One of the most debated IT career path topics is whether it’s best to build a long-term career with one firm or move to different firms to achieve your desired career goals.
Let me first say that, in my opinion, there is no right answer because what’s right for one person may not be for others. But let’s look at some pros and cons for each approach.
Staying with one company
Choosing to stay with one firm over a long period of time can be a great option to “build” a career. As you gain experience and knowledge unique to your firm, your value to the organization increases. With that increased value, you typically have more responsibilities, as well as a stronger influence in future company strategic decisions. That company’s specific knowledge uniquely positions you to be an internal “expert” due to your time invested there.
That said, it’s important to ensure that you are taking ownership of your professional development and, ultimately, your career progression. One of the fundamentals of successfully building a career with one firm is ensuring that you continue to enhance your professional skills. While becoming an “in-house” expert is great for your confidence and self-worth, it is absolutely essential that you continue to increase your technical skills through ongoing training and development. Here’s why:
One common perception is that your compensation growth is slower when you stay with one firm for a long time. While this can often be the case, I’ve seen plenty of IT pros whose compensation progression with one firm has kept pace with the current market. The key here is to ensure that your skills are progressing at the rate to warrant the compensation you want. (You should also track the going rate for your skill set where you live.) Stale skills are not conducive to increased compensation.
How should you keep your skills sharp? While your employer has an obligation to guide you down your career path, you must take ownership of your skills development. Research technology and business trends, and invest the time and resources to obtain the training you need to stay professionally relevant now and in years to come.
My final thought on building an IT career path with one firm is that it is often rewarded with returned loyalty by top firms. While there are no guarantees, as companies change, grow and evolve, tenured and valued employees continue to have an important place in the organization over the long term. Less tenured employees may have an increased level of risk of “last in, first out” if the business needs to make personnel changes.
Switching jobs frequently
There are pros and cons associated with changing jobs frequently as well. Some of the more obvious benefits are that you have the potential to accelerate your learning and overall skills development as you move from firm to firm. You can potentially gain valuable, broader experience as you work for different organizations, and those skills ideally lead to you developing into a well-rounded professional with deeper experiences — and greater marketability. From a compensation perspective, larger compensation “jumps” can be experienced when you change jobs.
Still, there are areas of concern when you choose this IT career path. First, many times it’s more difficult to climb the corporate ladder as a newer associate in the organization when competing with more tenured employees. Their track record at the firm is much more established and that can put you at a disadvantage when competing for a promotion. Second, as I mentioned earlier, if there’s a reorganization, you may be exposed as a newer employee and most susceptible to being transitioned out of the firm. This is not always the case, but leading firms still value employee loyalty and frequently prioritize tenured employees when changes come.
In conclusion, the right answer is what’s right for you. As you assess your IT career path, weigh the considerations above as guiding concepts to help you make the best decision.
John Reed is the Senior Executive Director of Robert Half Technology. He manages operations for more than 100 Robert Half Technology locations worldwide, and has extensive background in both IT and staffing, including 13 years in IT product sales and almost 17 years in the staffing industry.
This post has been updated to reflect more current information.