I’m far from a job-hopper – I like to stick with a company for as long as I can. The grass looks greener on the other side of the fence because it’s Astroturf. But when you’re in a long-term relationship – whether it’s with a company or your significant other – the tiniest things can drive you crazy. We start to dwell on those small problems, and they bother us more and more until we’re ready to walk away and start again somewhere else over the tiniest thing. Maybe we got passed up for that 3% raise this year, or the boss refuses to send us to a conference, or she just won’t let us buy the latest and greatest TV.
Knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em boils down to a simple equation.
When the risk exceeds the reward, it’s time to move on. The reward – the real real reason you work is to stop working. You want to take care of yourself and the ones you love today, and at some point down the road, you’d like to be able to do that without punching a clock. Maybe you’ll be able to get there by starting a company, making passive income, or just withdrawing from a retirement fund. In a perfect world, you’d have a plan to get there, but if you don’t, that’s okay.
Your job is risky because your current knowledge becomes less valuable over time. If you don’t learn new stuff, you’ll find that the worth of your current knowledge steadily degrades over time. As technologies and techniques age, more free documentation and training becomes available for them, and more people take advantage of that training. College courses and vocational courses become available. Next thing you know, you’re competing with fresh-out-of-college workers and offshore workers who have incredibly low salary requirements. You become the senior guy, but the company can replace you with multiple dirt-cheap junior guys, and now you’re competing in a very big applicant pool.
To increase your value, you need training and experience in a valuable niche. If you’re lucky, your company wants to invest in your worth too, but they have a selfish reason for it. See, if you learn a valuable skill that they need, they won’t have to hire a pricey stranger to do it. They can just spend a little on your training and suddenly get a more valuable employee. No, they probably won’t give you a raise for your new-found skills – that’ll come a year later after you prove yourself. If you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, your company won’t spend money on your training at all, and you’ll be forced to invest in yourself if you want to grow your salary.
Increased responsibilities doesn’t always mean an increased long-term reward. If you’re a developer, and your company starts adding management responsibilities to your plate in exchange for a few thousand dollars more per year, don’t assume this is the start of something big. The more political work you’re forced to do, the less technically savvy you become. You’ve only got so many hours per week to learn new skills. Either you’re going to improve your technical skills OR your management skills, but not both – or if you split your learning time, you won’t be able to keep up with peers on either the technical or management sides. Different responsibilities means more risks of being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
When you take the next job, understand its risks and the rewards. Just because your current job is too risky and not rewarding enough doesn’t mean that the next one is better. Decide how big of a gamble you’re willing to take – and consider the possibility of starting your own company. The risk is huge – but then, so is the reward. Have you thought about making yourself a job offer? If your current self-offer isn’t good enough, how do you get to the point where you can make yourself an offer you can’t refuse?