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    William J. Patchell M.B.A., C.F.P.

    Remember the days when most people spent their working years with one company - getting promotions, building seniority and working toward retirement with a dependable pension? For much of today's workforce, those days are ancient history. Now it seems like the most common way to improve career prospects is to move from company to company as opportunities present themselves.

    If headhunters are calling and today's tight labor market is presenting new job options, ask yourself these five questions as you ponder your decision about whether it's time to move on:

    1. What kind of benefits do I need? The answer will help you eliminate the possibility of working for companies that don't offer packages that meet your family's needs. While larger companies tend to have more comprehensive employee benefits than smaller ones, you may have more opportunity to negotiate perks in a small-company environment.

    In addition to retirement savings plans offered by many companies, some of the more innovative benefit packages now include flexible spending accounts. These plans let you put pre-tax dollars into accounts to be used for medical, dependent care and legal expenses.

    2. What do I want in a position? Do you relish the thought of a plush corner office or would the idea of telecommuting from a home office be more appealing to you? Many workers are trading the traditional attractions of a job upgrade - like a higher salary and better benefits - for flexibility and convenience.

    As you make your decision consider your lifestyle and your family responsibilities, then think about how well your current position meets your priorities. If your priorities have changed and your work situation doesn't offer what you need, it may pay to discuss this situation with your boss prior to jumping ship. Many employers are open to negotiating work arrangements rather than losing valued employees.

    3. What do I value in a company? As you interview, consider what is really important to you in a potential employer. Observe carefully what you feel and experience in the new work environment. See how employees interact and picture yourself in the setting. You can usually get a feel for the company's culture in just a few brief visits. Talk to employees in the company if you have the chance.

    If you value community involvement, inquire about the company's philanthropic efforts and its reputation in the community. You may also be able to find additional information about a potential employer by visiting its Web site or reading its current annual report (for publicly held organizations). This data gathering process can help you determine if the firm's values match your own.

    4. Do I want to work for a small or a large company? As mentioned above, large and small companies may offer vastly different benefit programs. But there are other factors to consider in the large vs. small debate. Those people who dislike bureaucracy and value the independent decision making process may thrive in a small company environment. On the other hand, many job seekers look to the behemoths for the growth opportunities they often afford.
    Many people with entrepreneurial spirits choose to forego the security and stability of a big company for a chance to fulfill their dream. Yet others find the uncertainty of start-ups too unsettling.

    5. What can I do with my employer-sponsored retirement plan if I change jobs? When you leave a company, you have several options for your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan. You may be able to leave your savings in your existing plan or perhaps move the assets to your new employer's plan, roll dollars into a traditional IRA or take a cash distribution from the plan.

    Remember that if you take the assets from your plan, the distribution may be subject to federal, state and possibly local taxes (and a 10% IRS early withdrawal penalty may apply if you are under age 55). You should also seek advice regarding your company's pension plan, stock options, and similar benefits that may requirement vesting periods, or that you can take with you as individual plans when you leave, such as life insurance, and long term care insurance polices.

    No one would argue that changing jobs is a big decision - and one you shouldn't make alone. As you weigh your career options, a knowledgeable financial advisor can be a valuable resource in helping you determine how your next move fits with your overall financial scenario.

    William J. Patchell M.B.A., C.F.P
    Certified Financial Planner
    American Express Financial Advisors Inc. Member NASD
    Norwalk, Connecticut
    (203) 838-8859 Ext 210

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