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My company offers tuition reimbursement which I've taken advantage of to complete my MBA. There is no clause that states I must stay with the company for a period of time after the completion of my degree.

I want to move out of state after I've graduated.

What is the shortest appropriate amount of time to stay with a company to avoid burning bridges after they have paid for an advanced degree in full?

Edits:

Additional details:

  • Have been at the company for little under 1.5 yrs now
  • Will be at company for a full 2.5 yrs when I complete my degree (taking about a year and a half to complete the program)
  • Total cost of degree will be around $15,000

It is highly unlikely I would work at a company in the same industry (a competitor) and I do not plan to work for this company again (although, I cannot discount this as being a possibility, you never know). As of right now, my manager and colleagues have nothing but great things to say about me and would provide strong references.

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    Would you likely be going to a competitor, a contractor, a company in a different field, academia, self-employed...? Presuming your concern is the reference, what's the likelihood that they'd give a good reference in any case? Or would you be interested in potentially working for/with them again in future? – smci Feb 21 '17 at 22:25
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    @smci more than likely it would be a company in a different field. The company I am at now is in a niche market that I do not intend to stay in. My manager and colleagues think very highly of me and as long as I continue to do what I'm doing, I have no doubt they will provide great references. I do not see myself ever working for this company again, but never say never as I'd like to eventually come back to this area in the future and my current company could be a possible employer again. – cheshire Feb 21 '17 at 22:34
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    At my current job (and I think at my previous) the stipulations were simple: After payment, leaving within 1/2 years would be 100%/50% repayment. So leaving at 18 months, I would have to repay 50% of the costs. ... There is NO clause on your schooling reimbursement? Wow.... You are sure of that? Also... was there a pay difference between those with/without a degree? Was the pay difference less than the cost of tuition? Pay raise after degree? – WernerCD Feb 22 '17 at 0:17
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    How much is your salary? If you make 70k then another 15k in benefits over 18 months isn't really that big of a deal. If you make 15k then that's a different story. – Kat Feb 22 '17 at 4:11
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    $15,000 is equivalent to a pretty good bonus at a lot of jobs. If you were given a $15k bonus, would you feel obligated to stay longer? – Dave Feb 22 '17 at 17:59
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If they don't have a policy then shame on them.

Some managers would be OK on day one and some would want 3-5 years.

I think you should wait 6 months just so it is not so obvious.

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    6 months is what I was thinking. That would put me at the company for a full 3 years which is usually the minimum work experience needed for most jobs. – cheshire Feb 21 '17 at 19:12
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    Ultimately, I think it boils down to what you want conversations with your next employer to be like. "I see you did your MBA while you were at Acme Corp and you left shortly after you completed. Tell me about that." If you can craft a reasonable answer to questions around that, then you're golden! A desire to relocate geographically can often ameliorate things like this since staying with a company can be completely incompatible with moving. – Dancrumb Feb 21 '17 at 23:20
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    Along those same lines, there's no requirement that you tell the new company that the previous company paid for your degree, and there's no reason for you to disclose it as it's a personal financial matter between you and your previous employer. – Taegost Feb 22 '17 at 19:51
  • And if it is obvious? – user42272 Feb 23 '17 at 5:55
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This is going to be a very honest - and likely unpopular - response.

In the business world, you have to look out for yourself. Keep in mind that a business's #1 goal is to maximize profit, not to maximize employee contentment or satisfaction. You can't trust an employer, no matter how chummy they may be, to put what's best for you anywhere close to the top 50 of its priorities.

Your obligation to your employer is exactly as your contract and local/state labor legislation decrees - and absolutely no more than that.

Your obligation to yourself is much greater and should be your focus here. Work on finishing your degree and establishing yourself as a good employee worth hiring. Cultivate positive relationships with supervisors and peers who can function as positive references in the future. As long as you tick those boxes and you trust them to be truthful in their evaluation of your work to prospective future employers, there's no need to put off a move to another state, especially if you have living arrangements and another job already lined up.

TL;DR: take care of yourself, first and foremost, because your employer likely isn't going to. Stay long enough to secure positive references. You aren't a wizard, and therefore cannot control what people feel about the nature of your departure.

Direct answer: a 2.5 year tenure should be more than sufficient time to have left a favorable impression and secured positive references. Unless they offer you a pay bump or promotion upon MBA completion, moving on to greener pastures should not come as a surprise to them. They may even be expecting it.

