A friend of mine is senior analyst, skilled in Agile, formal business analysis techniques, and active in the professional community. She sent me the following note:
“I’ve been having a conversation with my peeps about handling job offers/changes as the market picks back up. I think that in the bleak times, a lot of people like me accepted job offers that were less than ideal, but way better than nothing.
As thinks pick up though, I think some of us are going to be recruited heavily, and for some of us who were in long-term jobs, this is new experience.
– Is there still a concept of a “minimum” length of tenure at a job?
– Do frequent changes make a prospective employer wonder how long you’ll stay with them?
– If you are on a project as an employee of a contracting company, is it honorable or naive to think you should stay with that employer through the term of that project and not pursue other offers?
– What other things should prospective employers and candidates be thinking about?”
Great questions, and quite timely given the nature of the market. Let’s address these.
Q: Is there still a concept of a “minimum” length of tenure at a job? Do frequent changes make a prospective employer wonder how long you’ll stay with them?
A: Yes, for both permanent and contract positions.
Hiring managers today are much more understanding of the fact that the market is volatile and people are impacted by layoffs that have nothing to do with their individual performance. Depending on the geographic location and the industry, it is not unusual to see a person have three full time employment positions within a five year period.
Similarly, most hiring managers know and accept that individuals who have worked as consultants for any length of time will have numerous client engagements and possibly consulting companies on their resume’.
At the same time, most hiring managers (and HR specialists that screen resume’s) still apply some sort of test of reasonableness to tenure. For an employee, while one or even two short term jobs may be understandable, a consistent pattern of multiple short term professional positions generally signals caution.
Similarly, most contract / consulting positions last at least three months, and more typically six months and longer. Having numerous consecutive short term engagements raises question marks.
While a candidate can often explain away specific situations, there is only so much bad luck one person can have! Given the number of candidates on the market right now, employers can be very selective, and will look for easy reasons NOT to hire a person.
Q: If you are on a project as an employee of a contracting company, is it honorable or naive to think you should stay with that employer through the term of that project and not pursue other offers?
A: Yes it is honorable and the right thing to do from a professional perspective, but there are exceptions.
The keys are communication and timing. An experienced consultant knows there are times that are more appropriate for him or her to transition from an assignment, and this guides their actions.
For example, a Project Manager would not leave in the middle of a project. They would wait until completion a phase or key deliverables, and / or have a successor ready to take over for them. A Business Analyst would not leave in the middle of client interviews or JAD sessions, but rather upon acceptance of business requirements by the stakeholders and sponsors.
Still, opportunities sometimes present themselves at the most inopportune times. Should a career opportunity present itself while you are in the midst of another engagement, my recommendations are to:
- Work with your consulting company to discuss the situation and develop a plan. If you truly have a career opportunity, chances are they will want you to leave on a good terms as a friend (and potential future client!).
- Have at least one contigency plan developed that will help ensure the client’s success without your presence.
- Time your departure to minimize impact to the client and engagement.
Similarly, there may be personal reasons you may need to leave an assignment (ex: care for a sick relative), and these are generally understood. Still, the same rules apply.
However, these exceptions occur maybe only 10% of the time. A position that simply yields shorter drive time or is closer to your favorite beverage provider is hardly the same as a “career opportunity”! I recommend in the vast majority of cases they commit to and fulfill the duration of the engagement, particularly if they plan on workng as a professional consultant for their career.
Q: What other things should prospective employers and candidates be thinking about?
A: For the employer: Building the right culture and team. For the candidate: Career management, from a broad perspective and for the long term.
The most successful organizations all share a few things in common:
- They are crystal clear from the top of the organization to the bottom about the business they are in, where it is going, and what is happening in the environment that might impact it.
- They expect and develop high performance from all areas of the organization, and constantly strive for improvement.
- They treat the hiring employees as the most sacred and important duty they have.
Right now we are seeing companies hire strong technical and analytical individuals who have traditionally worked as consultants and who happen to be on the market. These professional consultants are taking Full Time Employee positions as a “safe haven” while the economy recovers. I am betting most of these folks will return to consulting within two years.
Why? Because they are not the right long term fits for the organization, and the culture is at odds with what they are all about. My experience has been that once an individual becomes accustomed to consulting / contracting, the tend to prefer it over full time employment.
From a candidate perspective, we all understand that we need to think about continually adding skills, knowledge, and capability to our portfolio so that we can evolve to the jobs of tomorrow. We need to understand what is happening in the industry / business sector we are in. But there is one more thing we need to think about.
At certain points during our professional careers, we need to take risks. We need to move beyond our traditional area of expertise into roles that require different knowledge and skills. We need to put ourselves in situations where there is risk of failure so that we challenge ourselves and grow. Why? Because we are in a world where organizations, jobs, and even entire industries can shrink significantly or even vanish almost overnight.
Ask yourself: “Do I have 20 years of experience, or 2 years of experience 10 times over?”. If it is the latter, I hope you have a contingency plan from a financial perspective.
I tell my college age kids that there are only a few things they have to think about in order to manage their careers:
- Work in a job where you get to do the things you like to do, that you enjoy doing, and are interesting to you.
- Understand how you get paid, where the money that pays your salary comes from.
- Study and understand what is happening in your company and industry, and the forces that are impacting its future. Adjust as necessary.
Pretty simple stuff, yet most of us get so wrapped up in the skills and knowledge required for our respective disciplines that we forget to consider the big picture.