Just Getting Started

One of my undergraduate tutors gave out a list called Winners and Losers, a page of career tips that he thought might improve our chances in life. Calling us winners or losers is an awful notion, but it was the eighties. We were watching Dynasty and Dallas.

I lost that page a long time ago, but one of the more memorable tips was, ‘Do not stay anywhere longer than 2 years. Winners move on!’ Of course, you could stay within a large company or firm if they were promoting you, but otherwise, the advice was clear; get out of there.

Harvard Business Review writer Amy Gallo wrote an article called Setting the Record Straight on Switching Jobs. She wonders if that advice is outdated. I think we all do.

Most careers do not resemble tidy upward ladders anymore. A sideways move might be time well spent and modest gaps no longer terrify prospective employers. We are all inclined to take breaks, go travelling or just stay put if something suits us. Parents can now take breaks to be with their babies without having to explain themselves.  

And two years is a bit quick in some roles. Would you still be doing that sort of job hopping in your late thirty’s? Wouldn’t that be draining? Conversely, there may be roles that you ought to leave sooner than two years. Two years will feel like a sentence if you think you ought to make a bad choice look acceptable for the sake of your resume.

I have been uncertain about the validity of this advice for a while because I have seen people punished for moving about and I have seen people rewarded for almost standing still – and I mean literally. They are the Stephen Bradburys of the career world. They hang back and watch everyone else fall over.

Other advice on that list was to make sure you worked on projects – rather than just ‘showing up.’ Your resume should highlight achievements.

My tutor should have handed out a list for female students called ‘tips for getting off the sticky floor.’  It wasn’t mentioned, but my first boss was aware of the danger I faced and told me to avoid being too helpful or too useful in office skills. He told me not to become someone’s super helpful assistant, or, he said, ‘you’ll never be anything else.’ It was kind and curious advice considering I was employed to be his assistant. And fortunately, there was no danger I would ever be too proficient in office skills. I can still cause a printer to break down just by walking near it.

A successful man once told me that if I had not put my hat in the ring, I could never complain about missing an opportunity. I still think that’s true as is the advice to find a few good mentors and to ask people you admire for their advice.

I am now at an age where I am far less concerned about my resume and prospects and far more concerned about my children’s chances and supporting other mentees. The whole ‘getting a good start’ business has changed a bit. When I was forty, I wrote a book about this subject, and it was published by Prentice Hall in the UK. The title is Your Future Looks Bright and I am certain that Covid is going to upend most of what I wrote. Or will it?

What advice did you receive that you feel is now outdated or just no longer relevant? And what advice did you receive that is still useful for younger people. I would love to know.

1 thought on “Just Getting Started”

  1. Two years: a certain oil company I worked for favoured the “two years max in a role” principle. The result: short-termism and a strong tendency to dress things up to look good before moving on, leaving the poor successor to pick up the pieces. Over and over again. This was extremely difficult to address: superficiality and box-ticking prevails even though people tend to stick around longer.

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