My mother worked two jobs in her entire life: one in Russian and one in Israel. My father had about 12 jobs in his entire life, which was a lot in his social circuit. I had more jobs than I would like to count. I left in my CV about 12 of these jobs, and I am just in the middle of my activity. And this is only slightly above the average in my social circle. Currently an average employee switches between 12 and 15 jobs during his lifetime. So starting a new job is something we do quite often, and should be really good at. You can enjoy further reading here, here, here, here, here and here.
To stay or to leave?
There are good times and bad times in every job in every company. It is natural to be fear the unknown. It is pretty natural to stay on the job unless there is a serious threat or a serious opportunity. In modern times there are plenty of both threats and opportunities. Typically a person leaving his job is very likely to get paid significantly more for a new job, maybe otherwise he would look for further opportunities. The new jobs also offer more opportunities for promotion than staying in one company, unless your mentor is in senior management in that company. Our new company is also more likely to experience growth: otherwise, they would not be hiring. And our old company should not be considered a safe heaven: many big companies have major downsizing cycles. This means that in general, we are better off continuously changing work environment.
On the other hand, looking for a new job can be nerve wrecking. We can be kicked from our current job just for looking for new opportunities. And there is nothing cheerful in being between jobs. Whether or not we are hired is a matter in any particular company is a matter of luck: we may stumble during the interviews, there may be some bad “chemistry” with one of the gatekeepers in the new company, there may be some organizational changes before we have the chance to finalize the agreement. There are also big and small economical trends which play their part. Recently one of my friends explained that during the Q4 of the financial year the chances of getting hired and paid properly are lower than during Q1 of the financial year due to budget restraints in the big corporation. Getting a positive answer from multiple places is a strong boost to one’s ego. Getting multiple negative answers is emotionally challenging. It is better to get a negative result after one interview, than after five.
Is there a sweet spot?
Not an official one that I can think of. Fortunately, it is probably easy to find your personal sweet spot. The result is probably between two and eight years per job. Here are the questions to guide you:
- You are expected to achieve a certain amount of things on any job. During any job interview, you will be asked to count your achievements. If you are new to a job and did not achieve anything yet – try to stay long enough to have meaningful achievements and a great story about these achievements. If you are many years in the same job and not learning or accomplishing anything, consider leaving.
- As long as the corporate culture is pleasant, the company is growing and you enjoy working, think twice before leaving. When you leave, you will be asked about the reason and you should have a great answer. A reorganization, looming financial problems, or downsizing cycle are some of the more common examples.
- The turnover is faster in start-ups and slower in the big companies. Stock options are the main mechanism of maintaining you in a start-up, and if you do not believe in the startup the stock options are not a strong incentive. You are expected to stay longer if you work in a big company since there is more mobility within the company. Probably you should try several positions within the company before deciding to leave it.
- Your skillset is a portfolio. Each skill you want to present should be supported by meaningful experience. It is hard to explain having too few or too many skills.
- It is much easier to leave if the economy is good. In a bad economy, people usually do not leave.
Passing the interview
The interview process works both ways. If there is something we do not like in a workplace, it is better not to choose it. The interviews are as much about the form as they are about the substance. There is something profoundly wrong with the way we need to formulate our interview questions, yet this is the game we are expected to play. So here are the top five:
- How do the teams work together? This is a question about corporate culture, and any answer we get will reveal quite a lot. If this is a dictatorship you will hear the need to comply, and if the democracy rules you will hear something about endless meetings and brainstormings, while in an oligarchy the responsible manager will say he will represent your point of view. Every corporate culture comes with pros and cons, at least we should know what we are getting into.
- What is the recruitment process? Namely, who are the gatekeepers into the company and what the company values. If you are asked to do a homework, the company does not respect your personal boundaries. Sometimes you will be asked to have a polygraph test, which is a red flag. Typically you will meet several layers of management, and see how different people approach the working environment. If you are given easy logical tasks, the interviewer wants to help you. If you are given extremely hard logical tasks, the interviewer needs to establish dominance.
