Oh, boy. Here we go again. Another post on job hopping. This will be my final word on the topic. I promise. My goal here is to move the debate forward, add my POV but not inflame things any further. Inflaming was never my goal. Let’s see if I can achieve that.
My WORD of the day is “loyalty.” It’s one of the angles that people who were angered by my original post the most found so offensive. I think because I implied too hard that job hoppers were disloyal. So rather than focus on that angle I’d like to focus on the opposite. The benefits of being extremely loyal.
My original post was directed at hiring managers. It said that I didn’t believe it was a good idea to hire job hoppers. I should have kept it in third person. I should have chosen less inflammatory words. I didn’t mean to be so insulting and I didn’t mean for the net to be cast so wide that many people wondered whether I was talking about them when I was speaking of “job hoppers.” I learned a lot from reading the comments. Most were constructive – even the ones that were harsh. I’ve already apologized for my tone so I hope you’ve accepted that.
My view still stands – for many hiring managers a large factor in looking through resumes of somebody who is 30+ and has never worked somewhere for more than 18 months will be the job hopping element. There is a high probability that the person you’re hiring will leave you within 18 months. You have at least 6 data points to suggest this. 3 or 4 may be for completely understandable reasons. Since recruiting is so time consuming and costly it is better to focus on people more likely to stay longer.
For those that disagree – let’s please just agree to disagree. It’s a subjective topic. We’ve all had more than enough of our views aired on this one. Moving on ….
My second post was directed at employees. I wanted to make it clear that I personally believe it is OK to quit a job in which you’re unhappy. I believe that it’s OK for young people to learn and try different roles, companies and geographies. If you’ve moved around a bit when you’re early in your career that won’t likely be held against you. Yes, I know that many employers are bad. I’ve worked for bad bosses before. I never implied that startups are all great and job hoppers are all at fault. I know that there has been downsizing and that has led to some job changes. Some amount of change is expected. It’s just that if you’ve had 6 jobs in a row of each 18 months or less the person who is looking to hire you at the next job is naturally going to wonder whether it’s a pattern. Your job will be to convince them that it’s not a pattern.
So I advised people with a lot of job hopping on their resumes to try and limit the number of them listed. Getting an interview is the first chance you have to convince the potential employer otherwise. If you want that advice please click on the link.
I also made in clear that I have NO problem with people who choose to be independent contractors as a career choice. To the contrary – if you know how to sell your own work, can negotiate good rates, network well, keep consistent work and have a great reputation – it can be very rewarding. If you’ve done it for a long time then I usually advise hiring managers to hire you as contractors and not full-time employees.
Finally, I made clear that there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule. They come in the form of personal references. No rule is ever absolute no matter how it sounds when one writes a blog.
But one theme really didn’t come through in either of my posts and it’s an important point. There is a lot of long-term value in loyalty. And I think this is sometimes missed by those who run to quickly to greener pastures.
The things you learn in tough environments
Most of what I learned about operating startups I learned from the really tough years at my first company from 2001-2003. That is when no customers wanted to work with Internet startups because we as an industry had burned so many customers. No employees wanted to join startups – they were all looking for stable jobs. My company had raised venture capital in April 2001 but we were told that there may never be any more coming. I was paid less in salary in 2004 than I was paid at the job I quit in 1999 (a job I had held 8+ years).
But in these years I learned how to sell software – necessity is the mother of all invention. I learned how to better run a product management process. I learned how to integrate customers into our product development process. I learned how to better set goals for employees and reward those that performed well. I learned how to retain employees when stock options were no longer a real currency. I learned how to get press coverage when we were no longer “hot.” I learned how to manage costs effectively. I learned that I had a lot to gain by not being so adversarial with my competitors.
I never built Google. I’ve acknowledged that many times. But in our first year of sales (and those were really shitty years to be selling software) we sold $2.1 million, then $5.9m, $7.7m and we ultimately sold when we hit $14 million and had more than $30 million in backlog revenue. I learned about revenue recognition. I learned how to establish a technology center in India and how to manage disparate development teams (and this has drive my thoughts also about what does NOT work.). I learned how to establish sales targets and how to manage a sales pipeline. I learned how to do a pipeline review with sales people without getting bullshitted to.
Listen, I’m not telling you these experiences are for everybody. But these are things you could never learn in 18 months. These are things that my team learned with me by sticking around. No doubt they have more intimate knowledge of these processes since they actually ran them. We let everybody “punch above their weight class” in terms of roles & responsibilities. We all learned. And eventually many of us also made money.
The relationships you build will be enduring
One of the things that Jason Calacanis talks about in his post on the topic is the value of personal loyalty. He’s right about this. The people that I’m closest with in life are: my family, my high-school & college friends and the people that I worked with in my startups. We were all at each other’s weddings, brit milah / baby namings and unfortunately a funeral. We were family. We ARE family. I would do anything for these people. I wrote a large check to one of them for a startup with no product and no real plan. He was there for me when I needed it. I sent numerous emails for another for a job opportunity and he is now a senior exec at a very prominent startup. He’s family and he knows it.
We were in the trenches together. We fought for every customer together. Hell – we fought against the VC’s together! And we all worked on the exit together. Like many of you, I have many friends and close relationships. But to anybody who has ever been on the startup battlefield with other people who all stuck in it together I think they’ll likely understand where I’m coming from. Loyalty in times of adversity separates out your true lifetime friends and colleagues. And to be clear – I was loyal back. I think leaders who quit in times of adversity and leave the teams to fend for themselves are no better than employees who quit easily and early. Quitting would have been the easiest thing for me to do.
I’m not saying that means that all people at startups were treated like family. If somebody at a startup mistreated you then I understand your not sticking around. And I’ve already stated that I understand sometimes it makes sense to go elsewhere and learn from new companies and new management. But if the reason your bailing is simply because somebody has offered you a 20% pay increase, I would ask you to consider the following:
Short-term vs. long-term benefits
Yes, you can always earn more by quitting. I said this all the time to the employees at my companies. “I know you can earn more by leaving. I hope that I can convince you to stay every year by making your resume more valuable in the long-term than the immediate bump to go where the grass is greener.”
Think about me as an example. I didn’t make retirement money when I sold my first company. But the firm that funded my first startup was loyal to me for having stuck around in what they knew to be pretty tough times and having suffered much dilution. They seed funded my second company and even let me buy some IP in exchange for debt to get started. The people that I brought to my second company all worked at my first company. I was loyal to this group of people and still am. I then sold my company to Salesforce.com and did finally make the money I had set out to make the first time. Our whole team earned good money and every single employee is still employed by Salesforce more than 3 years later.
Each of us could have traded in our jobs at any moment for a pay increase at any time. I think each and every one of us gained more in the long-run by having stuck with things. We have all gained both financially and in terms of career progression.
So how did I come to work in the world of venture capital?
That VC who saw me stick through hard times at my first company and get an exit at both companies is the firm where I’m now a partner. We built a long-term relationship. I knew my partners for 8 years before joining GRP. When I called them to say I was thinking about starting a new company they asked if I would consider joining them as a partner. It is nearly impossible to get a job as a general partner in a VC firm – let alone when you’ve never worked in venture capital. This came through the long-term commitments that I made years prior.
Again, I’m not trying to rub your nose in it if these aren’t the choices you make. I’m just trying to convey that sometimes long-term gains come from not making short-term moves that seemingly improve your bottom line and career trajectory. Make sure that you understand the pro’s / con’s for yourself and at least consider whether there might be longer-term implications for sticking around.
Their is huge value of personal networks in determining your long-term career trajectory. Mix that into your decision-making pot at the time you make the leap.