This article seems to summarize well the implications of at will employment: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/employment-at-will-definition-30022.html

I am a recent graduate and the majority of my co-workers at the company in question have advanced degrees / are very prolific in their fields. Is being at will a norm for such a starting position, and when would/does it usually change (e.g. when is employment secure so to speak)?

In the same line, would I continue to interview and look for jobs, since my employment would not be secure?

  • @JoeStrazzere The duration of the job is not specified as there's no contract, only a letter of agreement to sign, but it offers full benefits and all that jazz. Dec 16 '14 at 23:24

In an at-will state, employment is never truly secure. However, in an at-will state, it is not just the new employees who are at-will, it can be most or all of the employees too.

If the company is going through hard times, they may need to lay off very important people too. If there is politics going on, it can result in collateral damage of people at all levels. There really isn't any such thing as a completely secure job, and many good, competent, and advanced people end up laid off.

On the other hand, while most people don't work 30-40 years at the same job and then retire, there are still many companies and jobs where people do work for many years, even in at-will states.

When you should (generally) not be looking for a new job in an at-will state:

  • You've just started at that job, and it seems like a decent one.
  • You're happy with your work, your co-workers, your manager, and the company seems stable.
  • You haven't worked at the job for very long yet.

When you should be looking for a new job in an at-will state:

  • When the company appears shaky, is talking about layoffs, or you're having difficulty with the work or people.
  • When you've been at the job at least a couple of years and you want to see what else is out there.

Almost all of my positions have been at will and haven't caused me any problems. I tend to stay in the same position for 5-7 years and have worked for one company as long a 13 years. If you are good at what you do and you work well with your team, the company is not going to let you go just because you have less experience. Often, the more experienced employees are at a higher risk to be let go because they are more expensive.

In my opinion, you should always keep an open mind about new opportunities and keep your resume up to date and active in a couple of places that recruiters look. Even if you have no intention of actively looking for another job, any inquiries will give you an idea of what the employment market is like and also a hint as to what skills are "hot".

It is a mistake to only be open to a new opportunity when you think you might need one or when you're desperate to leave your current position. I have had several great opportunities fall into my lap just because I had a current resume out there. I do keep the details of my current company out of my resume however - it leads to competitors trying to recruit you away and opens you to social engineering by scammers.

If you feel like you have to hide that you are keeping an eye out for new opportunities from your manager or the company that you're working for, that is a huge red flag in my opinion. It is especially important at the start of your career to be aggressive about your professional development, and a company that would discourage that is looking for an indentured servant and is not a place where you will be able to achieve your full potential.

  • 1
    +1 for "the more experienced employees are at a higher risk to be let go because they are more expensive." This is the money quote for this particular question. The company knows the OP is less experienced, so he likely won't be paid as much, and if there ever comes "trim 20% off payroll" time, the OP may well be more secure than a senior guy who makes double as much. Dec 17 '14 at 9:01
  • I have seen it happen where everyone with more than 10 years experience at the company was laid off no matter how good they are or what their job was. That included the HR person who actually managed the layoff.
    – HLGEM
    Dec 17 '14 at 14:35
  • I worked for Kodak before it imploded, and they tried encouraging the experienced folks to retire early with every round of layoffs. That job taught me the importance of keeping your resume current and in front of recruiters. I found a better position long before the worst of it happened, but my friends there really suffered a lot of stress.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 17 '14 at 15:02

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