Last week in my blog post I touched on looking at potential upside in companies where there was more risk than in an established firm with a long track record in the market. People often hear about startups and think silicon valley….certainly not construction!
The reality however is that construction is an insanely risk laden environment and companies come and go all the time. In turn other companies spring up out of opportunity in the marketplace and you have a new player on the block. The advantage to the companies in this “new player” category for a potential employee is that you’re not bottlenecked behind 50 people on your journey to an Executive role. The disadvantage is that one bad project and you might be back out looking for work.
When I talk to people and assess their situation I like to delve into their tolerance for risk. A 28 year old Assistant Superintendent will usually have a greater tolerance for risk than a 53 year old General Superintendent with three kids in college.
It comes down to this- what do you want? Simple. Do you want a big opportunity and the ability to move quickly within the ranks of a company? Then you have to be willing to give up the 401k maybe for a few years and accept a potentially weaker benefits package.
So my advice when seeking a job change is to really assess what is most important to you. This will help you identify the types of companies you would like to target.
When I was 22 years old I landed my first job in the recruiting world working for a large staffing firm out of downtown Boston which focused on Construction. I was offered the following advice from the owner of the company… “Make yourself indispensable and life is easy.”
At the time I thought I understood the advice. In my mind I had to be the best in the room to make myself indispensable….simple I thought. Now, after working with tons of potential placements I’ve got a pretty good feel for what makes an employee indispensable.
This is the biggest one there is. People LIKE to be around other people who have an infectious enthusiasm for what they do. It motivates them and everyone around them. People with a solid outlook and who make the best out of their situation will naturally gain support from peers.
We currently have a client looking to replace one of their top people in the finance group. The reason? Well it turns out their work is great and they get everything done on time but they have a horrible attitude and poison the office environment.
2- Show Up
Seems simple right? It is amazing how much of life is showing up and how doing a LITTLE extra with the right attitude goes so far in the eyes of our clients or superiors. People who tend to succeed are not just workaholics as some people like to think. There is a tendency for those on the lower end of the ladder to point at the top and say “Oh…yeah he’s in the INNER circle.” or “She gets every opportunity.” Those people who succeed very rarely do so because the know someone or because they work all weekend long. Usually these people are very good at recognizing time and place. Meaning that let’s say you have Friday off to visit family down the Cape for a long weekend and although its been on the books for a long time its not a HUGE deal. Suddenly at work you hear that there is final bid going in Friday at 5pm and its crunch time. Stepping up right there before being asked and volunteering to help out and take the time somewhere else could be the difference between your promotion in 10 months or staying right where you are.
3- Playing well with others
In engineering school there is no class called “how to get along with people”. There should be but there isn’t. One of the absolute KILLERS we hear in our industry when reference checking is “He’s a hot head” or “She did not get along with her team.” It is so important to try and work well with others. These are your future references and these people MIGHT be the difference between a promotion or a new job.
To wrap it up…being indispensable is not about being the BEST at everything. We often hear that word and think oh…thats not me I’m more average. The truth is most people are average…thats why its called average. The difference makers are the little things that separate you from everyone else.
When we work with a person to assess whether or not a career move makes sense for them; one of the big focuses has to be on benefits. While base salary is important, its really just a small part in the bigger picture.
So, having a lot of experience looking at people’s benefits packages I’ve come to find that there is generally a direct correlation between the quality of the company and the benefits they offer.
First off one thing we all realize is that benefits are expensive. In today’s era of rising healthcare costs it is more expensive then ever to offer a fully backed plan where the company pays 100% of the cost. This can be a massive savings to the average employee.
What we find is that companies with very strong benefits packages really care about how their employees view their overall experience with the company. Simply put, they are creating reasons for people to stay with the company for a long time.
The Other Side of the Tracks
On the exact opposite side of the coin we see the employer that offers say, 70% coverage with a weak plan, no match on a 401k BUT….usually do a nice sized bonus and the salary might be a little higher. We have found in general that these companies tend to cycle through more people. They tend to be a little more reaction oriented hiring late for projects, cutting staff quicker when work slows and surprise…having those bonuses come in a little weaker than initially promised.
We get contacted a few times a month by new prospective clients and almost immediately we ask about their benefits package. A company with a very weak benefits package is not something we will “sell” to one of our candidates.
The One Exception
Here is the one place where I make an exception….brand new companies with tremendous upside. This is a rare occurrence but we do work with companies from time to time where they are in start up mode and cash is tight. Candidates who are interested in being in on the ground floor with a new company are open to risk and often that comes at a slight price. In that case there is merit in taking reduced initial benefits package.
Part of what we really try to push on our candidates is the idea of “Career Equity” when seeking out a potential job change. Many of our candidates initially think in black and white terms such as base salary, vacation time and bonus potential. Right behind those three things usually come benefits, commute and overall quality of life. Now…all of these things are huge factors when making a change but we also need to examine the not so obvious “career equity” gained in your next move.
What is “Career Equity”?
When I’m talking about “career equity” I am referring to the gain you receive from working at a specific employer or gaining access to pathways which could lead to a more rewarding financial picture down the road.
So lets take the example of Tim who is a 7 year Project Manager with a small Civil Construction company in New York and is looking at making a move. Tim feels he is a bit under paid and also would like to one day run large construction projects in the $100MM range. Tim is earning $ 87k per year with a car allowance and working on $10MM project.
Tim takes two interviews. The first company is a direct competitor of his current employer and the interview goes well. He knows the exact type of work they do and they recognize he would need no training on their end. The company offers him $110k plus a vehicle and the title of Senior Project Manager.
The second company is a major player in the $100MM plus mega project market. The company is national and has a great presence in the New York area. The VP of Opps likes Tim even though his experience is on the much smaller side than what they do. He thinks Tim could be a star down the line but needs to really learn how they do things. He offers Tim the title “Project Engineer” and a base salary of $100k plus the same allowance he has now.
Using the Crystal Ball
So a lot of people will automatically say that Tim makes a mistake going to the bigger company. After all he leaves $10k on the table, plus a vehicle and the better title right? Wrong.
Tim’s move to the competitor would do nothing to increase his marketability 10 years down the road. At that point he would be pigeon holed into the market of smaller sized jobs and would be priced out from moving to a larger company as he won’t offer them value.
If he moves to the larger company with more challenges and less money his 10 yr expectation sky rockets. Not only will he be marketable to all the major players but he would be just as marketable if not more to the mid-level and smaller companies as well. He has in essence opened up 10x opportunities for the future.
Considering All Factors
No situation is simply black and white and we understand that a job search is a complicated process with many layers from commute to future earning potential. What we advise our candidates to do is consider that long view and the unseen equity they will get out of their next move.