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Job Hopping, Corporate Style

In our last post, we looked at the importance of not giving up and changing a bad situation even when it seems impossible. Around the same time, Mark Suster began a mini Internet feeding frenzy by penning a post warning against hiring job hoppers.

Which makes for an interesting question. How long should you try to change your situation before you “hop” to another job?

Suster kind of marks job hoppers as the employee who jumps ship the minute things start to look bleak. When that round of funding falls through, this employees leap to the safety of a corporate job instead of rallying around their company and overcoming the odds.

But how many times should you rally before you are rallied out? How many 100-hour weeks should you put in before you realize your company is sucking you dry?

It’s an interesting dichotomy- and it can get magnified at a big company. On one hand, you have to realize that at most companies, you are a resource, tool or instrument. It sounds harsh, but loyalty is only as good as the times.

No amount of 100-hour workweeks will change that. Yet, you risk getting the hopper label if you make a habit of bailing for such situations- and I understand that. Companies commit a lot of resources to initiatives. A lot of time, money and effort is required just to get a project off the ground.

Having a key member of that initiative leave can be a death blow.

So, there are two issues here:

  1. When is it OK to leave?
  2. How can you do so without getting labeled a job hopper?

To answer the first question, it’s OK to leave when you’ve exhausted your alternatives. You’ve tried changing the environment. You’ve talked with your supervisor. You’ve made an effort to adapt to company culture. Despite all that, you’re still unhappy and don’t enjoy where you are. At that point, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

Now, you can do this and avoid being a job hopper with two simple pieces of advice:

Be upfront and be honest.

If you are getting hired or getting a promotion or getting put on a crucial new project, sit down with an honest one-on-one with your supervisor or main stakeholder. Ask what type of commitment they need from you.

I’ve done this twice at ESPN. When ESPN interviewed me, my hiring manager asked if this was a stepping stone to something bigger of if I wanted to be at ESPN long-term. I told him that working for ESPN had been a dream of mine for years. But I also told him the future holds a lot of uncertainties. Despite being a dream, perhaps I would come to realize that I did not fit in. Or Company X could call and offer me eight figures a year to play air hockey.

The point is, who knows what is going to happen?

So here is what I told him. I told him that, because of those uncertainties, I couldn’t promise that I’d be at ESPN in five years. But I told him that I could give him a one-year commitment. That barring an emergency, I would stay at ESPN for at least a year.

That was good enough for him.

The second time was right before I was promoted from developer to manager and asked to move to Los Angeles from Bristol, CT. This was the start of a brand new group, and I would be the No. 2, reporting to a VP- we were a small group. He knew that there were a lot more companies in Los Angeles than in Bristol that would be bidding for my services, so he asked me for a two-year commitment before I took the promotion.

I told him I couldn’t give it to him, yet. I did a lot of soul searching and job research. I talked to my mentors and came back and told him I could guarantee him two years. He ended up leaving right after two years, and I’m still with ESPN.

Neither of these were written contracts. These commitments were based on my word, which I proved was good. In turn, that showed that I wasn’t trying to use the company and would stick by it as long as I was treated fairly.

This isn’t something revolutionary. Just be thorough, honest and upfront.

Then, if you have to leave, you can do so without a blemish on your conscious or your resume.

Author:

Cody is a Product Manager at ESPN. He manages, conceptualizes and develops many of the social aspects of ESPN.com. He also is Found and CEO for Gunner Technology, Inc an end-to-end Web strategy company, providing solutions for small businesses. To find out more, read his blog, follow him on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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