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Job-hopping? Watch out!

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August 08, 2006 14:49 IST
So you've received an extremely lucrative job offer (not an unlikely event in today's overheated job market) that promises fortune and fame and, better still, is in a fashionable sunrise sector of the economy.

The three Fs of the corporate world, in fact. You should jump at it, right? Wait! The change could go awfully wrong unless you have weighed some other, equally important factors before deciding to add yourself to the fast-growing multitude of Indian managers for whom job-hopping is becoming as regular and unremarkable as buying a new tie.

This is not a homily on the virtues of blind loyalty over the interests of your career.

The point really is that it is very much in your own interests to look beyond that fat pay cheque if you are not to be forced into another hop in short order - and this time perhaps under less pleasant circumstances.

This article is about just four factors that are frequently overlooked but which can spell the difference between a sensible career move and a wasteful one.

Peering behind the paycheque

Recruiters and headhunters have learned avidly from their colleagues in marketing. Short of celebrity endorsements (and it's probably just a matter of time before those start), every trick in the book is used to hype up job vacancies: super-sounding titles, mouth-watering descriptions and artful euphemisms that disguise the mine-fields that could well make the job impossible for even the best of managers.

Unfortunately, unlike consumer products, which have either FDA-mandated ingredient labels or technical specifications you can insist on checking before purchasing white goods, the size and content of a job is much harder for you to judge accurately as an outsider to the company.

Under content I would include such intangibles as the extent of empowerment you will enjoy, how far removed you are from the final decision-making levels in the global operation and the fragmentation that talent overstocking brings in its wake. Be wary of jobs with cost-to-company tags that are way out of line with the responsibility.

Overseas firms that have yet to gauge the Indian market correctly, frequently tend to be over-generous, but there's no reason for euphoria. Regardless of what they do at the time of recruitment, sooner or later there will be some kind evaluation and the imbalance will be ironed out together with you or at least your future increments.

Capital losses?

Every time you change jobs, you are giving up a substantial part of the social capital you have accumulated in that role. I refer here to the web of relationships, reciprocities and, importantly, the trust that is painfully acquired over myriads of interactions and must be painstakingly rebuilt when roles change. This is the toughest part of the learning curve for most managerial jobs and you need to factor this transaction cost into your decision to change.

When the job-hopping trend started in sectors like IT and ITES, it did not reveal its dysfunctional impact on careers because roles such as coding and call-centre operations are pretty much "plug-and-play". When the attrition phenomenon is replicated in other functional areas like sales or HR, and, even more vitally, as you climb up the organisational ladder, you start coming across substantial effectiveness losses for the organisation.

Bear in mind, of course, that those business performance inadequacies while you "come up to speed" will obviously translate themselves into reward and career consequences for you as well. Which is one more reason "imported" CEOs have a much tougher challenge than those groomed for at least a few years within an organisation.

This is not to say such a step must never be taken. In fact, there are situations where organisations need to recruit externally precisely to acquire talent that does not carry the baggage of tradition and connection. It is safe to say, however, that in well-run organisations, such drastic medicine is applied as the exception.

You can accelerate the process of accumulating social capital but there are practical limits to the use of such catalysts. Sensible recruiters have their antennae tuned to these and, depending on the function and level in the hierarchy, will treat particularly short stints as a negative rather than an addition to your fund of experience and, hence, market value.

Culture curry

Each one of us has a finite range of styles and systems under which we perform best. I once had a colleague who shone brilliantly in the highly professional atmosphere that prevailed in the company for which we were both fortunate enough to work.

He moved to a job that was large in size and scored high on the three Fs. The culture of the organisation, however, demanded results with total disregard for the means. My ex-colleague's value-system left him with no choice but to be seen as a failure  or to move again, which is what he did.

I have seen several cases of bright professionals moving to positions with very fancy titles and perquisites, but where survival requires them to leave their self-respect locked up at home and to don inches-thick, expletive-repellent skin before coming to work. And don't think multinational companies are automatically immune from such honey-traps.

The distance of the local operation from the global headquarters can work wonders both in breeding gems as well as tyrants. Then again, there are groups where caste, religion or mother-tongue could be as important as competence, diligence and results.  You need to figure out beforehand how far the dominant culture of the organisation you are joining deviates from the styles and systems under which you perform best.

Praying for luck

At different points in our careers, each of us enjoys a unique success quotient, which I would define as the extent to which we have actually succeeded, relative to the maximum success it is possible to achieve in that situation.

Now, success is a curious amalgam of competence, perseverance, reputation and good fortune. Some of these ingredients move with us, some we need to re-build after moving and some we can only pray for (there must be a study somewhere correlating job mobility with visits to places of pilgrimage).

Those of you who are outstandingly successful at whatever it is you are doing should have the humility to acknowledge that some part of your success quotient may be fortuitous, and factor in the risk of not getting that precise mix of ingredients so much in your favour every time.

So, the next time someone makes you an offer you can't refuse, do your computations well. If you correctly weigh the implications of size, social capital, style and success, together with the fame, fortune and fashion that make the job so attractive, your next move could take your career to a higher plane. Ignoring them could change the laughter that should accompany you on your way to the bank.

Visty Banaji is executive director and president (group corporate affairs), Godrej Industries. These are his personal views.

Visty Banaji