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So, you think you want to leave your job. Now what?

Job dissatisfaction is a worldwide experience, and the occasional desire to quit is universal. When unemployment is high, however, employees of all types can be wary about leaving one job. Employers have all the power in the relationship, and people often feel that staying in a mediocre job or career is a better option than taking a risk with a new position — or worse, with unemployment.

This is an especially valid concern for those who are merely skating by or have failed to really stand out in their existing positions. For these folks, a competitive employment season can be too risky to warrant walking away from the paycheck they steadily receive.

There are always exceptions

Great employees do not need to fear the unknown, though, as they tend to thrive in any situation. Even during periods of competitive job markets, a person for whom excellence is a thread woven into his or her psyche will find employers willing to open doors. The opportunities are out there and ripe for the picking, no matter the market.

Because these successful individuals typically outperform in all situations, though, self-evaluation can sometimes be difficult. 8 Questions Before You Quit Your JobThey are not necessarily those who are the best team players or who follow the company rules, but those who have the desire and skills to strive for excellence in all endeavors they pursue. This is a rare and valuable quality, and it’s a type of work ethic that needs to be instilled early in someone’s life.

It’s difficult to put your best effort into everything you do. If you don’t feel that your life is physically, emotionally, or mentally draining, you are probably operating at less than your full capacity. While I don’t necessarily advocate wearing yourself thin from dedication to your job, it is a trait that bodes well in the workplace.

Even still, these extreme efforts can cloud the perspective of some. If you’re putting in 110% for your job, day in and day out, it can be difficult to take a step back and see whether you’re really where you need to be. Ask yourself the following questions as you, as a high-functioning individual, are considering whether to leave your work behind in favor of new opportunities.

1. Is the company rewarding me for my work?

Reward takes a variety of forms, and the best situation is where your desires match what the company has available. For example, if your only sense of reward comes from financial compensation, working for a non-profit organization with a tight budget could be problematic. Look at the whole picture. If you are passionate about the work you do, your reward may be intrinsic in the work itself. If you are working at your position more out of necessity than desire, your reward should take other forms, as something that is meaningful to you.

You need to let your company know what types of rewards are acceptable, as long as your performance warrants. If the company can find no way to reward you for excellent work, you should look to move on. Employees who seek excellence will almost always be in demand. Mediocre employees, on the other hand, are more susceptible to market forces.

2. Do I have good relationships with co-workers and managers?

Mutual respect is an important aspect of a fulfilling lifetime experience. You may spend eight plus hours a day with the colleagues and managers in your workplace. If you don’t believe them to be good people or if they don’t believe you to be worthy of respect, the time you spend working with them will be unfulfilling.

Beyond respect, you should expect to feel comfortable and at ease. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a sense of urgency, if necessary, within your workplace environment. Respect is the base and, above that, good relationships contain trust. You should expect your co-workers to be just as reliable as you. You shouldn’t need to micromanage others, and they shouldn’t be micromanaging you.

You can’t expect that everyone in your office will be your friend, but you can expect an environment in which there isn’t a pervasive sense of negativity.

3. Is there enough variety in my day?

While excellent performers can certainly function well in daily, repetitive tasks, this isn’t the best use of someone’s time and efforts. Most employees feel under-utilized with their set of responsibilities and authority, but this can be a significant problem for people who strive to excel. Great employees might be willing to put up with limited activities for a while, but it might be better to leave than stick around if there’s no sign of this improving.

Related: How to Prepare With a Flexible Career Plan

The best position for a high-functioning employee is one where you have the opportunity to use as much as your skill set as possible. This is one reason excellence-focused individuals pursue their own businesses; this type of start-up work requires use of all mental faculties.

4. Can I continue to learn from my managers?

Education is a life-long endeavor, particularly if you work in, are interested about, or are passionate for an industry that continuously evolves. Excellent employees know that they should rarely (if ever) be the smartest person in the room. Constant self-improvement is a need, not just for career advancement but for a sense of worth and value. If you are going to spend a large chunk of your day working with people, you want to ensure there are opportunities available for you to continue building your skills, not just from a technical perspective but from a philosophical perspective as well.

Large companies with resources generally understand that employees have a need to continue learning but struggle to learn anything from managers. Taking the place of these learning opportunities, you may find mentoring programs, tuition benefits, company-sponsored seminars, and other programs designed to allow employees to expand their minds. These are good, but not the best replacements for having a mentor who is interested and able to provide the insight you need to improve.

