When I graduated college in the mid-1970s with a B.A. in English, my first job was as a busboy in a downtown Memphis, TN, restaurant.
After a week, I was promoted to cashier. I was tempted to hang my Vanderbilt diploma behind the checkout counter next to the health department rating. It was an inauspicious beginning to say the least.
Thankfully, my stint in the restaurant business was short-lived, and I was able to eventually work my way into a writing job, thus beginning a 30-year career in corporate communications.
I'm often asked by those in the early stages of their careers about the pros and cons of job hopping. It isn't uncommon these days for young communications pros to change jobs multiple times in their first five years after college. Is this smart? Does this form the right foundation for long-term career success?
Obviously, there isn't a single, simple answer. I know several individuals who have changed jobs frequently in their early careers, benefiting greatly from the range of experience gained. Others have been equally successful working for at least five years at each company or firm they have served. My caution to those who ask has more to do with the motivation behind each change rather than the number of times they jump.
Young pros are sometimes enticed to make a switch purely for financial gain or for loftier-sounding titles that imply greater stature in an organization. While this is understandable, I've seen many situations when changes made solely for those reasons ultimately proved to be detours on a successful career track.
I encourage those at the early and mid-stages of their careers to instead look for opportunities to expand their capabilities and experience, thus broadening the range of their portfolio. These growth opportunities can often be found while working for their current employer. It isn't always necessary to go through the considerable risk involved in changing companies.
In evaluating these opportunities, I suggest an honest self-exam that poses three questions:
Do I honestly feel I will like and respect my prospective boss? If the interviewing process doesn't allow adequate contact to assess this, ask for more time. You'll regret not doing so if the fit isn't right.
Do I believe the prospective organization has a culture and values that match my own, and co-workers with whom I'll enjoy working? Again, avoid the temptation to gloss over inconsistencies that will cause problems later.
Will the work for which I'm being considered fill in gaps in my own experience and provide interesting, challenging opportunities to learn, contribute, and grow? It may sound obvious, but often it is a question that is given short shrift in the glow of being recruited.
I have found through my own experience and that of friends and colleagues that one old adage remains true: If you pursue something for which you have a genuine passion, more often than not you will find the financial rewards will follow. Conversely, if you're working at something you truly don't enjoy, no amount of money will ever be enough.
Tom Martin is SVP of corporate relations at ITT Industries.