As a quick summary for those not following my blog religiously (and really, shame on you if you’re not), I’m writing this series of postings as a public service and out of personal benefit. Okay, mostly personal benefit. I’m getting a little tired of “connecting” to people on LinkedIn who only ask me the same sorts of questions about how to find a job. They look at my profile and see an apparent line of unbroken jobs and clients stretching off for more than a decade. “Curtis,” they ask me in my mind where the magic happens, “I see you’ve worked for some really well known and large companies. I too would like to work for a megalithic multi-national corporation some day. How did you get a job at a place like that?”
“It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s not as hard as it appears either,” I would reply still in my head where I’m dressed in flowing robes that don’t at all make me look tubby. Sagely I would then raise my hand and pronounce, “But first you must ask yourself if this is what you truly want; for in all choices there are consequences as well as opportunities.” End scene.
Actually that is very good advice and its a question you need to ask yourself before embarking on this adventure. Large corporations can offer some of the most rewarding and seemingly stable work environments around. Their sheer size, deep pockets, and branding make them a magnet for intelligent and creative people from around the world. In one or two cases, their branding has been so successful as to become a verb. Now that’s some serious fame right there. Another benefit is large corporations always have multiple product lines going concurrently, and usually in wildly divergent industries. This is a good thing because with very few exceptions, internal candidates ALWAYS get preference over external candidates if a position opens up. So five years from now when you want to make a lateral move into mobile devices from cloud computing, chances are good you can just move departments if you’re employed at a large corporation. The same is true for international companies. If you decide you want to move to Belgium or Dubai or China for a few years, chances are very good your international company’s Belgian division may just happen to need some one with your skills and relations with people at the home office to boot. Finally large corporations can often offer incentive and benefit packages small companies can only dream of offering one day. Free meals, subsidized or free child care, shuttle buses with WiFi to avoid commuting, “Cadillac” health care plans, and phenomenal paid time off are just some of the benefits offered by a large company to attract and retain talented people.
But lets be realistic, the most common reason some one seeks out employment in a massive corporation is a feeling of job security. Microsoft has been a profitable and growing company since the 70’s. Apple’s been around even longer. Google appears to be poised to soon own all of us, or at least all of our personal information. IBM, AT&T, Sogeti, ING, GE, RIM and the rest of the “usual suspects” have all been around for a while, continue to report profits that would have made a Caesar green with envy, and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. But don’t be fooled by the apparent solidity of the parent corporation. Corporations and conglomerates are like a deep pocket in a river. The surface appears clam and placid, but underneath the surface there can be anything from swirling eddies of rocky death to brackish pockets of algae where nothing lives.
You see corporations are not a single entity. They are amalgamations of different groups or divisions that by rights would normally be an entirely self-sufficient company all by themselves. Different corporations have differing levels of division between these entities with some companies in emerging markets retaining complete independence amongst their members, but the general practice of a corporation is to follow the Six Sigma practice of establishing best practices in an industry and then distributing these practices amongst the differing divisions or groups. So while the parent company may appear stable and firm, in reality most of them are subject to the same market innovation forces governing smaller endeavors. Jack Welch was famous/infamous for implementing a policy of getting rid of any division or group that wasn’t number one or two in its industry while at GE. This was good for GE since it forced the different divisions to take a good hard look at what they could succeed at doing as GE, but the different people who’ signed up for a job with GE would often suddenly find themselves a new employee of another company … or unemployed. And yet there was GE, still hiring and offering “stable” positions to new candidates.
A division or group being shut down or sold to a competitor is thankfully not a common occurrence for most companies. Far more likely is what’s called “departmental shuffles” or “reorganizations.” These internal bouts of chaos and activity are fairly common even if the justifications for each instance are rarely repeated. Groups are merged to “create synergy” or “increase operational efficiency.” Entire teams are moved from one building to another in order to “open the lines of communication.” Product lines judged unprofitable are terminated or allowed to simply die out. The management team itself may change, brining with it new strategic vision and strategies to which the rest of the division must align. It really doesn’t matter to the rank and file why the changes are occurring as a notice your contract is not being renewed or your job has been classified as redundant generates the same feelings of panic no matter the reason.
So what does this mean to you if you’re looking for stability and security? You won’t find it anywhere, at least not in a practical sense. I have more than a few friends and colleagues who have spent a decade or more at a single large corporation while I’ve apparently bounced from job to job. However when we compare actual work performed over the past decade, we usually match up as far as movement around to different groups, teams, and roles. We also usually have more than a few horror stories to swap about suddenly finding yourself out of work with no clear options. The difference is that while I usually hit the streets the next day, they usually were given a few weeks to contact corporate internal resources and hiring managers. Internal searches within large international corporations are more often than not successful provided you actually do have a good working relationship with your boss and co-workers. Sometimes an offer of a reference is meant to be an offer to ease you out of the company and make you some one else’s problem, but that’s another blog about dealing with being “laid off, “fired,” or “escorted out of the building by security.”
The other primary difference is I’ve been lucky enough to keep a central geographic location over the past decade while some of my colleagues have been forced to relocate if that’s where the work is now. If your group is relocated to Colorado Springs, you can choose to uproot your family and follow it or not. The same goes for that new internal position in Poland that looks like a great fit for everyone involved. The days of companies shipping talented people around in order to reuse them in different locations has not gone away by any means. The only thing that has changed are an employee’s options. In the past, the only IT jobs were with said large corporations that tended to move people around the country and world. These days if you’re lucky to live in an area of known as a hub for IT work, companies realize they could lose talented people if they try and tell them to pack their bags. So the likelihood of these requests has diminished somewhat, but it never went away. There is still the possibility the company wold risk losing your talented contributions if they thought the return was high enough. And we’re also assuming you are one of the top 10% – 20% of talent. If you’re not, then start picking up boxes on the way home from the office tonight.
So in conclusion, working for a large corporation has its definite benefits. However we need to be honest and admit job security and stability is not one of those benefits, at least on the personal level. You won’t necessarily have to worry about running out of money (although departmental and project budgets can run dry, but more on that in the next entry, “Bureaucracy is Your New Friend”) like a startup nor will you usually have to worry about the board of directors deciding to sell you off to a company based out of Topeka because they want to free up capital for a new investment or resurface the deck on their boat. Sorry, that one was a little specific I know. It still hurts a little in my soul.
So if you still think the trade-offs are going to be worth it, let’s keep reading. In my next entry I’ll talk about the 8,000,000 pound gorilla in the room … corporate governance, politics, process management, and bureaucracy.