5. If I resolve my dissatisfaction, will I be happy?

Imagine yourself continuing to work at your current company but with all of the above concerns resolved. If this scenario still leaves you wanting more from your employment, it’s a great indication that it’s time to seek other opportunities. Even if you can’t put your finger on the cause of your dissatisfaction, you deserve to be happy. The danger is chasing an unrealistic dream.

The solution is to realize that happiness is a choice. You can simply choose to be happy with what you have. This isn’t “settling,” it’s analyzing your situation and concluding that your needs are being met. If your company is doing a good job of listening to your concerns and willing to place you in the best working scenarios, there is little more you can ask. If you can’t be happy with this, consider whether you would be happy anywhere. If so, consider moving on; if not, choose to be happy.

6. Do I have another opportunity lined up?

A standard piece of advice is never to quit one job until you have another opportunity ready to go. People who strive for excellence might have some trouble with this concept. Someone for whom excellence is an important personal virtue will likely work hard until the day they quit, leaving little time for aggressive job hunting or soul searching. Excellence transcends job market conditions, though, so demand for you will still be high.

As a valuable contributor to your organization, you might not need to be concerned about your company knowing you’re seeking other opportunities. If you’re considering leaving, you should have already had discussions with your managers during which you’ve made them aware of your disappointment. So, this should not come as a surprise to them. The organization is not going to fire you if you are still a great asset, and they might even be willing to help you find your next opportunity.

You will need to dedicate some time to self-marketing. Many people who strive for excellence don’t need external acknowledgment of their virtues for self-satisfaction. To find a job, however, you’ll need to be less humble and more willing to sell yourself as a desirable product. If, however, you are interested in making your own opportunities, you don’t need to wait for a job offer. There’s no time better than now to start your own endeavor.

7. Is my emergency fund ready?

People often stay in jobs they don’t like because they don’t want to risk losing the income. Households have debt to pay, whether from student loans, the expansion of a household, or overspending. Debt traps people into a situation where a strong percentage of every paycheck is destined elsewhere. This isn’t much different than indentured servitude. Even people who strive for excellence can be unprepared financially.

An emergency fund is the answer. Take some time to build an emergency fund from the ground up. Start by taking a small percentage of every paycheck and automatically transferring the amount into a high-yield savings account. You’ll want this account to be able to cover your living expenses for several months to prepare for a potential loss of income. Since you strive for excellence, consider expanding your emergency fund into a multi-layered emergency plan, which offers more flexibility and possibly less time to put into effect.

An emergency fund lets you take more career risks without hurting your family’s finances. You could take a more interesting and rewarding job for less pay, or you can start a new business without worrying about the immediate loss of income.

8. Will my decision affect my family’s stability?

Single people have more flexibility. They can take chances, move from location to location, and put up with less stability than people who have the added responsibilities of caring for a family. With a spouse and children, every decision you make affects more than just one person — and it’s important to keep this in mind.

The emergency fund mentioned above can help smooth financial rough patches when you make your decision to quit your unfulfilling job, but you need to worry about more than just the financial concerns. If your dream requires you to move away from Kansas and set yourself up in California, you can’t make such a decision without considering the needs and desires of the rest of your family.

Learn More: Resigning on Good Terms

The reality of the economy is that most people cannot afford to consider quitting a job without a solid plan in place for replacing the income immediately. Job satisfaction is a luxury at a time when most people feel that they’re lucky just to have a job. If you are someone who strives for excellence in all that you do, you have more options open because you’ve done quite a bit to improve your measure of human capital. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to seek out solutions for improving your current situation before making a significant career move by quitting.

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Are gay men discriminated against by employers? Yes, according to a new study which appears in the Journal of Labor Research.

The study, co-authored by Bruce Elmslie, professor of economics at UNH Whittemore and Edinaldo Tebaldi of Bryant University in Rhode Island, contains an in-depth analysis of wage and labor data collected by the U.S. Census in March 2004. The dataset represents over 91,000 heterosexual and homosexual couples.

According to the authors, gay men who live together earn 23 percent less than married men, and 9 percent less than unmarried heterosexual men who live with a woman. Discrimination is most pronounced in management and blue-collar, male-dominated occupations such as building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; construction and extraction; and production.

