High Pay Is Great but Life Is Too Short to Stay in an Engineering Job You Dislike

The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is Tip #33.

101 Tips for a Successful Automation CareerAround the middle of my career, I was becoming disenchanted with the reorganization of my plant and decided to pursue another job. I found what appeared to be an excellent opportunity – big raise, generous relocation package, awesome benefits, and a lucrative bonus. It sounded like a “can’t lose” opportunity and I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, it was NOT at all what I expected.

Concept: Getting a high salary and/or bonus is a great thing, but if an engineer hates his or her job, the money is not worth the pain.

Details: Everyone likes to be paid well. In this materialistic world, a large paycheck is a badge of success and having a high standard of living is certainly a nice perk. However, a large salary is not worth the price if it demands misery at work. If you find yourself waking up each morning and dreading the thought of returning to your job, the time for change is at hand.

When you are looking for a new job, you should “interview” the company as hard as the company is interviewing you. Obviously, company personnel need to ask enough questions to make sure your skill set meets the needs of the position, but it is just as critical that you make certain the company is a place where you can contribute and enjoy working. Domineering bosses, militant unions, and bad managerial/worker relations make for a terrible work environment. You should also keep an eye out for “dead end” positions that offer no growth or learning opportunities. If there are any options at all, strongly pursue alternate job possibilities.

Consider taking future co-workers out to lunch to get them to talk and/or see what they might be like. If the company is local, find an ex-employee and see why the employee left. If you know some of the company’s clients, see how they feel about the company. All of these can be great sources of information.

Watch-Outs: When you are interviewing, be sure to talk to a wide enough range of people. If you only interview within a small group, the politics and/or issues of the rest of the organization may not be apparent. During your tour, talk to operators, technicians and supervisors. Strike up casual conversations with administrative and office personnel and get business cards from any individuals who seem most open. An evening call to those individuals may be illuminating.

Exceptions: If you are out of a job and have bills to pay, ANY employer looks like a good option. However, even in those circumstances you should try to be as selective as possible.

Insight: As unorthodox as it might seem, it may be possible to “test drive” a prospective employer if they are local. If a company seems to be a good prospect, offer to take a week or two of vacation from your current job and work for the new company with the understanding that if either is unhappy with the arrangement, both can go their separate ways no questions asked. However, if both are satisfied after two weeks, you can resign from your old job and accept a position with the new company. If there are no noncompete/legal concerns, it may be possible to arrange to get paid for those two weeks after signing on with the new company.

Rule of Thumb: Life is too short to hate your job. A good paycheck is nice, but if you find yourself dreading the return to work each morning or if your job requires you to be on medication (including alcohol), it is time to seriously consider a change.

Hunter Vegas

About the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.
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