I’m a parent and I try to force my children to always listen to me…so I suppose the title of this post is a bit hypocritical. That aside, there is a time and a place to listen to your folks. But there are times not to as well.
When it comes to matters of charting a career in today’s workforce, your parents may not be the best people to listen to. In the new age of work, the wisdom of prior generations doesn’t necessarily apply.
I raise this topic because I’ve recently coached numerous junior candidates through the struggle of deciding to pursue jobs at startups. They’re torn between two perspectives that don’t reconcile. On the one hand are their interests, the advice of their peers and the trends they’re seeing in the modern workplace. On the other hand their parents are telling them to seek out stable companies that can provide long-term employment. After spending the first twenty years of their life largely following the guidance of their parents some of these candidates are terrified to go against the grain.
Of course these parents care a great deal for their children and believe they are imparting sound wisdom. The problem is that in many cases their advice reflects a market dynamic that is no longer the only viable option.
These parents seem to be consistently focused on the “safety” or “stability” of the employer. I suppose they’re referencing a lifetime of experience where large companies provided them with stable employment. Maybe they were the lucky ones who didn’t go down with the ship; they didn’t work at the large companies that have imploded through the years.
Large companies are becoming less stable. The past does not reflect the present or the future. One factoid: the average age of an S&P 500 company is under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s, according to Credit Suisse.
Now twenty-year cycles are clearly long enough for a person to do a lap in their career. But how many rounds of layoffs occurred in those twenty years? Employment at large companies has become less stable and the average tenure of a job in the US has declined materially. People change jobs far more often.
There’s a new way to think about mitigating employment risk. “Career security” in the startup community doesn’t come through the stability of individual companies — it manifests through the volume of companies. Startups fail and fail often. And when they do, teams are laid off. The saving grace that keeps people employed and thriving is that there are so many new startups being minted each year. Those new companies are a vacuum for talent, creating new jobs. The death of a company sends folks off to join new teams and to continue their journey.
One might argue that this model only provides stability so long as new companies are being built. The good news is that the macro trend illustrates an increasing volume of new company formation and capital in the market. Further, while entrepreneurship sometimes decelerates during recessions — that’s also the time when big companies are making layoffs. Which is riskier? Pick your poison.
To me companies large and small can afford people wonderful career paths and learning opportunities. My message to those who feel drawn to the edge of the innovation market, who want to build — don’t measure the risk of your career path in the context of outdated models. Rather, focus on finding a role that will match your vales, give you a sense of purpose and challenge you every day.