Career Advancement: Stay Put or Jump Ship?

career advancement jump shipCareer advancement is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind. From entry level to middle-management, employees seek ways to enhance their upward mobility. Even executive management jockeys for position in the hopes of advancing higher up.

The way a junior employee seeks a promotion will be different from a senior manager. For instance, someone just embarking on their career will likely concentrate on gaining experience or honing excellent customer service skills. Conversely, a seasoned manager will be more focused on high level performance to gain an inside edge.

While there may be varying career advancement techniques that apply to different career stages, there are two over-arching strategies available to all (that is, unless you are merely biding the time until retirement):

  1. Stay long-term at one company (perhaps even your first out of college); become a long tenured employee or maybe even a “lifer”
  2. Frequently switch companies or “jump ship” as often as realistically possible

When I entered the “real world” and joined the ranks of the employed a little over 10 years ago, I encountered a colleague who was strongly opinionated on this topic. He had been given the sage wisdom that jumping ship was the surefire, quickest way to achieve rapid career ascension. The logic behind the theory is that the company you currently work for is in no hurry to promote or give you more compensation because they’ve already got you doing the work. It’s easier for them to add more responsibilities to your plate after they’ve already brought you in and do so without bumping you up. On the other hand, when you switch companies you’re taking the situation into your own hands and parlaying your experience to land a “better” job. In other words, it’s easier to sell yourself to an external entity than it is to the one already employing you. Ironically, this co-worker had just joined the company via what was equivalent to a promotion about a month or so before we had this discussion. I left that company a month or two later!

Let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of each career advancement strategy and then see if we can figure out which one is the best alternative.

Advance Your Career by Staying Put

Pros:

  • Establish Reputation – by staying at one company for the long haul, you can continuously build your internal reputation with management and co-workers.  This may aid in working your way up the ranks.
  • Know the company/business – you’ll have the advantage of being knowledgeable about the company’s policies, strategies, priorities, structure, etc.
  • Develop seniority – slowly but surely you’ll develop seniority at least in terms of years employed.
  • Capitalize on attrition – your seniority, reputation, and knowledge of the company may allow you to capitalize on attrition. As turnover occurs, you may be in prime position to sweep in and take those higher level positions.
  • Feel comfortable/confident - Being familiar with the company and your surroundings may cause you to feel more comfortable. This in and of itself may not lead to career growth unless you’re able to develop confidence from it and use it to move up.

Cons:

  • Establish reputation – If people view you in a negative fashion then you might be stuck for quite some time. The reputation you establish could be a benefit or a hindrance and work either for you or against you.
  • Screwed by office politics – office politics is a very real beast. People make informal alliances. Buddies promote other buddies. If you’re not part of the “good ol’ boys” club then you could find yourself hitting a brick wall.
  • Not enough spots for advancement – there are only so many promotional opportunities that arise. Too much internal competition might mean your turn never comes up.
  • Lost time if you get stuck – If you do wind up spinning your wheels, you could end up wasting a lot of time – time that could have been better spent setting up shop somewhere else.

Climb the Ladder by Jumping Ship

Pros:

  • Find opportunities faster – by looking at other companies for opportunities, you’re being proactive. Instead of waiting for raises/promotions to come to you, you’re seeking them out.
  • Gain more broad experience – you’ll obtain experience no matter if you stay put or jump ship. However, by switching companies often, you might be able to develop a broad array of industry experience which could make you more valuable overall.
  • Can leverage and wait for the “perfect opportunity” – continuously having your eye on what else is out there allows you to take only the best opportunities. If the offer isn’t good enough, you wait until you find one that is.
  • Beef up resume by conquering many jobs/positions – demonstrating that you can tackle and excel in new challenges with ever increasing responsibilities may provide a synergistic effect that outside companies find highly appealing.

Cons:

  • Seen as disloyal – This is perhaps the biggest drawback of the jump ship philosophy. If a hiring manager concludes your job history is riddled with jumping to company after company it could cause them to pause. Companies may not want to hire you if you have moved around too often in a short time span because they might assume you would be gone in a year or two.
  • Having to start over often – learning a new company and re-establishing a reputation are doable tasks, but they can be draining if you have to keep doing so over and over again.
  • Lose internal network – If you’ve developed a strong internal network you’d be throwing it away by leaving. Sure, some of these contacts will remain in your greater, overall network. However, the ability to leverage each internal network you’ve built will diminish with each jump of the ship.

