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I know that "jumpers" who change jobs too often are often red flag for potential employers.

How about abandoning a company, which is in decline or outright in trouble? Do potential future employers expect me to be loyal to the previous company and "go down with the ship"?

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    It would be helpful to include more information on what your role in the organization is. In many roles in the US, such as banking and retail, job options are slim to none, and one should hold on for as long as possible. In software work one needs to have a resume circulating for some time, and be ready to relocate if necessary. – Meredith Poor Jun 30 '13 at 20:57
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    How long have you been with the company. If you joined the company recently, did you do any research on the company prior to joining? – Jaydee Jul 2 '13 at 12:51
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Regardless what they expect, if you see the ship sinking best to save your life and assets ASAP. I'm yet to see any sensible recovery once the process started. If you see that the best people start leaving in small (or large) groups, it's a sure sign.

Why you left is a common question, but if your answer is honest, and is about "the place became not good for me any longer" the only company that would expect you to have stayed anyway, would be just as rotten, and did you a favor by passing.

12

Managers or senior employees wouldn't be expected to jump ship at the first sign of trouble. It's their job to sort out trouble, they are responsible to shareholders, customers, and staff, and what's more, they are paid for their responsibilities. A bit like the captain of a ship, you'd hope the most senior staff would try to stay on board to fix the problems.

Having said that, middle managers can be in a position of seeing all the problems, from above and below their position, and not being able to do anything about it except try to bail out water, which can be a very difficult position.

For someone in a more junior position, if you are enjoying the job, like your teammates, and think you can be part of the fight to turn it around, and you are not too worried about your next pay packet, why not stick around? Otherwise best to find somewhere safer. As you say, the only risk is future employers seeing several short-term positions, if you are unlucky to have a run of failing employers.

The bottom line however for all concerned is that a failing company can be a depressing or stressful place to work, and it is never worth putting your job above your health.

  • Just to make it clear, I am not in managerial position, nor in any position to effectively influence the business decisions taken by the management. – NotTheCapitanOfTheTitanic Jun 30 '13 at 18:58
  • @NotTheCapitanOfTheTitanic In that case I don't think there's any ethical or professional reason to stick around if you think it's going down. – TooTone Jun 30 '13 at 19:59
9

Alot of this adds up to patterns.

Frequent Job Changes

There's times that it works, and times when it doesn't. I'm not going to define "frequent" - it varies by location, industry and current market state... but in general:

  • Contractors and Known Temporary Work - never really a big deal. This generally a job choice, and people who like lots of job change are good fits for this. The corallary is that anyone who does lots of short term work is expected to have mastered the techniques of ramping up fast, getting work done and doing closure well at the end of the project.

  • Small/Risky Companies - my general experience has been that those who prefer smaller/riskier companies tend to have a shorter time frame in any given company. Small companies themselves come and go quickly and people who work in this area view their careers more as an evolution of skills, not a growth within a single firm. Abrupt ends to jobs or leaving because of extremely risky financial status is not unusual.

  • Bigger/More Stable Jobs/Companies - the bigger a company is, the more it will look for employees with a tendancy to long-term commitment. A massive company isn't likely to change (or die) very quickly, and there's usually a tremendous organizational overhead to be learned. This is the area where there is a really low return on investment in the early months, and so it becomes very important to keep people around. While no longer the norm across most corporate culture, the biggest/oldest companies are also where you will the "lifers" with 20-30 years of experience in the company, so that the "new kid" has only 10 years.

Trends vs. Uncontrollable Choices

There's plenty of cases where an atypical choice will occur in any job history pattern. When starting a new job, there are a ton of unknowns and plenty of unfortunate situations that can startup. Cases include:

  • Hidden financial status - no one told you this company was going under, and while financial information is reported for any publicly traded company, the link between the real accounting status and the one presented on paper is often deliberately obscured. Accounting isn't as black and white as one might believe - just look at some of the great financial scandals.

  • Hidden Jerks - whether you misjudged your boss, your team, or just didn't know what this group was REALLY like, there are conceivable cases where you just need to get out. I never advocate this as the first thing to do, generally rising above this sort of adversity builds character, and "jerk like behavior" can often come from a need to change a communication pattern, something you yourself can control. That said, I can conceive of cases that so extreme that I can understand that "stick it out" isn't a universally good plan.

  • Job not at described - there are ranges, particularly in knowledge work, where the job description is QUITE broad. But I'm willing to believe there are some really extreme cases here - for example, getting hired for a skill set you don't have and never advertised about yourself. It happens.

In these cases, I say be aware of trends. Coming into a singlular mess and looking for a new job very quickly thereafter isn't such a career killer. It's not unreasonable to say, in these cases, that the job is not at ALL what you expected.

The thing I watch for is a trend. Regardless of the reason, when a candidate comes in with numerous short time job changes, I have to ask "why the trend?" In contractors and risky company lovers - the trend is legitimate - it's a context of the work. But when talking to a candidate that says he wants a long term, stable situation, and seeing a case of many job changes - you wonder what's going on. Working through adversity is part of most jobs, so a trend of leaving when the going gets tough makes one wonder what will happen if it gets tough in this job.

Going Down With the Ship

These days, there's no 100% answer here. Quite often, individual contributors with serious family commitments and an inability to tolerate financial risk will leave when a company gets into really bad shape. Being in a company going through a mass exodus is pretty obvious - there's been many bad financial quarters, the best of the best start leaving and the work becomes grueling and unpleasant. It's not usually an expectation that you stay, although I've seen cases where smart companies will offer great options to those who are willing to take the risk and stay. It's got a lot to do with the personal tradeoffs involved.

