Ron Barrett has found his dream job. As director of information technology for ERE, a New York-based accounting firm, the 35-year-old Barrett has it all: a good salary, a company that pays for his continued training, a cutting edge technical environment.
He’s so satisfied that he expects to work for ERE for decades –- probably even retire from there.
But he hasn’t always felt so settled. Far from it. Earlier in his tech career, Barrett was always looking for the next opportunity. In doing so, he learned a valuable lesson: Job-hopping is an effective strategy for increasing your salary.
“Each and every time I moved, it was always for better pay,” Barrett tells Datamation. “Sometimes the position was a lateral move, but the pay was always better.” The raises were always between $3,000 and $8,000 per year, he says.
John Challenger, CEO of job placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, agrees that job-hopping can be an effective strategy –- particularly in today’s hot IT job market.
Many companies are “locked in” to their current wage structure, he tells Datamation. The relative pay scale between various job titles is fixed. “It’s very hard to get out of the box.”
In a situation like this, an IT professional seeking a significant pay hike has little choice but to look for another position.
Barrett landed his first IT job at age 28. Prior to that he supervised operations management for beverage maker Snapple in its New York City office. The career switch felt risky. With a family to support, staying employed was essential.
In his first IT post Barrett worked as a consultant for a firm that assisted American Express with Y2K preparedness. It was a good start, but he wasn’t satisfied. “I wanted to get more into what I’m doing now, where I actually get my hands around the whole system,” he says.
Barrett spent about eight months there. He knew it was time to leave when he asked for a raise and management offered three percent. “I just started looking.”
From there he moved into a position in which he handled user and server support. Then came a period of rapid change: Toward the end of the dotcom mania he shuffled quickly through a handful of system administrator posts.
He left the chaos of the dotcom world for a more stable job -– or at least it looked that way. He took a position with investment firm JC Bradford. However, the company soon was bought by Paine Webber.
In the merger, Barrett lost his job. Job-hopping can be perilous, he freely admits.
However, right after his Bradford layoff he found his current job with ERE, so his tale of job hunting ends happily.
Handling Wary Employers
Although changing jobs can be advantageous, aren’t employers wary of IT workers whose resumes are full of short jobs?
“I don’t know if that applies anymore,” Barrett says. “It seems like five years these days is a long time anywhere.”
Still, he has faced that issue in interviews. “They would ask, ‘Well, you’ve been in a lot of places.’”
He had an answer ready. He would reply: “Yes, I’m trying to grow. I was there and I got what I could get, and now I’m looking to grow in the next direction.”
But no matter how well an IT staffer can answer such questions, job-hopping has a downside. “It can catch up with you,” Challenger says. “You can only do so much of it before employers begin to doubt your stick-to-itiveness.”
An employee’s age matters in terms of how employers perceive their employment record. “In your 20s, you can move more, but once you get to your 30s, companies are looking for people to move up into more responsible positions,” he says. “They can’t plug you in and out as easily.”
Over time, employees with stable job records become more attractive. When hiring employees in their mid-30s, firms look for three- or four-year tenures, he says.
“If they see three or four jobs where you’ve been there for a year, in the recent past, they begin to say, ‘No matter how much we like him or her, unless we just need to get the project done, the odds are that they’re going to leave again.’”
More Than Money
When in doubt, make sure you’re changing jobs for a substantial gain. Challenger advises, “A good solid gain, a 20 percent gain, might be a rule of thumb.”
And don’t forget: Job satisfaction is about more than salary. A decision to change jobs “is not just about money,” Challenger says. “It’s also about ‘Am I going to really be doing interesting work -– new work, where there’s more chance for advancement?’”
In Barrett’s experience, he places great weight on whether a prospective employer is willing to pay for his ongoing IT training. “If they don’t invest in my training I could become a dinosaur really quick,” he says.
In fact, the importance he places on salary is almost matched by the importance he places on an employer’s willingness to educate its IT staff. “It’s 60-40,” he says (with the 60 percent figure attributed to salary; 40 percent to an employer’s reimbursement for training.) “Maybe it’s even more 70-30.”
“I’ve had places where they weren’t willing to pay for the training, and in those places I bought the books, I bought the classes -– I did what I had to do to make sure I was educated.”
That process hasn’t stopped. He just finished a training program on Microsoft’s Exchange 2003 and is about to start a security training course.
Going forward, Barrett plans to focus heavily on security. He’s considering the CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) training program. “It just seems like we’re getting attacked in all areas,” he says. The CEH program tends to go deeper than many security classes, according to Barrett.
He’s also studying T-SQL, and he works to stay current with the newest wireless advances.
While he himself has found an ideal job, he advises younger IT professionals to stay on the lookout for something better.
Don’t give up an opportunity just because you’re comfortable in your current post, he says. “The opportunities are there. And if the company wants you and they’ve got the training you want, they’re not going to look down on the fact that you’re looking to move and grow.”