The authors also found that lesbians are not discriminated against when compared with heterosexual women. They conclude that while negative attitudes toward lesbians could affect them, lesbians may benefit from the perception that they are more career-focused and less likely to leave the labor market to raise children than heterosexual women. According to their study, 18.1 percent of lesbians have children, compared with 49.4 percent of straight women.

Within the study, the authors suggest that employer disapproval of the gay lifestyle, fears about offending customers and concerning the transmission of HIV/AIDS may be affecting hiring and salary decisions. While these are certainly plausible theories, the data they examined does not truly provide any information regarding these potential causes, and more research is needed to justify their assertions.

I believe this study raises more questions than it answers, but the data revealed remains of interest, regardless of the whys.

I’ve long been disturbed that even in 2007, salary and position inequalities still exist between men and women, but until now, I hadn’t realized that homosexual men were affected as well. Gay couples already face unique retirement challenges, and compensation inequities only exacerbate the issue.

Gay men can earn 23 pct less than married men: study [Reuters UK]
New Research Finds Gay Men, But Not Lesbians, Are Discriminated Against in Some Jobs [UNH Media Relations]

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MoneyWhen we last met, I was crowing about having paid off $52,050.74 in student loan principal.

I’m still mighty proud of that particular achievement, but this morning, an article from Ignites, an electronic publication available to corporate subscribers only, crossed my path and completely changed my perspective.

Banking Deal: Earn 1.20% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at Barclays.

The article? Average Portfolio Manager Pay Tops $450K.

At $450,000-some a year, it seems I could have paid off my loans in about ten minutes, instead of ten years. Alas, it’s a long, hard road for those of us who are math-averse.

But maybe there’s a message in this for some of you out there, those of you who have enough of an interest in financial topics to regularly read blogs like this one.

In doing some research, I happened across a Boston-based job listing which shows the sheer earning potential of this type of career. A full-time position requiring a Ph.D in Math or Physics and 7 to 10 years of relevant work experience, it offers $450-600K in total compensation. There are lots more such jobs out there, too, but this one openly lists its salary range. I’ll repost here so you can see what’s involved:

Leading Asset Management Firm in Boston seeks a Sr. Fixed Income Quantitative Analyst. On a daily basis the successful candidate will recommend specific relative value strategies to the PM. Additional responsibilities include: implementation and development of pricing and risk models for cash and derivative products, interaction with Currency and Structured Credit Products analysts and PM’s, and programming in C++ and/or VB. Requires a minimum of 7 years experience in F.I. as a Quantitative analyst on the buyside. Also requires a PhD in Math or Physics in addition to strong communication and leadership skills.

Now there’s a nice payback for a Ph.D! I’m amused because I recall my math-genius brother (someone had to get all the analytical skills in my family) dropping his Physics major in college because he felt there wasn’t much income potential with such a high-flown degree, and university jobs seemed scarce. He switched over to Computer Science, which seemed more lucrative. But I don’t know any CS majors earning over $450K unless they’ve founded their own companies. Sorry, big brother! He got his Masters from Stanford, too.

Those of you qualified for this position should not read beyond this point – you should be applying for the above position posthaste. For everyone else, I’ll give an overview of the Ignites article, since many of you won’t be able to read it directly.

In the article, Kevin Burke details the recent results of a CFA Institute study, finding that equity portfolio managers are the top earners among investment professionals, with an average salary of $456,000 a year. Polling more than 75,000 investment professionals worldwide, they received over 13,500 responses, and learned lots of juicy details about industry salaries.

A CFA news release from Thursday shares some of the facts:

In the U.S., the three highest compensated positions at all levels of experience are portfolio managers (equities) ($456,000), followed by investment bankers ($275,000) and then sell-side research analysts ($195,000). Buy-side research analysts (equity and fixed income) fall in the middle of the pack at all levels of experience.

The pattern for cash bonus is also affected by years of experience. There is little variability in median cash bonus for those with less than five years of experience. However, the gap widens at five to 10 years of experience. At all levels of experience, portfolio managers (equities) ($200,000) and investment bankers ($185,000) reported cash bonuses that are more than double that for most other occupations.

Not just is there a high potential payoff for choosing this career path, but after putting in your five years, the financial outlook keeps getting rosier. Granted, there’s likely some attrition here, with those who aren’t as qualified weeded out while those who are successful begin to see increased rewards and bonuses. After the ten-year mark, the average portfolio manager compensation grows to $499K.