- What other people are you recruiting? Sometimes we do not get the position we want but can get another great position. Sometimes we can bargain that we can fulfill several positions, and reduce the headache of the employer. Sometimes this is indicative regarding the growth and challenges within the company.
- What are the main challenges for the team and the company? Typically you will get an honest answer and will see if there is a fit. You will be asked to work more and should accept it as a condition. You may also hear interesting information about other companies you interview for.
- What are the performance expectations, and how will they be evaluated? Occasionally we are asked to do impossible things. We should not be doing things we cannot complete. We should not be working in an environment that is too stressful or toxically competitive for us.
There are probably fifty questions we can ask, maybe more. Each question we ask reveals something about who we are, and we do not want to reveal something that can jeopardize potentially a great deal. The interview is about generating a good rapport with several very different people and answering questions which are chosen to challenge us. In case of doubt, we should prioritize the rapport over the curiosity.
Dealing with changes
Whether we start a new job, or there is a change in the working environment, we need to adapt. The adaptation has always been hard for me. Here are my personal lessons:
- Keep some personal items in plain view. These items facilitate “grounding” and establish the connection between the various universes we cross. One such item is our mobile phone. It can also be a small object we put on our table. Also, we may need a charger, some office supplies and a bag we go with. The items do not have to be physical. We can open web pages we like, including our favorite email service, favorite blogs and so on.
- Take some time to adapt. Especially, if getting a new boss or new teammates. People are different from what they appear to be at the first glance. Take the time to know them. We connect with people on various levels, and typically we want to establish the connection on more than one level.
- Research. Any change comes with new information, and we should learn this information and be prepared to use it to our advantage. Some of the research is theoretical, and some are hands-on trial and failure.
- Look for win-win positions. Usually, any realistic constellation offers a wide range of win-win scenarios. If we do not like the scenario offered, we can offer a better one. People are usually very open and willing if they understand that your offer is a positive win-win opportunity.
- Realign the career changes with core values and career goals. Typically this sort of realignment is possible, even though it may require some creative thinking and changing of priorities. It is OK to change your mind and criticize your choices, as long as it results in a clear improvement plan.
- Communicate your thoughts and ideas. Maybe in form of a personal plan, a presentation of challenges or a list of action items you define for yourself and share with others.
Eventually, many of us choose alternative career models, becoming consultants and subcontractors. There are several things to consider before making such a choice:
- Not all career moves are reversible. Once we generate sufficient experience, the potential employees look for patterns. Once we become consultants, it gets increasingly harder to become again a company man.
- Many company quirks are open only for the full-time employees. This includes various stock incentives, training opportunities, promotions into a management position, fun events. Even vacations and sick days are influenced by our employment status.
- Finding a good employer is hard, selling your services to great clients is harder. It is also less stable. Any client considers its subcontractors expandable and will downsize them before firing the employees. Being a contractor you become more sensitive to economic ups and downs.
- The accounting is a headache. Monitoring pension programs, health insurances, and personal development plans get also more complex.
If we are to work from home or remote office there are additional complexities.
- Being far from the team we do not enjoy the full level of social support, mentorship potential and helpful manpower we would enjoy being a part of a team.
- We need to motivate ourselves. There is very little professional feedback due to communication issues. Chats and phone calls do help but cannot substitute physical vicinity.
- There are fewer things for us to see. It makes sense to travel more, even for lunch and Pomodoro breaks, just to get the additional sensory inputs.
Being independent we care less about the company and its success, and more about doing our daily job and moving on. The risks are higher, the job is harder and the benefits are questionable. We all want to get paid for a job well-done, but we also prefer to get paid for a job not so well done if the business is risky.
It is very easy to envy someone, without understanding the true realities of his life. We may want the status of managers but may hate the long hours, high stress and endless discussions. The position of independent consultants appears to be desired, but we do not see them when they are desperately looking for new clients. We may want higher salaries, but after the taxes, the difference may be negligible. Working with bleeding edge technologies requires handling unstable tools, even less stable people, and very ambitious timelines. Working harder and increasing the risk, we can find the luck temporarily not on our side. If we enjoy what we are doing and find it interesting and can financially provide for our families we should probably consider ourselves successful.