From the Overrated Department: Job Security

Job Security Meme Milton

One of my passions is career and leadership development coaching.  I’ve been doing it informally for longer than I can remember, and started devoting more time to my coaching practice a couple of years ago.  It’s a labor of love…and like any sort of coaching role, it can sometimes be equal parts gratifying and aggravating. One of the most difficult things I run across, which impacts around 75% of my clients, is an inordinate amount of concern about that Holy Grail that the Baby Boomer parents who raised most of the current workforce have always wanted us to pursue: Job Security.

On the surface, job security sounds like an AWESOME thing to pursue!  I grew up in a household with two parents who worked for the same employer for decades, so the idea of finding a stable job seemed as natural as breathing to me. When seeking my first full-time, professional job in my field, I really took care to choose someplace that I thought would provide interesting and rewarding work for years to come.

Except it didn’t.

See, I graduated in 1998 and went into IT Consulting. The employer I chose, was a great consulting firm – part of a publicly traded technology company, not an IT consulting practice stapled on the side of a Big 5 accounting firm like so many of my friends chose.

If you have any understanding of the tech world the last 20 years, it will not surprise you to hear that I was a casualty of the tech wreck – laid off at the end of 2000 with just under 2 years on the job.

I was really lucky to find another position pretty quickly – and got laid off again 6 months later. Crushing, people. Crushing.

I was out of work around 2-3 months this time, at which point I landed a contract gig. I was grateful for it, but the contract market is a scary place for a 26 year old with a car payment, rent, and other debt who grew up in a family where I never saw a parent interview for a job.

About 18 months after my first layoff, I finally found a full time job with benefits in my field. And although I deliberately chose a job at a growing company in a growing industry, the seeds were planted. I decided to stop focusing on job security, and start focusing on something much, much better.

Career Security.

Pursuing career security is more difficult in many ways, but the longer I am in the working world, the more enamored I am, and the more I recommend that my clients think about it.

Pursuing Career Security is *empowering*.  The work I’ve put into getting great experience, building relationships, and establishing credibility improves my career confidence with each passing year.  This helps me both at my employer – by removing stress that might make me hesitant to take a risk or make decisions that are difficult but  not popular – and outside my employer’s realm – by making me marketable in case my job goes away for some reason.

Pursuing Career Security can be *lucrative*.  That full time job I got in 2002 was *stellar* in terms of the learning opportunities and experience it provided – but it was decidedly lacking in the “keep up with market compensation” department.  Over the almost five years I spent at that employee, I got decent raises – most of them just cost of living, with one that was a little bigger when I was promoted to management.  I was also consistently promoted to more and more challenging roles – 4 jobs in five years, every one of which I was recruited for.  And you know what?  By the time I left, my pay was almost 25% under market value for the work I was doing, and the company was unwilling to correct the pay discrepancy. By focusing on career security and always keeping tabs on market trends for compensation, I have been able to land much higher compensation than I ever would have if I’d stayed put in the name of “job security.” (Please note – I don’t advocate focusing *just* on compensation when managing your career – but I do advocate knowing what you are worth and either pursuing it, or making a conscious decision that other things are more important rather than simply not asking for out out of fear or inertia.)

Pursuing Career Security *broadens your world*. When you focus on career security, you have to look up and out into the world.  It forces you to expand your relationships, learn about other companies and industries, and most of all, a focus on career security provides more and more means to serve people. When you focus on career security, you often find yourself attending more conferences where you share your knowledge – perhaps even as a speaker.  You also find yourself deliberately networking with people from other companies or slightly different industries to learn more. The pursuit of career security can give you a whole new tribe of people to call on. It is a path that encourages excellence over the complacency and mediocrity that often become the hallmarks of “trying to keep your job.”

Pursuing Career Security *can actually lead to Job Security*. Some people love their employer, and they love their role.  That’s completely fine.  There is nothing wrong with choosing to stick with the same employer for decades. What’s not okay is feeling like you have no option but staying with an employer – particularly an employer who isn’t serving the needs of you and your family – out of fear. Worst of all – focusing on job security can actually backfire. If conditions go south at your employer, the most likely people to get a pink slip aren’t the ones who have kept all their skills sharp and increased their value doing the things that lead to career security.  It’s the folks – particularly the expensively compensated folks – who have kept their head down and focused on doing a great job at work that the company may no longer need to have done.

Do you focus on job security or career security, and how do you pursue your preferred type of security?

Diana Alt is a connector and problem solver who loves to use her skills in sorting out confusion and chaos both in her day job as a Product Owner for Data Analytics at Ascend Learning and as a career and networking coach. She likes her job and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon. (Don’t worry, boss!) Some of her favorite words are “grok”, “why”, and “kaizen” and she thinks that the notion of having a “work persona” and a “personal life persona” is, for the most part, nonsense.

Interested in reading more of Diana’s leadership stuff? Check out these articles!

The Importance of a Gratitude Attitude in Your Career

The Most Important Leadership Lesson of My Life: What you CAN’T do!






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