The Dangers of Becoming a Lifer: Why College Grads in IT Should Job Hop

Posted By Terri Williams on July 25, 2016 at 7:33 am
The Dangers of Becoming a Lifer: Why College Grads in IT Should Job Hop

Securing a job that matches your education, skills, and abilities – and also pays well – is no small feat. While those who understand and master the 7 facts college graduates should know when seeking a job may have a competitive edge, the hunting/interviewing process is neither simple nor easy. And once hired, employees may be tempted to settle in for the long haul rather than job hop.

However, staying too long in one position can actually be a career hazard in some professions. According to recent research by Randstad, employees in Information Technology who remain with one company for an extended period of time may jeopardize their chances for success. Workers in this job sector have a distinct advantage, especially since three of the top 10 careers for Generation Z – in terms of wages and job growth – are in information technology.

Dino Grigorakakis, vice president of Recruiting at Randstad Technologies, tells GoodCall that people who stay with companies for an extended period of time are referred to as “lifers.” But he explains that there is no one-size-fits-all description. “A lifer is not just someone who stays with one organization their entire career – it is also someone who stays in a job long after they should have moved on.”

Grigorakakis acknowledges that someone may find a job that provides a good compensation plan, rewarding work, and a desirable career path, and it may be a good idea to remain with that company for an entire career. “For example, you sometimes hear of CEOs who started their careers at one firm and rose up through the ranks; those people might be lifers, but not in the sense that we’re talking about here.”

Dangers of becoming a lifer

When employees continue to remain in a job long after they should have explored other options, they’re subject to several negative effects. “For instance, over time you run the risk of closing off your options if you have to – or want to – leave your job,” Grigorakakis says. While he says that prospective employers may be suspicious of workers who change jobs every two years or so, they’re also apprehensive of lifers. “Many, if not most technology employers, look at a ‘lifer’ as someone who might have grown complacent in their attitudes toward work and perhaps let their skills slip or become too content with the status quo.” Grigorakakis warns that firms that want to develop innovative products or deploy new technologies won’t find these individuals attractive.

But beyond the suspicious glances from potential hiring managers, there are other disadvantages of remaining too long in the same position. “If boredom sets in, it can have a negative impact on the employee’s self-esteem; we spend too much time in our work to find ourselves trapped in a boring slot with no easy way out.”

Lifetime earnings – another reason to job hop

Staying in a job too long can also significantly reduce an individual’s lifetime earnings because each company usually structures raises and bonuses within a certain range. Grigorakakis says this can limit an employee’s salary growth potential. “Even if you’re an outstanding employee, it’s unlikely that you’re going to see a 10% annual compensation increase if your cohorts are averaging 3%.” So he says that finding a higher-paying job is the most practical way to get a significant increase in compensation.

According to Randstad’s recent 2016 Workplace Trends Guide, raises in the IT industry for 2016 are in the 3% range, Grigorakakis says. Based on this formula, he makes the following observations:

  • If you’re making $90,000, you’ll see an additional $2,700.
  • Given that inflation is running in the 2.1% to 2.4% range, that means an increase in real income of less than 1%, or in this instance about $1,000 extra.
  • If you’re an outstanding worker, you may get a 5% raise.
  • The increase in your real income is close to 3% – so that’s a “real” raise of around $2,500.

However, Grigorakakis says that IT workers who change jobs could see a 10% to 15% increase, and it could go as high as 20%. “Even if it’s only a 10% increase, that translates into a $4,500 difference over staying put and getting a 5% raise.” Over the course of a career, that can have a significant impact on total lifetime earnings.

The Randstad graph below illustrates his points. Using conservative projections, it shows the differences in annual salaries for lifers versus those who change jobs every 4 years over a 20-year period. At the end of 20 years, the lifer earns $157,813, and the worker who changed jobs every 4 years earns $219,243, which is almost 40% more.

Job hop benefits

And, Grigorakakis adds, “This example doesn’t take into account the difference in wealth created between the two through investment of portions of their salaries.”

When should an employee consider a job hop?

Each person may have specific circumstances that could alter the “correct answer” to this question. However, Grigorakakis recommends four to five years. “That length of time gives prospective employers some confidence that you won’t be looking for your next gig the day after you start your new job.”

But he says it also demonstrates that you’re not the type of person to sit around growing stale; you want to keep developing and improving to keep advancing in your career. “If the job candidate’s resume showcases a history of learning new skills, taking on challenging assignments, and not resting on one’s laurels, prospective employers are more likely to feel comfortable,” Grigorakakis says.

Weighing the Risks Vs. the Rewards

However, this is not a fail-proof formula, and as with anything else, there are risks. For example, Grigorakakis says you may end up hating your new job, or after you join the company, it may go out of business. “Making a job change should be about more than just the money, but workers should be aware that if they settle into a job for too long they are likely to earn less, maybe significantly less, than their counterparts who knew when to move,” Grigorakakis concludes.

Bruce Harpham, founder of ProjectManagementHacks, a career advice website, agrees that changing jobs every few years can increase your salary. “However, going from one Java developer job to another and then to another starts to hit diminishing returns,” Harpham says.  After you reach a certain point, he says you’ll top off for that specific position.

Harpham also advises IT workers to develop measurable skills and have impressive accomplishments in each role. “If you change jobs too quickly, you will leave a trail of half complete projects and angry managers behind you; that kind of reputation can hurt your career for years to come.”

He echoes Grigorakakis regarding those who aspire to upper leadership roles. “For example, if your goal is to move into management, then it makes sense to stay at a company until you are promoted to that level; it is difficult to move to a new company and get promoted all in one move.”

He also notes that job candidates must be able to explain why they’re moving around. “You should be able to tell a coherent story explaining your moves, such as ‘I wanted to launch a new iOS app from start to end; once I accomplished that goal at XYZ corporation, it was time to move to my next challenge.’”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

You May Also Like