I'm not even sure that these days management is expected to stay - particularly in a large-scale organization, the various levels of management can be so deep and so removed from the ability to affect change, that staying on the sinking ship won't change anything.

I'll say that at a certain level, a manager or executive is expected to be accountable for the decisions and how they affect both the company and the people. A manager or executive develops an industry reputation, and how you act in a crisis is a big part of that. Obfuscating the state of the company's finances while looking for a new job is probably NOT the reputation that most managers want to build. Being honest and caring, even during a layoff - is the mark of a good manager.

I'd put it in more positive terms, though - being the guy who was there to "turn the lights off" - is often a mark of disctinction. It's like being the last kid "alive" in a game of dodgeball - you clearly had to have some skills to survive in that environment. If you're willing to take the risk (and you can, with your personal constraints) - you might just learn a LOT which makes for a great sell on the next job.

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    "Quite often, individual contributors with serious family commitments and an inability to tolerate financial risk will leave when a company gets into really bad shape" IME just the opposite, those stay till last and seal the doom. Obviously the first ones to leave are who have NO fear of being between work, and can easily find one that is no worse. Leaving just the locked-in population with false hopes. – Balog Pal Jul 1 '13 at 15:30
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    Only if you think that leaving means quitting with no other opportunities in hand. Most people in my field/location will start the job search ASAP, and quit when they have another offer in hand. I'm not sure what you mean by "locked in" - do you work in area where it's not possible to look for a job while currently employed? – bethlakshmi Jul 1 '13 at 15:34
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    +10: For Hidden Jerks and Job not at described. 100% true. – Jim G. Jul 1 '13 at 15:35
  • @bethlakshmi: I talk about people who got accustomed for long at one company, but most their knowledge is not usable in a different context, also have mortgage, young children, etc. – Balog Pal Jul 1 '13 at 15:42
6

I know that "jumpers" who change jobs too often are often red flag for potential employers.

Sometimes, this is indeed the case; but there are exceptions.

  1. Contractors are in an entirely different category because they are hired at a certain wage for a certain amount of time. If they are still needed, and they perform well and the price is right and the contractor wishes to continue working for the same employer, then the contract may be renewed. But it's important to note that there are at least four prerequisites which must be met for the contract to be renewed. When a contractor moves on, one cannot conclude that he/she did not perform his/her job well; there are other things in play.
  2. Modern economic and social conditions have frayed the ties of loyalty between the employer and the employee. An employer should not expect to retain an employee for a lengthy amount of time and an employee should not expect to stay with an employer for a lengthy amount of time. There are just too many economic and social variables in play to solidify such expectations.
  3. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes "a lengthy stay" with an employer.
  4. Even if a candidate is perceived as a "jumper", the employer may need an employee for only a short amount of time. If the candidate is a solid performer, then the "jumper" aspect of the candidate's resume may not be a concern.

How about abandoning a company, which is in decline or outright in trouble? Do potential future employers expect me to be loyal to the previous company and "go down with the ship"?

At the interview, if there are any concerns, the hiring manager should ask the candidate why he/she left a job (or jobs). If the candidate articulates valid reasons for leaving, then this should alleviate any concerns.

2

I think it is far better to leave a company on your own terms than ride it in the crater, or worse yet, be laid off and thus be proven as damaged goods.

My experience is all in smaller software startups, but in my world the general perception is that the best people will leave a company voluntarily if the high performing employee perceives the company is failing.

A common perception is that the second tier performers will wait until they are laid off or the company folds altogether.

'Loyalty' is not a highly valued asset in this day and age.

  • I think you need to reference something to back up the claims A common perception is that the second tier performers will wait until they are laid off or the company folds altogether. and 'Loyalty' is not a highly valued asset in this day and age. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 1 '13 at 17:42
  • @Chad - 18 years of experience – Jim In Texas Jul 2 '13 at 18:31
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    That is one person. I have had over 20 years of experience that would not agree with your conclusions which is why I said the answer needs a reference for those statements. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 2 '13 at 19:21
  • @Chad - you go first. Where is your 'reference'? We've had different experiences. Let the OP decide who to belive. – Jim In Texas Jul 3 '13 at 20:25
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    I did not make a claim of fact. It is the rules of this SE that you back up your claims... you are not doing that. If you do not want to or are unable to because your claim is completely false then I understand but you should probably not keep the anwer here in that case. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 4 '13 at 22:55
0

I would never admit leaving a company because it was in distress. I would find a better opportunity and move forward with that. Admitting to a potential employer that you "jumped ship" is in a way talking negatively about a former employer. This is seen almost universally as a bad thing when you are looking for a new job.

If you have a new job lined up it is much easier to explain that the new company had a better opportunity. If you are currently looking to jump ship, make sure you focus on the good points of the new opportunity rather than any problems your company is having.

If the company you work for has had publicized layoffs then the interviewer might ask how you feel about your security with your current company. I would still say that I feel comfortable with my position for now. Employers would rather hire employees that are valued by their current company. If you feel you are about the be cut then you are telling your interviewer you are not valued by your company, and that may not even be true. It is entirely reasonable to feel nervous about your future. It is expected that you will not show that nervousness in an interview. If you seem desperate to leave your current job it could also effect how much the company is willing to offer you.

Where it will look really bad is if you are an executive in a company. When a company hits hard times the executives are expected to work the hardest to right the ship. If you have time to find a new job then you were not working hard enough to save your company. And if you bail on one company, future companies are likely to think you will jump ship again when they need you most.

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