Corporations make decisions for all sorts of reasons. You may benefit from some of them, but it’s unlikely you will benefit from all of them. And because of that it’s important that you manage your career and your life rather than hope that someone else will manage it well for you.
And that means you need to think of any job where you work for someone else as a temporary job. It’s a position I’ve written about before [See: Why Your Next Job is (Also) A Temporary Job here], and have spoken about, most recently last month before the San Francisco Bay area chapter of Financial Executives International.
Because of that belief – and because of my background as a very senior and seasoned consultant who gets paid by corporations to their coach execs and teams – I chuckled when I read Mark Suster’s first and follow-up posts on the subject of Job Hoppers: Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never – They Make Terrible Employees and Job Hoppers Redux: An Employee’s Perspective. In brief, Mark argues that you shouldn’t hire people who bounce around from job to job.
For somebody in the blogosphere, Mark’s writing is generally well constructed and thoughtful. These posts, however, are stinkers.
If you look at the demographics and the emerging nature of jobs and work today, most people will be effectively hopping from one job to another because the number of jobs that endure for an extended time will be few and far between. Job hopping will be the rule: steady state employment with one firm for an extended period will look more like the exception.
To be clear I believe that employees owe loyalty to their employers just as I owe loyalty to my clients, both on a corporate and individual basis. In both cases it means doing the best job that you can, and doing the things for which you signed up. But that does not mean being blind to the reality of jobs and work today, and what it’s likely to be in the near term future.
It helps to remember that this discussion about hiring people depending on tenure in their jobs has a certain ebb and flow to it. In the dot-com boom of the late 1990’s somebody who stayed at job for longer than 2-3 years was labeled a “tree hugger” – candidates who couldn’t do well outside the cozy confines of one employer. And since a number of start-ups when boom and bust, it wasn’t unusual to see people with 5 employers in 5 years. I know. I was working as a principal in a surviving Internet development firm. That South Park firm, called Fluid, survived while the the giants of the space such as MarchFirst, Scient, and the old Razorfish crashed – and the types of resumes that you saw had multiple employers, usually in quick succession because firms were going out of business left and right. And people who were with ongoing concerns stayed put because of the perceived security.
I heard Tom Peters speak in the early 1990’s (almost 20 years ago, if anyone’s counting) and use the metaphor of the Hollywood producer as a way to think about jobs and work. Irish-born Charles Handy has used a similar description of how people will work. In both cases, the central point is that people will group with people with whom they want to work, and then ungroup, not unlike somebody working on a movie, TV show, or music project. While the person’s craft – marketing, PR, engineering – will stay the same, the projects will change. People with conventional enduring type jobs will decrease as a percentage of the population.
This sort of increased movement from job to job is what you see in the workplace – and Mark’s comment, “Never hire job hoppers” is misplaced. People typically stay in a role as long as they feel they’re paid fairly, are challenged with their work, and get a chance to grow in their craft. It’s the nature of some people – and indeed the nature of some firms – that people will hold certain roles at certain times for shorter, not longer periods of time.
As somebody who works with start-up leadership teams, I’ve worked with a number of start-ups the past 4 years. Most, as measured by a return on investment to investors, have been highly successful. None of them exist today, having been acquired or merged with other firms.
Folks who come out of these short tenured firms will looks like job hoppers. You won’t know that until you take the time to get to know them, and find out what their particular story is.
I argue that you should hire the job hopper – and as well as the tree hugger. Just be aware of what it is you’re hiring, and when and how they’re likely – if at all – to leave.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.