Always Answer the Phone, Respond to the Email, and Go to the Interview

Several years ago I worked with someone who really felt he was happy at his job. Was he? I don’t know. He never mentioned not liking where we worked, but at the same time he never gave himself the opportunity to find something new. Each time a recruiter called about new employment opportunities, he blew them off and actively convinced them to not call again. Is this a problem? Outside of possibly being impolite, no, but it is limiting. By never inquiring about other opportunities, he never knew what he missed.

On my team, we have a rule: Always answer the phone, respond to the email, and go to the interview. It’s simple, if someone calls regarding a job opportunity, you must at least listen to their proposal. Upon hearing this, people surmise it is to remove under performers, or people who don’t mesh with the team. This isn’t the case. There are many reasons we have this rule, but they distill to two important goals.

  1. It forces the team to acknowledge anyone could leave at any time. Admittedly, this is self serving. Having one person with all the knowledge on a particular subject is an easy path towards failure. This scenario simply cannot exist in the long term.
  2. The more important reason is: We want our team members to succeed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean they should stay. Another position may allow them to grow with new responsibilities, it may allow them to learn new technologies, or it might be a better fit for them personally. By making it explicitly clear that we expect our team members to talk to recruiters and interview at other companies, everyone knows their best interests are placed above the necessities of the team. Everyone knows, this is just a job that might end tomorrow, and they also know your life is your life, and it might end tomorrow.

Even after explaining this, I get pushback. People tell me they are happy, they don’t want to take the effort interviewing, or risk what they have by changing jobs. I always respond to them with three points.

You don’t know what you don’t know

This is partially true for all industries, but it is especially pertinent for the tech industry. Things change all the time. Standards, applications, methodologies, approaches, and several other aspects constantly appear, influence, and fade. Your career is your career and no one else’s. Without constantly watching what is happening, you have no idea if your skills are relevant. The organization you work for does not have your best interests in mind. (Nor should it.) The people in charge can and must make decisions towards what is best for the organization, and it may not coincide with what’s best for you. Unless you actively take notice and explore other opportunities, you will never know where you stand in relation to everyone else.

You never know when you might need to change jobs in a hurry

My first job out of college, I worked at the same place for about 2 years when a friend called with shocking news, “Something is wrong. Your company has been delisted from the stock market.” Four hours later, everyone gathered in the cafeteria and management announced the company declared bankruptcy. Outside of a few people in accounting and the executive staff, no one knew there was a 50 million dollar debt payment due, and we couldn’t secure a line of credit to cover it. We were all dumfounded. We spent the last 6 months significantly reducing expenses and increasing income through new lines of business. There was nothing that could have prevented this, and outside of the executive staff, no one knew this was going to happen. One week later, over half the company was laid off while the rest stayed to handle the continuing business until they could sell the assets of the company.

Some people found jobs quickly, but others weren’t so lucky, because several of the development groups used waining technologies. Most of the staff never imagined this happening, and although they were decent at their jobs, companies didn’t want to spend time or money training new employees. It was unfortunate but true, and had the developers evaluated what they would need to find a new job, they might have had an easier time. What everyone learned was: Even if the job market is favorable to your occupation, it still takes time to make contacts, research potential opportunities, and move through the hiring process.

With this in mind would some of the people changed jobs earlier if they even remotely thought this was a possibility? I can say unequivocally, yes. There were several people that didn’t like working there at all, but they stayed, because they felt nothing was better than what they had. It’s much easier to be unhappy than it is to be confronted with the unknown.

Are you happy or are you comfortable

This is an important distinction. Most people confuse being comfortable with being happy. Happy is being able to say no to a better offer. Comfortable is being afraid that something better might come along forcing you to make a decision that might be unpleasant. Being comfortable is an illusion. It is a way of deceiving yourself so you don’t find another opportunity. Why is this true? It is true, because the fear of uncertainty is much more uncomfortable than the current unhappiness.

Jim Carrey during a commencement speech told a story about his dad and how he took a job that he didn’t want, because he thought it was the safe choice. The story ends with his dad losing his job, and Carrey said he learned many things from his dad, but especially, “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” The perfect job comes along once in a great while, and it is different for everyone. If you don’t actively pursue it, you’ll never know it’s there.

I have never worked at an organization where my job was completely secure for an extended period of time. I have worked for large companies and small ones. I have worked for startups and established organizations. You may not know it, but no matter where you work, something is always in flux. Whether it’s a major client that is considering leaving, a lack of proper accounting or even embezzlement, there is always something that could cause your position to not be there in the morning.

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