The Gen Y Job Hop.

I’m no stranger to the interview room. At least once a year for the past 6 years or so I’ve found myself sitting in front of a panel of other people convincing them that I’m the right person for the job. Initially it started out of sheer boredom since the first couple jobs I had were entry level and seemed to come quite easily to me. Eventually it graduated into a thirst for new challenges as once something became routine the boredom would start to creep back in, and I’d get itchy feet. Whilst this has been one of the fastest ways for me to climb the IT ladder (believe me, I tried to advance within before looking externally, it never worked) it has more recently led to a few uncomfortable questions about where my loyalties lie. Switching to contracting has stayed these concerns somewhat, but a resume that spans as many jobs as years still raises questions from our current Gen-X and Baby Boomer employers.

For a long time to I believed that I was an exception rather than a rule. Many of my close friends and colleagues have been in their respective positions for years or have dedicated themselves to long term study (been there, not interested in going back just yet). Coming from a family parents who are Baby Boomers themselves having clocked up decades in employment in a single place certainly added to the stigma of jumping jobs as rapidly as I did. However taking a look outside my obviously small and biased sample showed me that I might just be yet another Gen Y upstart:

Additional high-level findings of the 2008 Life After College Survey include:

  • 43% of Gen Y are not in the career they expected to be in after college, either because they couldn’t find a job, or another opportunity presented itself
  • 60% are currently looking for another job or career, despite the fact that 57% indicated that they are also happy at their current job
  • 74% of recent graduates are in a career that aligns with their college major

“Constant job hopping can create frustration for employers, who would prefer three years of service out of each new hire,” says Jenny Floren, founder and CEO of Experience. “However, HR managers can increase retention by making slight shifts in their organizational practices to accommodate entry-level employees.”

It’s quite scary how accurately this lines up with my experiences. Technically I’m a Computer Engineer by training and whilst that has a strong focus on things like software development I also did quite a lot of hardware design as well as management courses. I took up a help desk position in the public service as it was an easy, well paying job and they were quite flexible with my hours when I was still at university. However the next job I managed to land was a junior system admin position (which in all honesty I was barely qualified for) which then snowballed into the position I’m in today. It’s not that I didn’t consider the career in an actual engineering firm, far from it. More it was that when I got that piece of paper in my hand switching into another career would’ve seen my pay packet take a hefty hit, around a third if memory serves me. For a 21 year old that was a fair chunk of cash and the cost/benefit didn’t quite add up.

If you’d asked me what the positives were in any of my other jobs (and really the same could be said for my current position) I’d tell you that I have an enormous amount of free time, the work is easy and the workplace is relaxed. Sounds pretty good right? Well the other side of the coin is the lack of challenge in most of my jobs. Maybe it was systemic since all the places I’ve worked at have either been in the public service or working for the public service (outsourcer) but most of my time isn’t spent solving novel problems. For the most part its battling bits of bureaucracy in order to get small packages of work done or explaining my decisions via reams of documentation. I think this is why I find so much pleasure in things like Geon as there are no barriers to progress but myself and every single step is an engineering problem just waiting to be solved.

It’s like crack to my inner engineer.

I think this also comes down in a shift in ideals between generations. The Gen Y crowd have grown up on a diet of rapidily evolving technology and if something can’t be done from home on their desktop or on their iPhone whilst on the move then it’s probably not worth doing. Again it seems like I’m not alone in thinking this, as the NY Times points out:

Old assumptions about what employees value in the workplace don’t always apply with Gen Y. Friendship is such a strong motivator for them that Gen Y workers will choose a job just to be with their friends. Boston-based Gentle Giant Moving once hired an entire athletic team. “It looked like a great work environment because of the people,” says rower Niles Kuronen, 26. “It was huge to be able to work with friends.” It feels normal for Gen Y employees to check in by BlackBerry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week. Sun Microsystem’s telecommuting program, for example, has kicked into high gear in response to Generation Y’s demands. Today more than half of Sun’s employees work remotely.

Honestly I could see myself working at a company for a much longer time period if I spent 50% of my work time telecommuting. Unfortunately the norm for most workplaces is that face time is of the utmost importance, despite how productive you might be. The inertia really comes from having to switch from a simple metric of “were you here on time” or “I could see that he was working” to “they achieved 100% of the goals I set”. The problem is predominately the difficulty employers have in defining solid metrics that guage how effective employees are when they are working remotely. There’s a definite shift occurring in some companies who have experienced positive results, but they’re still the exception to a long lasting rule.

Personally I feel its due to us Gen Ys growing up in a world of easily accessible information that drives us to get exactly what we want. Sure we’re happy to settle for whatever we can get in the interim but as long as we know there’s something out there that might better suit us we’re willing to take the risk of going for it. In my small sample world I think my bias towards them not being job hoppers is because they’ve found exactly what they were looking for, and the Gen Y drive merely propels them to excellence.

I’ll have to make a mental note to revisit this topic in a years time.

3 Comments

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  1. While not offering the salary of other industries, (though better than some entry levels) one of the boons of academia is that it’s almost entirely “output dependent”. Other than attending the classes you are teaching (generally no more than 12 hours a week) and meetings, your worth/promotions are based on your research. How much you produce (ie books or articles) and what quality (who publishes it/peer assessment). If you want to work from home most faculties have no problem with that. If you work nights, if you only work weekends from 3am-7am but got enough done, that’d be fine too in most places.

    Not to mention the intellectual flexibility on offer (you work on the topics you are interested in), it surprises me that given Gen-Y’s attitudes towards work (preferencing satisfaction & flexibility) why more of my generation haven’t tried to follow this path. Yet most of the Post-Grad students in my department (Business & Government) are international students over 30.

  2. In Canberra at least you could put that down to the plethora of entry level jobs available in the public service that pay extremely well for someone fresh out of university. More generally many courses don’t really lend themselves sufficiently to an academic path. Engineering is a great example of this as someone who studies engineering “academically” would actually be a physicist. All my IT and Engineering lecturers were industry veterans.

    Plus for time invested you’re going to make a lot more outside academia. I’m interested to see some real info on how cash factors into Gen Y’s decisions, as it’s basically the only motivator for my working in my past and present placements.

    We all grew up with Gen X and Baby Boomer parents so I guess part of it is still that expected social behaviour of finding a job and working yourself to death in it. We just lack the loyalty of our parents hence the trend to jump more often than they did.

  3. A big thing is the question: Why do you work?. For MOST people of every generation it’s simply “to pay my bills so i can raise a family/enjoy my leisure time”. Indeed if this motivation didn’t exist(a garden of eden type situation) no one would work ever.

    But some of the population, will answer that question in ways related to identity or social change: They see themselves in some way defined by their work, or they want to make a contribution somewhere. Such dreams frequent the young of every generation, but it is only really from the mid-20th century in a few highly developed corners of the world that large numbers of people were able to convert those dreams into a career.

    Many people still abandon their dreams in their 20’s as they preface raising a family or simply can’t find a path/the energy to continue chasing it (Especially a problem for women for whom the burdens of family/career are higher). Personally I couldn’t imagine doing anything but pursuing those dreams (for what else is the purpose and meaning of life?) but I also know I could one day make the same sacrifice. I like to think I don’t have to, but time will be my judge.

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