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Employment, Job Hunt

Honest Advice Series: The myth of stability and security in corporations

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.


About cowboytesting

Hi. My name is Curtis S, and I'm a tester.


6 thoughts on “Honest Advice Series: The myth of stability and security in corporations

  1. This post is the reason why I believe you have to develop your personal brand / public portfolio to help you stand out.

    Get your name out there with a blog (or comment on several), write an article, do a test talk at a local group, post on forums, participate in SASQAG, QASIG, Weekend Testers, Twitter, etc.

    Companies not doing their research on you is one thing, but assuming they are discerning, you have a good chance if there is something you can point them to about your reputation online.

    Curtis is a great example. I followed him on Twitter for awhile, liked his thoughts and knew I wanted to talk to him about opportunities here at Quardev. I’m convinced it’s just a matter of time before we find the right fit for him on a potential bid we vie for, but the point is, it was his *reputation* that preceded him.


    Posted by Jon Bach | June 18, 2010, 12:51 pm
  2. Great article Curtis, I nearly snorted my morning coffee while reading the part about dressing in the flowing robes , Et tu Brute?

    One risk of working at big corporates is the core vs non-core business drives. When times are tough, like during a recession you will hear in the corridors and from management “we must focus on our core business” which basically means, all extra spending must be stopped and only the core cash cow endeavors must be pursued. Job security is to always try to wiggle yourself into the core business of the company, stay away from R&D or Diversification. Those bite the bullet first.

    Instability inside a big corporate can also be high. Management can decide overnight to change focus and discontinue whole product lines or shift gears in such a way that you find yourself with nothing to do the next day. It usually happens when there is a change in the management structure and the new manager feels like he/she has to change things in order to build personal reputation.

    I’m looking forward to the article about company politics. One gripe I have with big corporates is that many decisions are taken on the basis of personal career building and not always what is best of the company.


    Posted by Survivor | June 19, 2010, 1:26 am
    • You’re absolutely correct about the instinct to retreat into investing in only already profitable business lines when times are tough. Contrary to this, every biography on successful business people I’ve ever read counsels the exact opposite approach. According to these people who were obviously good enough at their jobs to rate a biography, the time to “double down” on marketing, R&D, and alternative income streams is when things are getting rough. No company is immune. From personal experience I know how deeply this can effect people. I still have friends that are reeling from what I term the “week of a thousand cuts” when several departments at Microsoft decided to “return to their core values” and fired everyone termed an engineer who didn’t write code as their core position duty. This resulted in hundreds of software test engineers and analysts being out on the streets despite good ratings and performance reviews. Management had spoken, and thus it was so. I can make no judgement as to whether it was the correct business strategy or not, but I think I’ve made my opinions about stacking your company with the same sort of person (ie: coders) known in my post about diversity.

      Also no one is safe from the new manager looking to make their bones, as it were. I think we’ve all had to sit through the uncomfortable meetings where a new manager proceeds to tell everyone just how they do things wrong even though its still their first day or week on the job. The good thing about a large corporation is there are usually peers or upper management around to temper or curb some of the worse excesses of such egoists. In small companies or startups, these people are usually given the free reign of a feudal lord dealing with serfs and tenant farmers.


      Posted by cowboytesting | June 19, 2010, 7:03 am
  3. It’s hard to come by well-informed people about this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking
    about! Thanks


    Posted by Eben Pagan Accelerate Group | May 10, 2013, 9:37 am


  1. Pingback: Honest Advice Series: Do Your Homework « Testing in The Wild West - July 12, 2010

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