Times have changed when it comes to employment duration. Gone are the days where the norm is 20+ years at one company where a person would retire as a middle manager. Also gone are the days where a person would work an 8-5 job and leave it all at his/her desk at the end of the day. This is especially true in creative fields such as design and development. My own history is a prime example; I am 32 years old, have been a full-time employee for 11 years, and am on my fifth job. All of my departures have been my choice and not all of the switches have been a step up.
I don’t want to bore you with the details of all of my job changes, so those will be kept brief. I’ve been lured away by all the popular temptations: more money, the chance to be the mythical “rockstar” that job postings are always seeking, and perceived coolness of a company. There were also a few where I simply disagreed on the direction of the company.
I’ve been at my current job for over three years now. We’re a team providing website, custom software, and marketing services. It’s a great company with really good people. Our employee count is in the middle teens, and I genuinely like every single person I work with. The benefits and small perks make life pretty good sometimes. We have the newest software right when it’s released. We have flexible work hours and casual dress code. We have our issues as does any company, but compared to my previous jobs those are truly “first world” issues.
So with all the great things I can say about my current job, why is my flight instinct starting to kick in? I’m not actively seeking new employment, but the thought has crossed my mind in the past few months. I’ve been clicking on the LinkedIn recruiter spam instead of just deleting it and I’ve been checking a few websites just to see what’s out there. A few weeks ago I took a few days away from everything and thought about my career in general, including reviewing my history and trying to get a handle on everything. I came up with a list of things I wish I understood ten years ago.
Take Control Of Your Career Goals
Your employer generally is not going to lead you down a route that will make you marketable; that’s up to you to do. If you don’t define what you want to do, communicate your desired path, and find an employer that will let you do it, you will end up doing what they need you to do. Will this make you happy? I’ve spent years working with technologies that I didn’t care for using maddeningly bloated project management methodologies. Coincidentally, I’ve spent a lot of hours staring at the clock waiting for 5:00.
Find What Makes You Special
In job interviews I’ve stated that troubleshooting skills, a solid foundation in many technologies, and ability to use my resources to solve problems were attributes that made me stand out. Only recently have I discovered that it’s actually enthusiasm: for the tools I use, for the problems I solve, for the people in the trenches with me. Put me on a project that excites me and I work early, work late, go the extra mile to make sure it’s done well. And I’ll be the happiest person on the planet while doing it. On the flipside, if I’m on a project that is less than desirable, you’ve taken away my greatest asset and I’m going to struggle through it.
Find An Employer With A Goal
My first job was at a manufacturing organization. The thing I liked the most about it was that everybody worked together for one purpose: To have product roll off the production line. Everything else was secondary. I haven’t been able to find that kind of obvious direction in other industries. In finance I felt like everything was so abstract and the major returnable wasn’t much more than figures that didn’t mean all that much to me. In the agencies I often felt/feel that the goal is simply to bill hours so the company could make revenue and we could earn a paycheck. I need to be a part of something bigger to get me through some of the more challenging days.
Communicate With Your Boss
It’s so important to let your employer know where you stand with each other. Tell your manager how you feel about the items listed above. Take the conversation above your general job performance and more about where you’re going as a developer and employee. One of my major weaknesses is my inability to put disappointment or frustration into words immediately. It takes me some time to be able to adequately express exactly why I feel the way I do. I mentioned above that I was considering investigating other opportunities. If I accepted a new position I feel it would blindside my coworkers because I haven’t adequately voiced my concerns and that’s not fair to anybody.
Making A Change Is OK
It’s fine to change jobs. It really is. You’re going to be working for a large portion of your life, so you had better be doing something you enjoy. If you have defined career goals then you need to work at a place with parallel goals. I think back to an old episode of The Wonder Years where Kevin got to accompany his dad to work for a day. At the end of the episode he realized his dad hated what he did and was treated like garbage, but he did it for the good of his family. What a terrible message in today’s age. Maybe it’s part of the “entitlement” that is being attributed to younger generations, but I believe that everybody has the right to chase something better.