Most people attempting to answer this question would mention very useful things about tactical mistakes and they will miss a very big strategic mistake that is incredibly common.
Over a decade ago, when I started my career I sort of tripped and fell into a pattern that has made me a lot of money. Only recently have I seen other people notice something that I didn’t mean to discover.
And Both Of Those Things Are Actually The Same Thing…
When I got my first job out of school the pay sucked. It was a few hundred dollars above the legally required minimum salary. (Yes such a thing exists.)
Anyhow, the job was terrible and after six or eight months, I found a much better job and added $10,000 a year to my salary. Pretty cool right?!
Well, at that job after a year I got another pay raise, but then things stalled out for the next 4 years or so. It was a grant funded position and the money ran out. Thus, I had to find a new job.
The next job I got ended up adding another $10,000 or so to my yearly salary. I managed to last in that job for a few years and then I moved on.
The next job after that added like $15,000 to my salary. The one after that more like $30,000, and after that even more still…
The point being that every time I changed jobs I got a raise in pay. I didn’t plan on changing jobs every few years, but by doing so I added a lot of money to my income.
For A Long Time I Thought That Was A Fluke, But I’ve Seen It In Other People Too
At the same time, I have friends who make a very big mistake and it is the biggest career mistake I’ve seen anyone make as an engineer or anything else…
They stay too long at one company or job.
Because of human psychology, and the fact that most companies don’t grow very fast, it is hard to get raises or promotions. In fact, the longer you are at a job, the less likely you are to get paid any extra!
Why? Well The Answer Is Simple…
If you keep showing up and working for your current pay, there is no need to pay you any extra. You will just keep showing up.
So, the idea of staying at a job for decades is going to cost the average engineer a tremendous amount of money.
Even if you double your marketplace value, you won’t get double the pay unless you go into the marketplace and get someone else to pay you what you’re worth. It’s strange, but true.
The worst part is, this costs companies tremendous amounts of money. Usually it would cost $5,000-$10,000 a year extra to make someone too happy to ever leave. And yet, even for top performers most companies won’t do that until you threaten to leave.
I’ve seen many times where someone gets a job offer elsewhere and tells their boss. All of a sudden, $15,000 will materialize out of thin air and the company will fight to keep them.
The question you must ask yourself is this… “I was worth $50,000 a year before I was leaving, why am I worth $65,000 a year now? Why wouldn’t they pay me that yesterday, but they will now today?”
And really, that is how the world works.
The Fear Of Loss Is More Motivating Than The Opportunity To Gain
When you are leaving, your value goes up. When you stay, it sort of goes down.
To make this work in your favor, you have to be willing to dust off your resume and kick the tires at other jobs every few years. Otherwise, you are leaving a lot of money on the table.
In fact, over the course of your career it could be over two million dollars! (I calculated it out once, and it was depressing.)
Now, don’t mistake my advice. I don’t mean that you should change jobs every year or six months. I don’t know the exact number. It’s probably every three to five years.
If you are sitting in the same chair making about the same money ten years from now, you have made a big money mistake.
And if you are doing your job for money (like the rest of us), that is the biggest career mistake you could make.