Stapler Confessions

What Do I Do With This Job Offer?

I was just offered a job. Since getting laid off, I have been cobbling together an income. I freelance for an attorney and I advise and represent my own clients, in addition to making a few dollars here and there — through this blog (thank you!), consigning clothes, selling baby items on consignment, etc. I am torn about what to do with this job offer.

As always, when offered a job, I list out the pro’s and con’s.

I start with the quantitative items — the factors that I can measure head to head. Those include:

When assessing these numbers, I plug them directly into my budget spreadsheet. For example, I add the commuting costs to the line item for gas or parking or public transit. Once all those factors are plugged in, I plug in the salary to the “income” side of the balance sheet and see whether the offered salary will be enough. If it’s enough, I assess whether we have enough margin at the end of the month to help us achieve un-budgeted goals. For example, my budget currently doesn’t include loan payoff. But I don’t want to be in a job for the long term if it doesn’t give me enough of a margin to make significant payments on my loan.

I always counter a salary offer, and you should too.

Where do I get the guts to counter-offer? As an attorney, I consider it part of my job interview to negotiate my salary and benefits. That’s what I tell myself, then I take a deep breath and go for it. As a woman, every time I counter-offer, I consider it a feminist act. I’m trying to combat the $0.27 per hour gender pay gap. As a person who once found out that someone with less experience was getting paid more just because she asked, I remember how that felt like I missed an opportunity.

But then there are the intangible factors to a job offer — the things that you can’t quantify — that make a big difference in whether you should take the job. These are usually things that won’t change whether they offer you a higher salary or not. Among the things I consider are:

Obviously, the number one intangible concern I have is whether the job is substantively the right fit for me. For example, if I have other income-earning opportunities, I’m not going to work for debt collection firm. Not only is the subject matter important, but it’s important to think about how you would like to spend your day: Are you OK with sitting at a desk all day? Do you need deadlines to motivate you? Are you primarily interested in working with — or for — people?

When deciding whether to take a job offer and is good when negotiating a job offer, is to keep in mind your best alternative. What happens if you say “no”? Compare your job offer to that scenario and see which option rises to the top.

Now that you see how I evaluate a job offer, will you give me feedback on my job offer?

Currently, my freelance rate is 25% of what I charge the clients of my personal, estate planning, practice. If I freelance 50 hours per month, we can would break even on our finances. For those who have never worked billable hours, I would estimate that I can bill for about 5 of the 7 hours I’m at work. I can’t bill for lunches, chitchatting with co-workers, clearing off my desk, typing up my timesheet, etc. My goal is to work 50 hours per week for the attorney until I can build an estate planning practice that will sustain itself.

The attorney offered me a salary for full-time work, plus a percentage of any fees I bring in.  The work will be general business litigation, a subject I don’t care for, but it does involve court appearances and taking depositions, which I do enjoy. The attorney wants me to develop my estate planning practice and I won’t need to take time off to develop my estate planning knowledge and experience. Although, he’ll take 70% of the fees I earn on those cases. For the record, I wouldn’t be charging clients for the time I take to develop my knowledge — so if I work for myself, that’s unpaid time. But if I work for the attorney, I’ll still get paid. Does the question then become whether I would be using 70% or more of my working time on unbillable activities?

In exchange, I would have the stability of a steady paycheck, with a little bit of a margin (although the amount of the margin has yet to be determined). This would allow us to qualify for a mortgage in the range of the houses in the town where we want to live. I would have to work 5 days per week (2 of them from home) instead of 50 billable hours per month plus whatever I can rustle up in the estate planning business. The attorney and I get along well. I feel well respected, which is a change from my last firm. But sometimes I feel like the attorney I work for is just winging it and that’s a working style that doesn’t really fly for me. I like knowing the rules and following them. In fact the attorney has already suggested that I can help him put organizational systems in place for the firm.

My best alternative is to continue freelancing and estate planning, but there is another opportunity for full time work as well. I interviewed for a position in an area of law that I love. But last year after some soul searching, I had decided not to pursue that legal specialty because it is a lot of litigation and litigation is stressful. That’s when I decided to try estate planning, because I could work one-on-one to help people resolve financial issues but I wouldn’t have to fight with opposing counsel about stupid little things (that’s about 80% of what you do when you litigate a case). I did not get an offer for that job, but I don’t think they’ve offered the job to anyone yet. That job paid what this job offer pays, but has a better commute and requires 5 days a week in the office. And, I would not be able to develop an estate planning practice.

Can you lend me some insight? Should I take the job? Should I continue freelancing?