What is the Best Strategy for Career Advancement?

The truth of the matter is: there is no one best strategy. You can find success with both approaches. And neither option is absolute. You can employ both over the course of your career.

I have friends who have found significant success both ways. In fact, at the job I landed after leaving the company where that colleague shared his conviction, I met two people who became my good friends. One is still employed there and she’s worked her way up to high level management. The other left and, while he’s now in a different industry, has held positions at five companies in less than 10 years! Each earns roughly the same nowadays and nearly quintupled (that’s 5 times) their original compensation levels.

If there is no clear winner then why did I bother to even write such an article? The answer is because it is so easy to get tunnel vision. If you’ve been loyally grinding away for years at a company you can easily lose sight and keep plugging away thinking you are “almost there.” Yet, you keep spinning your wheels. On the other hand, if you’ve been jumping from job to job at company after company, you might not realize you have pushed the strategy to the max. Thus, if you find yourself stuck in a rut or enduring job burnout, perhaps it is time to consider taking the alternate path.

Either way your vacations likely won’t be a true benefit and, always remember, life is not a race!

Can you think of any additional pros or cons for either strategy? Which career advancement strategy have you used? What do you think is best?

I’m trying to drive up my Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, and E-mail subscriptions. You can also follow along via Google+, BlogLovin, or RSS. Please help me reach my goals by selecting one or all of these options!

Image courtesy of nechbi at Flickr.

29 Responses to Career Advancement: Stay Put or Jump Ship?

  1. Jen @Sprout Wealth April 3, 2014 at 2:32 am #

    Jumping ship may be okay but could depend on a person’s work history, similar to what you said about being judged by the new company being eyed. I thought I was in for the long haul with the first company I was employed with but had to eventually jump ship for reasons that will take forever to discuss here. Then I was in good hands. Or so I thought until a serious sickness forced me to freelance, home-based. The income is not as good but we get by and for some reason, I am happier as I get to spend more quality time with the kids. But I must say, you did share a very valuable post.
    Jen @Sprout Wealth recently posted…What Should I Do Now That I’m Done Paying Off Debt?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      It’s not uncommon to think you’ll be at your job for a long time only to find that the situation quickly changes. And I should stress the “quickly” because in this day and age of mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, management changes, new laws, etc. job environments can swiftly evolve – oftentimes for the worst. I actually considered putting something like a “possible false sense of security” as a negative for staying put, but decided against it because that can apply to the jumping ship strategy too. Kudos to you for eventually settling in to a career you enjoy!

  2. Little House April 3, 2014 at 6:47 am #

    When I worked for corporate many years ago, many of my colleagues changed companies for better paying positions. There was definitely a mindset that moving up faster meant moving to another company. Now that I’m a teacher, it’s quite different. Unless a teacher wants to become an administrator or work in the district office, there isn’t anywhere else to “move up to.”
    Little House recently posted…Build a House for Under $10,000? Oh Yes You Can!My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

      Teaching is one occupation where deciding between the stay put of jump ship strategy isn’t as relevant. I think it could still exist in some forms though. Substitute teachers trying to find permanent spots…tenured teachers switching to a better paying school district or a private school…and, as you mention, going into administration.

  3. Andrew@LivingRichChepaly April 3, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    I have little experience with this since I work in government…I’m pretty much going to be a lifer with my golden handcuffs (pension). For people I know in the corporate world, it does seem like jumping ship gets you promotions and raises. It seems the company doesn’t really have an incentive to promote you unless you leave and sometimes they’ll give you the promotion/raise when you put them on notice that you’re leaving. Jumping ship seems to be the way to move up…though maybe doing that too frequently won’t look so good. And I was just thinking about your Vacation post…a very good one…it’s not always a real benefit…
    Andrew@LivingRichChepaly recently posted…What’s Your Gift Giving Policy?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

      The colleague who originally shared his “jump ship” philosophy – guess where he came from? A government job! He worked at the California Franchise Tax Board and joined the public accounting firm where I was working. So, I think it can effect government workers as well although I would imagine it would be more of a one way street…workers leaving their government jobs for something more lucrative rather than people joining the government sector mid-career. I do agree that there are more “lifers” in government jobs than anywhere else.

      • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply April 4, 2014 at 10:59 am #

        Oh that’s true, I have a relative who left the government sector working the FDA to work as a consultant for a private company…I’m pretty sure it was more lucrative. I don’t think I have that exit opportunity though…it depends what you do I guess.
        Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Is it REALLY Okay to Take Paternity Leave?My Profile

  4. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life April 3, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I feel like the days of working in one place for 20 years and working your way up are starting to fade away. Most of the young people I know are not working somewhere that they’d want to stay for too long.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…Credit Scores: What They Are and Why They’re Important.My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

      There has been a cultural shift away from being a long-term employee. The evolution of the economy has also played a part in that trend. It really is up to the individual to decide what’s best for themselves these days.

  5. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich April 3, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    I think about this a lot. I think I get restless very easily and worry about the impact that will have on my career. On the flip side, being all set in one place, but able to keep an eye peeled for a better opportunity elsewhere sort of seems like a win-win situation. If your company wants to keep you that badly, they’ll have to be impressive enough to do so. It’s easy to forget – especially while recovering from a recession – that companies need employees as much as employees need to be employed.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Financial Lessons from the Kitchen SinkMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

      Companies do still need quality employees and there are companies that make successful efforts to appease their workers. It’s not an “employee’s market” though and many entities can and do get away with treating employees more in a commodity fashion. I think the companies choosing to “impress” their employees do so not because they feel obligated, but because that is the culture and environment they want to present – it’s part of their image and marketing strategy.

  6. Ryan @ Impersonal Finance April 3, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    I think about this sometimes. I wouldn’t say I’m a lifer, but my company has amazing benefits that would be hard to match. They’re considered an excellent place to work, it has great brand recognition, and I do learn a lot. That being said, I’ve moved on from the customer service level to more of a quantifiable knowledge and results level. I like the opportunity of having a fancier job title, but that isn’t always a great reason to take a job. Right now, I’m more than happy to move up the corporate ladder at one company and parlay that into a better job elsewhere, if the chance is right.
    Ryan @ Impersonal Finance recently posted…emergency fund in actionMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

      I’d be hesitant to take a job just for an impressive sounding title. Titles are so misleading these days. Everyone’s a VP or Director it seems. At my company, half the jobs have “manager” in the title even though they manage no one!

  7. Peter April 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    I believe that you will know when its time to jump ship. I’m not big fan of how people are constantly scanning the horizon for better opportunities, but I guess living in a capitalist society, we kind of have to. It’s all about loyalty and relationship that will pay off greater than extra pay now. But again, when it’s time for you to go, you’ll will know.
    Peter recently posted…most destructive words that every man receives: “Be a Man”… What?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

      Loyalty and relationship to a company has the potential to pay off big time. But, it’s a risky venture. More than ever, companies are focused on the bottom line. When push comes to shove, a company will “jump ship” (via layoffs) on you too! I’ve seen it time and time again and I’ve only been in the working world for a little over 10 years.

  8. krantcents April 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    It would be great if you could stay at one company for your entire career. I think it is quite rare when your career keeps advancing over a 40 year period. I wish I could have stayed at the Fortune 100 company longer, but my goals changed.
    krantcents recently posted…Why You Will Never Be Rich!My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      I’m with you. In a perfect world, being able to spend your entire career at one company and still have a reasonable, equitable chance to work your way up the ranks would be ideal. Alas, that’s a rarity nowadays…although it still does happen. I know people who are such a trajectory.

  9. Tie the Money Knot April 3, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    I think it depends on the situation. That being said, in general I think that for many people it can be good to find a balance. Sometimes it really does help to switch employers to get a career boost, but do it too often and it might be construed as job hopping.
    Tie the Money Knot recently posted…10 Ways to Save on Your Wedding, Part 2My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

      Yes, it really is situational. The key is to determine what’s best for you. That can be tricky. Part of the problem is that you may never truly know what would’ve unfolded if you’d gone the other way. But, it seems to be a fair conclusion that if you feel stuck in a rut, then going with the alternate route is likely a solid choice.

