profession with very low unemployment rates (2%), growing demand, recession-proof qualities (people still have health problems, maybe more, when the economy is down), and it having all four of the factors that lead to job security – she had trouble getting her foot in the door after graduation.

The lesson that was reinforced was that experience is king in the employment world. This is particularly true in nursing and the medical field, where the constant threat of liability and a steep learning curve make experienced workers desirable over inexperienced ones almost 100% of the time.

Just getting an interview was a big challenge – one that we had to get pretty aggressively attack in order to overcome. Our strategy worked, but the job was not ideal:

  • it was on a high turnover unit
  • with undesirable hours (7 pm to 7 am)
  • with comparatively lower benefits and pay
  • with a very high patient workload
  • and a long commute

In other words – the job had some downsides. Getting a job when you have no experience is extremely challenging. Sometimes you have to take the best job you can get at that time. The hospital was not her top choice and provided the longest commute, of 1.5+ hours per day (I can only imagine the drive home in morning rush hour traffic after a 12-hour night shift). However, getting in the door at the three higher preferred employers was just not happening for her.

Initially, the work was extremely challenging. For a new nurse to have 6 patients with little on-the-job training is something that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But she got through that challenging curve and learned a ton, very quickly.

After a year, the search for a better (and geographically closer) job began. But what she discovered is that even with valuable experience now behind her, hospitals were setting quotas around the percentage of their staff that had bachelor’s degrees versus associate’s. If you were the nurse manager that hired someone with an associate’s degree, you stood out in a bad way. So, she applied for somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs before getting an interview. That interview didn’t result in an offer.

The frustrating side story here is that those who go through bachelor’s nursing degree programs are no more qualified to be a nurse than those who go through associate’s. In fact, they often have less hands-on clinical training. This is even reflected in their pay – those with an associate’s earn the exact same pay as those with a bachelor’s degree.

After a few more months of applications and no takers we jointly decided that it was time to pony up the cash for her to complete her bachelor’s degree – just so she could get a better opportunity for more desirable jobs. That was on a Saturday about a month ago. The following Monday, she gets a call for an interview at her #1 employer of choice. She nails it – and gets a verbal offer on the spot.

With this job:

  • her pay and benefits will notably increase
  • her commute goes from 50 miles per day to three – and she can even bus or bike to work (yes!!!)
  • her patient count from 6 to 4
  • most of her cost of taking classes to finish her degree will be covered
  • it is at a notable institution that will look great on any resume
  • she gets a 457B plan (more on that in an upcoming post)

In other words – it’s a much better job. However, it’s not perfect – it’s still a night shift, it’s on a high turnover floor, and she now has to go from part-time work (by choice) to full-time. But, as we’ve already learned – take the best job you can get at that time. Now that she’s in the door at this employer, other opportunities will surely present themselves in the years to come.

There are two big takeaways from this story that I think are universally applicable to everyone:

looking for a better job1. When you’re having trouble finding a job, expand your search, ease your standards a bit, and take the best job you can get at that time. When you do that, you open the door for better opportunities. Gaining experience, building confidence in what you have to offer, and adding a solid employer brand on your resume are extremely valuable assets that will give you better opportunities in the future.

2. Don’t get stuck in a job when better ones exist. ABL – Always Be Looking for a better job opportunity – even if it is with your current employer. They almost always exist. In my experience – two years provides a great launching point for other opportunities. Remember – most lifetime income gains come in the first decade of work – so there is no time for you to sit around and be stagnant, in a bad work situation. It may take a lot of effort and repeated failed attempts to successfully move, so it is important to maintain your confidence and composure – don’t give up and settle. Job loyalty is dead – on both sides of the work relationship, so you should always do what is best for you. Often times, just the act of looking can give you much needed hope to get through the daily grind. Onwards and upwards!

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