A significant portion of the managers’ compensation comes from performance-based bonuses. Ninety percent of those surveyed were bonus-eligible, and indicated that, on average, bonuses comprise 25% of their overall package. Bonuses can be tied to individual, business unit, and/or firm performance. Some are a percentage of total assets.

The bonus component also means that companies aren’t stuck paying high salaries when the market’s down. So this certainly isn’t a rest-on-your-laurels type job, but there’s ample reward for a job well done.

Unsurprisingly, location also affects compensation, with the highest earners across all levels operating out of New York City, followed by other major metropolitan areas.

Who knew a Ph.D in Math or Physics could be so lucrative? It may be too late for my brother to become a portfolio manager, but perhaps, if you’re seeking a career change, it’s not too late for you.

Image credit: Yomanimus

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Today, and every summer through 2009, the federal minimum wage will increase $0.70 an hour. For those working full time at the federal minim wage, the increase to $5.85 an hour will mean an extra $1,400 over the previous rate. This 14% raise is pretty significant, but it still keeps the minimum wage earner who provides for a family of three in poverty.

If minimum wage increases kept pace with inflation since 1970, the minimum wage today would be $8.77. If it tracked inflation since 1956, the wage would be $7.27.

Interestingly, the minimum wage would be $3.39 if 1938’s rate of $0.25 was adjusted for inflation.

Here in New Jersey, the state minimum wage is already $7.15. The state’s economy hasn’t collapsed yet and business owners seem to be getting by. All salaries in the state seem to be somewhat higher than most of the nation. Real estate prices and property taxes are higher, and insurance rates are higher, but gas prices are lower.

Higher minimum wage can be done. Businesses who claim they will have to let employees go or raise prices will do what they have to do to survive and compete, and most likely find a way to make it work without the threatened layoffs. The staggered increases will help these businesses, particularly when compared to an immediate full increase to $7.25.

But is a minimum wage hike just an empty gesture? If minimum wage earners are mostly suburban teenagers from families nowhere near poverty, then a minimum wage hike doesn’t help those struggling in poverty, who most likely work part time at a job a little bit higher than the minimum wage.

Well, it will help indirectly, because those close-to-minimum-wage jobs, like those Wal-Mart, will be buoyed by the wage hike.

The minimum wage hike is necessary but it’s probably not going be the biggest contributor to the mission of making poverty history.

Here’s some historical minimum wage data as well as an inflation calculator, which helped me come up with the adjusted minimum wage rates above.

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Don’t Expect a Big Pay Increase: Other Options

by Luke Landes

Hewitt Associates is saying that companies are not planning above average base pay increases in 2008 thanks to rising health insurance costs. This is the same reason I’ve heard over and over again. Average employees have nothing to look forward to in terms of raises, as perhaps they shouldn’t have. Even above average employees will […]

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Is Your Job on the Bottom 25 List?

by Luke Landes

If you’re reading this blog, the answer to the question in the title is, “Probably not.” Perhaps a better question is whether you can live on the mean incomes provided by the occupations on Forbes’ 25 Worst-Paying Jobs. As I said when commenting on the top 25 jobs, the “mean” calculation is often meaningless as […]

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How Much is Your Mom Worth?

by Luke Landes

Mother’s Day is approaching, which means you’re going to start hearing about a certain survey in noth the traditional and the “alternative” media. The paycheck comparison website, Salary.com, creates a questionnaire each year to determine the value of the work a mother does for her family. By determining the ten most popular “jobs” a mom […]

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Secrets and Myths About Salary Your Employer Doesn’t Want You to Know

by Luke Landes

Jeanne Sahadi over at CNN Money is spilling the beans again, and this time it’s about salary. Your managers know these precious pieces of info, but you might not. Armed with this knowledge, you could be better poised to tip the scale in your favor next time you negotiate. Here’s the summary. 1. Secret: Your […]

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Wall Street Salaries are Through the Roof!

by Luke Landes

There are no fancy introductions here. Getting right down to it, the average salary for Wall Street is $289,664, while the average for all of New York City is “only” $56,634. The Reuters report includes more money figures, but the only piece I find particularly interesting is the average bonus per person: $125,000. My bonus […]

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Don’t Get Ahead, Start Ahead

by Luke Landes

This is an interesting article from the New York Times. Research shows that your first job dictates how much your income will be your entire working career. The recent evidence shows quite clearly that in today’s economy starting at the bottom is a recipe for being underpaid for a long time to come. Graduates’ first […]

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