Thursday, February 10, 2011

Career? What Career?

Today an old friend/colleague called up to say he has got a job in Calcutta, his hometown, which would pay him more than what he is making right now. (I was happy as well as surprised because Calcutta doen't have a great job market.)

Meanwhile, his current employers are trying to delicately dissuade him from leaving them. Even after he resigned, they put him on a career training programme which will cost the company a tidy sum. They have also promised to move him to their Calcutta branch.

Whether he should stay or go has left my friend a little indecisive. He has worked in his current company for almost four years, done well and been promoted. He is comfortable with his job and can continue for couple of years more and probably grow without too many challenges. But this comfortable environment mayn’t offer him much to learn.

Although the next company is smaller than his current one, the role would include some amount of learning. The role has some technical elements (my friend is a generalist) which the company would train him in. He would also get a few thousands more.

So should my friend stay or leave?

My friend’s problem is a typical mid-career problem where we struggle to balance mainly three concerns– money, career and skills. I am no management guru; still my thoughts may be worth reading.

The current company will help him have a comfortable job with a decent salary and some growth prospects. But his skills as a worker will remain the same. And few years on, with little bit of growth both in salary and position, he will either find himself in a project management or people management role. By the time he reaches there, he would be in his mid to late thirties with an over-bloated IT salary, minimal options outside his company and good 20 years of work life left before him.

But some would argue there is nothing wrong with this situation. It will make his career stable and he can also grow slowly. This simplistic approach misses more than it catches.

People who have stayed in companies for very long know staying doesn’t necessarily mean growing. Most stagnate, some grow, only to eventually stagnate. By the time they stagnate, their bloated salaries and high position minimize the availability of employment options in the market.
But, if a company is looking to cut cost, won’t old employees be at a lesser risk of job loss than the newer ones? How people in high-cost geographies lost jobs during recession, some of whom even after spending long years with their employers, blows this conventional theory to bits.

The reason why people like to spend long time in companies is that they place more importance on career than skills. What they forget is we don’t work for a vague indefinable thing like career but to meet immediate needs, ensure material prosperity and security. Of course, concern for career remains but it occupies a secondary position.

When you consider a new offer, first you look at two things: how the additional ten thousand (your increased salary will bring) will help you pay your car EMIs and whether you would be able to play the role comfortably. And then you look at how big the company is.

Your salary will help you meet your needs and your ability to perform your role will help you sustain the salary. The size of your company, on the other hand, will give you long-term stability which will help your career. But if the new role hadn’t fetched additional ten thousand or if you hadn’t been very confident of whether you would be able to perform the role, would you still join the company because of its size? No.

So skills are more important. They help you survive not just in one company but in any company. Regard for skills is where comes the willingness to acquire new skills and that keeps you mentally agile helping you to respond to varied situations and challenges either through use of existing skills or by acquiring new ones. And if you have the wit to survive, you will also find a way to grow.

Spending long time in companies has a merit, too. It exposes you to various challenges and it's by overcoming them that you can stay. So it's not necessary that if you stay in a  company for long, you don't learn. But you have to constatly remind yourself that just because  you have a comfortable job today, it doesn't mean tomorrow you will not need  to look for another one. And keep yourself ready for that.

A job that helps you get another job is a good job.


Ghosh said...

well written well thought out post

indrablog said...

Thanks, sir.

Ellen said...

Beautifully written. Makes sense, real good sense.

indrablog said...

Thanks, Elen, for visiting.

India Tourism said...

Very nice...

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