  10. Kylie Ofiu April 5, 2014 at 2:30 am #

    I think it’s interesting and definitely depends on your situation. My older brother is at the same job he got when he was still in college. That is the ATO (Australian Tax Office) offered him a job when he was still studying, then offered to pay for his masters, so he has a masters in taxation. He is still with them, other than a short stint where he was loaned to Treasury (Another Gov agency, they had a huge fight over who needed him more. Treasury won for 12 months, but the ATO was technically still his employer.) Anyway, he is going on 14 years there. He’s 34. Before he was even 30 he outranked our father who is quite high in another gov. dept. My brother has moved very swiftly up, well before he intended too. He was often told to apply for higher positions and could have advanced further if he wanted, but he likes the balance he has between family and work life. Higher up means less flexibility and time with his wife and 4 kids.

    For myself, I job hopped during study for experience and got to manager position immediately after getting my qualifications, then 6 months later started my own business. After kids I changed careers completely and now I will be changing careers again, while still maintaining my business. I’m not even 30. I never wanted my first career, but it came easily and made me money. My current career I love and it, combined with personal traumatic events has given me my new career and passion. Thankfully they combine nicely. With my new career I have no intentions of jumping ship.

    Great post to get people thinking!
    Kylie Ofiu recently posted…How do you work with young kids? ~Reader questionMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

      You and your brother are perfect examples that no one strategy is absolutely the best. People just need to be aware that sometimes you might need to change to the other approach if things aren’t working anymore.

  11. Zee April 5, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    I usually want to be a “lifer” I hate feeling like the “new guy” at work all the time, and it is great to build a reputation at work for doing a good job. But this philosophy doesn’t seem to work for me, after 2 or 3 years I always end up switching jobs. At first it made sense, I started at an entry level job that even when I was hired my boss told me it would be a good job for “a few years”. My last job I thought I would be one of those “lifers” though, there was a lot of job security and potential to move up a little. But I ended up leaving because my boss kept expecting more and we started getting less. When you have to start doing twice the work with less pay and more hours it just didn’t make sense.
    Zee recently posted…I’m Buying My TimeMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

      Funny how expectations and plans oftentimes don’t turn out the way we had envisioned – lots of times for the better. Oh, and I agree, being the “new guy” can definitely be no fun…trying to fit in, picking up the lingo, learning how things operate, etc.

  12. Syed April 6, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    A few decades ago it was pretty commonplace for someone to stay with one company for their entire career. Nowadays jumping around has become the norm, but it doesn’t mean it’s always the right decision. I know many colleagues who have the “grass is always greener” condition and think every other company is better than the one they are currently at. The fact is it is a struggle to gain traction in any company and jumping from company to company really needs to be a calculated risk.
    Syed recently posted…The Infinite Monthly Payment LoopMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

      Very good point, it can be a “struggle to gain traction in any company” and jumping often means you have to start all over again. That could be a good thing though if you conclude there’s no way you’ll ever gain traction where you’re currently employed. The “grass is greener” mentality is very tough to deal with…always making you keep your eyes focused elsewhere when in actuality you may already have the best situation!

  13. Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans April 9, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    These are things I’ve been thinking about lately. I just got a new job at a company I absolutely LOVE. I don’t plan on leaving, but I’m scared about my future since I’m not sure how many positions would be available for me when it’s time to advance.
    Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans recently posted…March 2014 Net WorthMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 12, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

      You’ll need to give it time at your new company to observe and learn what your advancement opportunities are like. And then proceed accordingly by sticking it out or moving on if there’s no room to get ahead.

  14. Sam April 18, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    In retrospect, maybe I should have jumped ship once. But I was happy to just live in SF, make what I was making and keep things simple bc I would have had to go to NYC for the job. If I went, I may not have been able to work on my site as much either.
    Sam recently posted…How Much Do I Have To Make As An Entrepreneur To Replace My Day Job Income?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia April 22, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

      I think your experience is a perfect example that no one approach is the best way. It truly is all situational. At least you were entertaining the thought or idea of what the alternative path might’ve held for you. That’s key compared to someone else who may be tunnel visioned and oblivious or shrugging off going the alternate route.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge