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Why Learning Should Crush Earning for Early-Stage Job Seekers

November 16th, 2017
by Kevin Harris

Gold WatchThe first job you land out of college won’t be with the company you will work for when you retire. How do I know that?

The facts on every side of the equation back that statement up. In fact, the median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with a current employer was just 4.2 years in January 2016, down from 4.6 years in January 2014 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor). My guess is that figure will continue to decline when the same survey is conducted in January of 2018.

The corporate world is different than it was decades ago. Gone are the days of gold watches at retirement from a lifelong corporate “family” of sorts. And as that old model has evaporated, employees have adjusted. Those short tenure figures aren’t only the fault of employers. Savvy and highly skilled workers leverage frequent job changes to increase salaries and climb the corporate ladder at an accelerated rate.

Can you blame them? If you have great skills that are in strong demand, why not capitalize on it?

The Dilemma

Staying in the same job for a long time nowadays can possibly cause more harm than good for your career. Here’s one small example that might hit home for soon-to-be or recent college grads.

Imagine earning a business-oriented undergraduate degree and facing a choice between two potential first jobs after graduation. One job, we’ll call it option #1, is with a very large firm in a classic entry-level marketing role. The marketing department at this firm is huge and you’ll be relatively anonymous within. The pay is decent, the hours comfortable and the benefits look appealing. Your scope of work will be relatively narrow and you’ll be likely to master your daily job duties quickly.

The second job, option #2, is with a smaller firm. They can’t offer the same level of pay and benefits the larger firm can and the hours look a little longer. Making matters more daunting, the hiring manager seems to indicate the job will be demanding and require a very hungry employee. But there is one major benefit to this role that option #1 cannot match. You will get very specific training and constant hands-on experience right away. The company will pay you to learn valuable skills and practice those skills on their behalf. Your real-world market value will build quickly while your skills grow and mature. And once you have polished those skills, there will be an army of corporate suitors at your door dying to have your services deployed on their behalf. But again, the work will be challenging, and your performance will be in the spotlight (it’s a small firm).

If you opt for the relatively easier option #1 after graduating from college, you might enjoy a decent paycheck and social approval from friends and family. But, if that job isn’t actively helping you build real, highly sought-after skills and you stay in it “safely” for several years, watch out!

As Taylor Pearson outlines in this piece published in the Observer (August 10, 2016):

“This is a turkey situation. While everything seems great now (just like a turkey getting fed every day leading up to Thanksgiving, only for Thanksgiving to finally come), you’re not doing anything very valuable. More significantly, that job isn’t going to stick around for the next 40 years once (the big company) figures out what all the startups know: some guy in India will do your job for a third of the cost, or some guy in Silicon Valley will build software that does it for a tenth of the cost, 24/7, without sick leave, or complaining, or emotions.”

When the corporate version of “Thanksgiving” hits (layoff time) and you’re left scrambling for a new job, the accrued lack of marketable skills will be extremely damaging to your job prospects. You might well be back to square one years into your career and forced to take a job with much lower pay.

A Better Bet (How to Invest in Yourself)

The AllianceIn his New York Times bestselling book, “The Alliance,” author Reid Hoffman (CoFounder and Chairman of LinkedIn) outlines a different, mutually beneficial employer-employee relationship. Hoffman espouses the idea that employees (especially new entrants to the job market) and employers should evaluate their mutual fit through the lens of “How can we each help one another?”

For the employee, that help needs to come in the form of real, marketable skill development. The job needs to feature an opportunity for the employee to roll up their sleeves and learn skills that future employers will strongly desire. Once the employee has gleaned as much possible skill development as they can from the training and activities the job provides, it becomes time to move on. This concept is called a “Tour of Duty” by Hoffman and the tour could last anywhere from 12 months to a few years (depending on the role and expected skills accrual rate).

From the hiring company’s perspective, they also get what they need in the form of a realistic employer-employee contract. They’re hiring a more entrepreneurial employee that hungers to learn and grow, not sit in a corner and collect a paycheck for as little effort as possible. These types of passionate employees can be transformative within organizations and frequently they elevate into positions of larger responsibility right within that same firm. And if they elevate out of the firm, that’s ok too – it was an honest potential outcome from the start.

Everyone is clear on the “What’s in it for me?” answer. And the one predictable outcome is that the employee is going to greatly benefit in the long run.

The Long Game

Many companies have stopped explicitly investing in their employees – they perceive this to be counter-productive, given the job jumping prevalent today. Due to the economic recession conditions which arose in the mid ‘00s, employers across the U.S. dramatically reduced or eliminated professional development hallmarks such as tuition reimbursement budgets for employees. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, educational programs covered by employers have declined dramatically in the past decade.

This means first-time and early-stage job seekers must find employers that can provide marketable skill growth and real professional development in a different way. Job option #2 in the earlier example should be sounding better and better right about now.

Put succinctly in an article titled (appropriately), “Your lifetime earnings are probably determined in your 20s,” (Washington Post, February 10, 2015):

“Your first 10 years in the labor market likely shape your lifetime earning potential.”

If you’re not prioritizing learning over earning during the jobs you take right at the start of your career, it could be a bumpy ride.

To learn how memoryBlue lives the “Tour of Duty” concept and arms every single new hire we bring onboard with sales skills and abilities designed to help our employees’ market value soar, click here.

Recruiting Advice, Sales Career Advice, Sales Job Search Advice

Kevin Harris

About the Author: Kevin Harris is the Director of Marketing at memoryBlue. A seasoned professional with over 19 years of experience in public relations, marketing and content management, Kevin oversees all major internal and external communications programs for the firm. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from James Madison University.

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