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03/14/2004: "Flight Risk"

NFT Feature|AMP|#160;|AMP|#160;My wife was recently flipping through the flyers that routinely appear at our doorstep. She came upon some sort of freebie local activity guide, and started reading through it. Upon coming to the Humour section, she found a list of "new words for the high-tech generation", some of which were pretty funny, and three of which described me pretty well. The first was "mouse potato"; the online, wired generation's answer to the couch potato. Naturally. Next was "idea hamster"; a person who always seems to have their idea generator running. NFT readers will know that this is me to a T. The last one is both relevant and timely, "flight risk"; an employee who is suspected of planning to leave a company or department soon. While I'm almost certain no one suspects me at this point in time, I am, and have spent a lot of my career being a flight risk. Why?

Looking over my résumé, I have to wonder what I've been doing wrong. To this point in my professional career, I've only held one job longer than two years. That was my first job, which also came with a tidy bonus at the two-year mark, which helped keep me in place to some degree. Every other job I've had hasn't lasted past two years, and thus I have a rather long, untidy résumé. From my perspective I believe I have valid reasons for each professional transition I've made, but the frequency of these transitions is starting to both make me wonder what I need to do differently, and has prompted questions from those reviewing my résumé. Those questions aren't hard to answer, but the fact that they are asked means that a little red flag has been raised: "This guy might not stick around."

The reasons I've left the jobs I've had are, in order: the company's career path for me is diverging from what I want; I need to be closer to home; they fired me; and, they couldn't pay me. The reason I'm sitting on now is likely the most valid of them all; the company hasn't made a profit in 5 years, have been bailed out twice before, will be liquidated if they can't become profitable, and the CEO is leaving. Fun, huh? The only mistake I think I made in all of these changes was the second one. It was a good job, a good company, the work was interesting, but the commute was long. Some advice? Don't quit a job because the commute is long - you may regret your actions later, as I did. I left a good company for a decent company that decided to fire me. That 45-minute commute looked pretty good after that.

I've know that my résumé has looked a bit scattered for some time, and I've wanted to find a job to stick to since 2000, at least. However, having been fired from one company, and landing in another company that just couldn't (or wouldn't) pay me, only to be picked up by a company rocketing towards rock bottom, my hope of "settling in for the next 5-10 years" really hasn't played out in any meaningful way.

Being only a week away from the 10-month anniversary of landing my current job, I'm already well into the search for a new job. This could turn out to be the shortest non-temporary full-time position I've ever held, but with sterling reasons. After working there for five months, a full company meeting was held and some very bad news given. In a nutshell, the company is bleeding money, proving a stupendously bad investment to their parent company, and is now going into last-ditch survival mode. Will the company be around in 2-4 years? I'm not sure I want to stick around to find out. What's more, Human Resources pretty much lied about my salary being negotiable when I went from a contract to full-time. That wouldn't be so bad if the non-negotiable salary they rigidly offered was half decent, but at 20% below the going average for my position and responsibilities, they really aren't giving me any reason to stay put. (Obviously they haven't read the studies proving that trying to cut costs through payroll is counter-productive.) Add in a few more factors that do nothing to help the company's position or how I do my job, and you've got yourself a pressing need to leave.

My career objectives, prominently displayed at the top of my résumé, states that I'm looking for both growth and learning opportunities in a position. What I'm implying there is that I don't want a job that will hold me for the next two years, I want a career that will captivate me for the next 10 or more. Every time I go into an interview I make sure I tell the interviewer(s) that I'm looking for something long-term; something to grow into, something to learn at, something to "sink my teeth into". Unfortunately, that something has been fairly elusive. Yes, at times my job can be interesting, however I've never had a position where I can look ahead two, five, or ten years and not see what might lie ahead. What I typically see is more of the same, with a different title. Companies with good opportunities for upward growth simply don't come a dime a dozen in my field, I suppose.

There is one explanation for my résumé looking the way it does that I could believe, and perhaps want to. Conceivably the notion of having a job for life, or even for a very long time, is still a very strong thread in our society. So much so that staying at a job for 10 years, or much more, seems like the norm. It could be argued, however, that today's job market simply doesn't work that way. Gone are the days that you can graduate highschool, land a low-end job at a major firm and work your way up through the ranks until you retire. Why is this? Perhaps employer-employee loyalty has faded away. Maybe a worker's willingness to commute long distances simply means they are more mobile professionally, and have a larger job market in which to promote themselves. The lightning-fast pace of technological change might also play a part, totally altering how a job is done in less than a decade, meaning a lifetime of experience isn't as useful as being able to adapt to new procedures, methods, and techniques. Maybe it's not my career and the choices I've made that are the problem, instead the problem is what society's perception (including my own) of what a "normal career" should look like is simply outdated.

Sounds like fairly solid reasoning, doesn't it? I would like to think so, but then one has to explain away all the classmates that have been with the same company since graduation, or are only on their second job, and thereby have quite leapfrogged me in terms of responsibility and seniority. One must also explain the coworkers that I now have that have been with this company for decades at a time. They may be of a vintage that still believes in the notion of a "job for life", or might still feel a strong company loyalty that prevents them from hopping around. It's also possible that both my classmates and coworkers have found what has thus far eluded me - an employer and work that satisfies an as yet unarticulated need that I can't readily put my finger on. Either I'm going to eventually land in the right position, or I'm going to have to find words for that need to be able to judge a potential employer against them.

I'd also really like to be able to qualify for more than two weeks of vacation per year. That means working somewhere for at least five years... or moving to Europe and getting 5 weeks to start. Hmmm...

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