Q: I’ve been lucky enough to get two job offers! One is a solid job with a good commute that’s related to my field, but not exactly in it. The other is virtually my dream job—but it’s a one-year appointment. Do I take the safe bet or hope that a term appointment can turn into something more?
A: Your question is similar to questions about the stock market—and, as with investing, the response is “What’s your risk tolerance?” Nothing is a safe bet or it wouldn’t be a bet. If you’ve been offered your dream job for one year, a good question to ask yourself is “If I take this job, where will I be a year from today?” There are a lot of variables that will differ from one person to the next. Try to gauge how you will feel in the solid job after a year vs. how you will feel in the dream job after a year. Now gauge what a year in each role will do for your long-term career success and satisfaction.
It’s interesting that you’re comparing your dream job to a good commute. If you were making a pros and cons list, it’s highly unlikely that those two items would carry equal weight. To put it in perspective, how long will a good commute for a job that’s not in your field satisfy you? The perceived stability of a job isn’t always enough of a pay off. Things change—your solid job could have a bad year, move, undergo a round of layoffs, or be acquired. Again, there are no safe bets.
That said, it’s certainly wise to think about the potential drawbacks of a one-year term appointment, so examine the situation to determine what factors you could influence to turn this into a longer term position. Why is it a one-year appointment? Is it in an industry where one-year renewable positions are standard practice, like in higher education? Is it grant funded? Is it to cover for someone on extended leave? Find out how many people at the organization have turned one-year positions into more permanent roles or who have moved out of the term-appointed role. Measure the risk based on the trends you see for this industry and this organization.
If you get the impression that the role is strictly for one year, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a valuable option. Consider what a year in the role will do to add to your experience, develop a specific skillset, and otherwise advance your career. In a year’s time, you would cultivate important networking contacts and learn what day-to-day life in your dream job really looks like—all of which would help position you to continue in the field at another organization. Consider this as well: If you take the “safe bet” job, are you going to continue looking for your dream job? If you’re going to be in a job search in a year one way or another, might it be easier—and more likely to yield results in your desired field—with a year of relevant experience under your belt? You’re the person who will have the most input on turning the one-year appointment into something more, either at this organization or elsewhere.
A little self-reflection in this situation may also help illuminate the best path. To start, how long has this been your “dream job”? Have you been thinking about it and working toward it for years? Or did you read about it in an article last month and it’s your latest fixation? If you follow a pattern of changing dream jobs every few months and you’re not actively building toward something, you may be dealing with another situation.
Ask yourself if your life will be richer for taking this dream job. That might mean different things for different people, so focus on yourself and your family. If the one-year dream job opens new doors for your career, that’s great; if the short commute for the stable job means your life is richer by being able to spend more time with your family, then that’s great, too. If all else is equal, consider this: Can you get a solid job with a good commute in a year? Probably. Can you get the dream job in a year? Probably not.