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    and assuming that positive references are secured, what's to say they won't change their perception if they feel the OP shafted their mutual employer? – DLS3141 Feb 21 '17 at 20:33
  • +1 I appreciate the honesty and agree with you. I can't imagine them being all that shocked that I want to move on after graduating. – cheshire Feb 21 '17 at 21:55
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    Sure, take care of yourself, but also take care of your reputation. Employers know eachother and they do talk - reputation takes ages to build but seconds to destroy. I would advise to talk to your employer. – Konerak Feb 22 '17 at 9:15
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    I note that your assumption that this answer would be unpopular has been pleasantly disproved :) – Tom W Feb 22 '17 at 9:22
  • Interesting point about a pay bump. That said, even though I agree that you should look out for yourself because the company isn't going to, I think quitting immediately is more likely than not to burn some bridges, which is what the OP is trying to avoid. – Kevin Feb 23 '17 at 5:28
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If tuition reimbursement is a routine benefit the company offers all employees, then it's no different from salary, ethically. It sounds like that's your situation. You should give the amount of notice the that the company would give you as separation pay if you were laid off. However, if it was a special award to you, like a program for a very small number of outstanding employees each year, you should treat it differently. When I worked for RCA Corporation, one of my colleagues was given a Sarnoff Fellowship, with time off and tuition paid, to get an MSEE at MIT. He gave two weeks notice two weeks before his degree was granted. I couldn't imagine doing that myself.

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    +1 Acknowledging the ethical issue. I couldn't imagine doing what your colleague did either – cheshire Feb 21 '17 at 21:58
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You're asking the wrong question. The question a future employer will ask is not "when" but "why".

The simplest solution here is to have an open conversation with your company. They clearly invested this money in you. They're expecting something back in return. At the same time, you have your own needs to fulfil, and (by definition of the fact you're planning to quit), the company is not able to fulfil them currently.

The important thing to remember, as Jonathan Reed points out, is that you have the control here. Unless they have contractually defined conditions (e.g. if you leave within 6 months, you have to repay), you have the choice whether to leave or not. As long as you and the company can communicate in fair terms about your needs, that should be enough to solve any major issues of resentment.

This is negotiating 101: Why do you want to move out of state? If it's for better pay, they may be able to match this. Can you work remotely, thus still providing them your value but fulfilling their needs? Is this a relationship thing, in which case they may be able to give you more flexible working periods?

If they can't or won't meet your needs, then you are justified in choosing an employer who will, if you can. And again, as long as you're clear with them, work to agree a fair notice period, etc, no legitimate business should have an issue with this.

In terms of a reference, if I had a good candidate, but an oddly damaging reference, I would want to talk to the candidate about why this reference was so off from my experience, which you should be able to explain clearly. At worst, your new employer might be more careful about the training you receive, and ensure that it is in their best interest and doesn't disrupt your valuable work.

At the end of the day, your ethical role is to be aware of your value to the company, aware of your own career/life needs, and to be open and honest to the company about what they can expect of the former given the latter. If they need something from you, they should let you know in the same way.

  • Unless the reimbursement applies only to degree programs that demonstrably benefit the company, I don't think tuition reimbursement is employee investment. Rather, I think it's bait: hook candidates on the option as part of benefit package, betting few employees will take the time and effort to carry through. – bishop Feb 23 '17 at 2:15
  • I'm not sure, there's definitely value to the company in an employee with an MBA. Beyond that, every benefit is an investment of money in you. – deworde Feb 23 '17 at 10:55
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This is what I typically see:

  1. Management has duly noted you want to do a degree either before or not long after you're hired.

  2. They'll also discuss with you the sort of expectation or time commitment they expect, at some point before you begin your coursework.

  3. There are also sometimes contractual stipulations which protect them from grab-and-go employees, but if your company doesn't have one, then they should literally expect to see turnover.

Now, some companies are really good about how they compensate and keep their employees happy despite paying for degrees, licenses, etc. They will have a lot of employees that stay comparatively and if 1/100 decides to move after graduation, they still win through majority retention (I'm assuming your company isn't bad, has low turnover, and doesn't spend 15K for people to up and leave).

I think it's completely fair that you got your degree, that you're looking out for you and you want to move. At that, the only thing I'd do is line up a job before I moved, and scrutinize the tuition reimbursement policy and make sure you don't shoot yourself in the foot.

I think that most companies would like to see a 1-2yr commitment, that being said, but what they would like to see is not always in your best interest.

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