applying for a promotion vs. going to graduate school

A reader writes:

I work for a large non-profit, and absolutely love my job. My boss is leaving soon, and her position will be available. I have been at my job for a year, and could apply. As much as I love what I do now, I’m ready to learn new skills and am eager to move up the ladder. My performance reviews have been positive and I have a solid relationship with everyone in my department. A coworker recently confided in me that she is applying for our boss’ job. I do not want to cause conflict in my workplace, nor do I want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. We all work very closely together. My coworker is more qualified than I am because she has an advanced degree, yet I have a better relationship with our boss’ boss. Should I still apply for the job? If I don’t get it, how much negative impact could it have on my relationship with my coworker (who would be my new boss)? If I stay in my current position, there is no possibility of a raise or much change in what I do.

An additional factor complicates my decision: I have been accepted to graduate school in another state, but cannot afford to go at this point. The degree I’d have would allow me many more opportunities in my field, but I could not work here and attend school simultaneously. I will likely not hear about financial aid until after my boss leaves and the hiring decision has been made. I have informed my boss and coworkers of this situation. I have the opportunity to defer my admission to the graduate school. Should I accept having debt, or stay another year in my job to save up?

I know I don’t have a bad hand, but I’m struggling with what to do. Any advice you have to offer is very much appreciated.

If you think you want your boss’ job, you should apply. However, be prepared for your employer to tell you that they can’t consider you for it unless you’re planning to put off grad school for longer than a year. They’re probably not going to want to move you into a new position with management responsibilities if you’re going to leave a year later — there’s going to be a learning curve and you’re not going to really hit your stride in any new job for six months or so, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to train you if you’re going to leave so quickly. So you’ll likely need to choose between this job or grad school for the time being.

How do you choose? By how much you want each option. And by how likely each is to get you to wherever you want to go. You say grad school will make you eligible for many more jobs — but might this promotion have a similar effect?

In any case, if you do decide to apply for it, you should tell your coworker yourself before she hears it from someone else. You’re going to feel weird about telling her you’re both competing for the same job, but just be straightforward about it. Tell her you think she’d do a great job at it and will welcome her as your new boss if that’s how it shakes out … but that you feel like you owe it to yourself to try for it too. If you both handle it maturely, it’ll be fine. (And if she does end up getting the job, she’s far more likely to be worried about you feeling weird about it than to have any negative feelings toward you.)

And hey, if you end up as a boss, you’re going to have to deal with all kinds of weird and awkward situations, so consider this training.

Personally, I think you should go for it. But I have a bias toward work over school.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Kerry*

    I agree with AAM, especially with regard to her preference for work over school. I have found that the best candidates are the ones who have had significant work experience before grad school; they get a lot more out of the experience. Candidates with a master’s degree and too little work experience often have a harder time getting a job.

  2. Rebecca*

    Not to be a downer, but unless it’s the school’s official policy not to hand out financial aid until the summer (a few very bureaucratic schools are like this), it is likely you are not getting any non-loan aid if you haven’t heard about it by now. Professional programs usually offer no aid whatsoever because they assume the degree will bring you significantly more income after graduation and you’ll have no trouble repaying student loans.

    Also, are you 100% sure that a master’s WILL get you better job opportunities? As in, the degree will guarantee you a good job with good pay, even in this crap economy? If not, do not take loans to go back to school.

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