Transitioning, the benefits of career diversification, and choosing work


My home office when I am doing contract work in the private sphere

Last week I went on a job interview for an incredibly lucrative contract position within the federal government. I walked away thinking I had completely bombed the entire conversation and then ruminated all night about what I could have/should have said or done. So imagine my surprise when they emailed me asking for references. The human brain can sometimes be an awful judge.

So hopefully – if all goes well – they will offer me the position, and like that, I will be back to work. It’s a pretty good time for it, too. As the days get shorter and colder I prefer spending these days making money instead of cooped up inside. This position would also allow us to significantly ramp up our savings and my only expense would be a monthly bus pass. It’s also in a fairly decent location, so my actual door-to-door commute time would be about 38 minutes, which is manageable.

It’s true, no one actually likes commuting and as I have mentioned before, I always consider the commute before taking a new job. You see, the one thing I love about our neighbourhood is that it’s an older community in the middle of the city but it’s also extremely quiet and suburban with old tree-lined streets and lots of green space. The flip side is that the closest bus stop is a 13-minute walk away. Once on the bus, it’s a quick 18-minute ride downtown & another 7-minute jaunt to the office. Some people may dread the walk to the bus but I consider it a free 40-minutes of exercise a day. Toss in 18 minutes of reading on the bus and I call that a perfect way to start/end the day. It’s all in the way you frame it. If I had to commute by car for 38 minutes I would completely rethink taking this job as the time and expense may not be worth it.

Still, this is a lucrative position and step up in my part-time working career. The job itself is something I am incredibly interested in and it would give me managerial experience. Not bad considering my first position almost 5* years ago was at the lowest administrative level. One of the things I hadn’t anticipated before moving towards a part-time work lifestyle is that it would be much easier to jump levels professionally. Because many full-time employees are often locked into a system that requires them to jump one hoop at a time regardless of capabilities or new education, I have managed to circumvent that by not locking into a permanent position. I have even managed to flip back and forth between lower and higher positions without suffering negative consequences.

The way this has worked is best explained by the system in place by my most common employer, the federal government. Because it is a union shop there are rules in place (for better or for worse) to ensure fairness in hiring. One of these rules is that you have to have an extreme justification for allowing a candidate to jump more than two job levels. It does happen but often candidates for higher positions are told directly that the hiring manager won’t consider them if it is more than two levels higher than their substantive. This is a strike against the old adage of ”get in on the bottom, work your way up.” Unless you work in a place that has a lot of movement, it may take many years to work your way up. However, people outside the public service can apply for any position as long as they have the qualifications on their resume. They aren’t beholden to the rules that govern full-time employees. It is why I also recommend trying to work in both the public and private spheres, if possible. Consider it career diversification: you can take the best of both worlds with you to every job.

So in my case I moved up for two years in the public service and then jumped to a private company. The experience with that company now allowed me to apply for a position 4 levels higher than I would have been able to get as an insider. That job did not work out at all for me so I jumped back down 4 levels to take a job at another department (thank goodness we weren’t relying on that salary!). When that contract was over, I flipped back to private industry for a while until I was picked back up again for a position at – you guessed it – the higher 4 levels again. That last position was pretty much the highest level you can go without being management. So when I was asked if I would be interested in the current job I am up for, they wanted to make sure I had previous high-level experience, which I have. Since this current position is one level away from director and is a supervisory position, it was important to have the firm background I have in both the private and public workforce. To put it in plain numbers: in almost 4 years I have been able to increase my salary by 56%!

The flexibility of having worked 8 months of the year instead of slogging it year-round has partially meant that my resume has grown exponentially over the past 4 years. Now, some people may say it’s a detriment and that employers are looking for someone who shows dedication…blah…blah…blah (as Dracula would say). Conversely, Mr. Tucker works for a company in California where it’s extremely common to see tech workers jump from job-to-job. In that environment, constant movement is normal. For permanent employees in the public service, long-term dedication is considered a bonus but like all things: it’s all in the marketing. I am not applying to permanent positions, I am positioning myself as a consultant who comes in and fills a requirement until a competition can be run and a permanent employee found. By spinning the message, I make it look like I am a solution, not a potential problem – and it seems to be working. It’s also allowed me to climb levels higher every year, something almost unheard of for full time employees.

If I do get hired for this position, I recognize that the climb will probably end here and I may even regress a bit in future positions. Since I have no interest in becoming a director anytime soon, this will probably be the highest I will go. Also, the past 4 years have been very challenging for the public service as cuts to employees and budgets have been the norm and there has been a hiring freeze mandated by the previous government. It was in that environment that I was able to get a lot of my contract positions (the work doesn’t just go away when the people do!). With the new government now formed there is a chance that hiring will resume in the public service and it may be easier for permanent staffing to occur, which may make it more difficult for me to find contract work (or not?). Of course, there is always private industry work as well so perhaps my resume will see more of that in the coming years

*Holy CARP, I originally thought it was almost 6 years since I went back to work but it will only be 5 in 2016!