Advice Column: Time for a new opportunity?

A while ago, I received a letter from a woman who was considering ramping up her professional life.

“In an effort to keep a healthy balance of work and family, I have spent the past several years working or volunteering with organizations that need my skills as a non-profit development professional, but doing so only while my children (ages 10 and 14) are in school, basically 9am – 2pm, or approx. 5 hours a day,” she wrote.

“The arrangement has worked well as I have stayed active in the marketplace and have been able to help others. From a salary perspective, it hasn’t been the most lucrative situation, but that has been a trade-off that I was willing to make in order to make being at home and available for my children my number one priority.”

Recently, however, one of the organizations where she was a volunteer offered her a full-time job as their executive director. “I am genuinely interested in taking on more responsibilities and they have promised that I can be flexible with my hours in this position.” So, she wanted to know, what should she ask for? Or should she “gently decline and seek out a similar opportunity when the children are a bit older?”

Here’s what I wrote to her:

Congrats on the job offer! Not an easy thing to come by in this economy. You say that you are excited about the opportunity, so that’s a good starting point. One thing to keep in mind is that few jobs are truly “permanent.” If you decide to try this opportunity, and 18 months from now, you decide full-time work isn’t for you, you can resign. Not ideal, but I mention this because sometimes it helps, when making a big decision like this, to recognize that you aren’t making a 20-year commitment.

You are probably wondering how full-time work will fit in your life. Since you’ve been working 25 hours a week, though, moving to 35-40 hours isn’t a huge difference, particularly if you have some flexibility. Think outside the 9 to 5! One option is to work 9-2 for three days, and 9-7 for 2 days. This would get you to 35 hours, with a bit of extra work after the kids go to bed or even 7-7:30 in the AM to edge closer to 40. The reason I like this schedule is that you’ll be home for the after-school routine most days, just as you have been, and it will minimize the need for outside childcare. Depending on how mature your 14-year-old is, and what time any other family members or close friends (husband, grandparents, neighbors, etc.) can be around, you might not need much at all. Or your kids could do after-school activities that don’t require transportation on those days (if that’s an option).

If the board was thinking a more traditional 9-5 plan, you can always create your own flexibility on the side. After all, as executive director, you’ll be running the place! My guess is that you could get home earlier at least 2 afternoons a week, and make up the time at night if you wanted, without too much hassle. Creating your own flexibility is sometimes preferable to having a schedule enshrined in policy, because you’re still doing what you want, but you’re staying in the “full time” bucket, where the salary and benefits are usually more lucrative.

Which brings us to that. As someone who volunteers with this group extensively enough to be offered the ED job, you know the budget. You know roughly what they’re expecting to pay, and what comparable EDs earn. Why wouldn’t you aim a bit north of that? When boards hear a number that’s too high for a candidate they like, they usually don’t say “no,” they suggest a different number. But your higher number will anchor the discussion. Remember, they like you! That’s why they want to hire you!

Obviously, only you can decide if you want to take this opportunity, and what dollar figure will make it worth your while. Another option is to shop this job offer around with other non-profits you are familiar with and see if you can flush out another opportunity. But I would say that parents are often available to their children whether they are at home or not, and most likely your children will enjoy learning more about your work. Whether you take this job should be based on whether you would enjoy the work, because I don’t think you’ll have a time commitment problem. This isn’t an either-or situation. Your kids will still be your number one priority, no matter what you do.

3 thoughts on “Advice Column: Time for a new opportunity?

  1. She should do it. A better opportunity might not be there in two or three years and a 14-year-old might blossom with the freedom and responsibility, they are old enough, and it would give her a chance to ask her children to grow as independent individuals.

    Many women who have been in her position never really can get back into the workplace so she is very very lucky to have been offered the position. As you say she can always resign. Also it is better to than to and you mention this. Even if “they” say the job is 9 to 5 in the office, if she is the director who is really going to care. With or without a family many people find the early morning hours or late evening hours to be more productive than some of the 9 to 5 time anyway b/c fewer interruptions. As it says in your book — it is often easier to seek forgiveness than permission.

  2. @LW I agree with Cara on all counts. Go for it. Today’s marketplace really is not what is was years ago. Your children are probably ready for the independence, and so are you! Good luck.

    1. @Cara and @Denise – thanks for your comments. Yes, the job market is not exactly plush at the moment, though who knows what the next two years will bring. But no decision is permanent, and she can change her mind in another year or two if she decides it’s not for her.

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