Is the Grass Greener… or is it Astroturf?

Is the grass greener?

My father worked for one company for most of his career, as did his father. Now though, it seems like that is a story of yesteryear. Recently, several people on my Twitter list have found new jobs. One person on Twitter also made the comment that he had Technology Attention Deficit Disorder (TADD) that made him want new things to work on. Obviously the IT job market is heating up again, and the head hunters have started to circle. The question is, how do you know it’s time for you to jump ship?

In the past, I have had several aborted job searches that have shown me that the grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes the shiny Nirvana Company down the street really isn’t as shiny once you’re on the inside. I call this Astroturf. Some companies have amazing PR, Marketing and Recruiting departments that can make them seem like they can do no wrong. About a year ago, I had an interview at one such company. Their advertising on TV and their website was slick. The HR recruiter was very nice. During the preliminaries in the HR area, it seemed like a very friendly and nice place to work. Then came the interview with the team and the hiring manager. I was given driving directions to another part of town where the IT minions dwelt and told to drive over there.

When I got over there, the slickness of the HR area was replaced with utilitarianism. OK – so I admit as a geek I usually go for utilitarianism too, but what I’m saying is that I was in the bowels of the organization where the real work happens. The interview with the team went well, and they seemed like a pretty good group of geeks. When I got to the interview with the manager, I was floored by the level of micromanaging he and the other IT managers did on day to day operations. Even a simple port activation or VLAN change sounded like it would take an act of Congress. That was when I realized that I would be trading my not so green grass for Astroturf and took my name out of consideration for the position.

So how do you know if it’s the right time to move and the right new job? My friend who is a recruiter and professional coach for physicians would tell me (while pointing to his chest) that it’s a “feeling right here”. Unfortunately for me, it seems that I never get that totally warm fuzzy feeling because of the “what ifs” churning in my stomach. Really for me, it comes down to less of a feeling and more of cold hard facts and figures.

Some of my criterion include:

  • Length of Commute
  • Flexibility of Schedule
  • Monetary Compensation
  • Benefit Package (Health Insurance, Vision Plan, Dental Plan)
  • Paid Time Off
  • Balance with family life
  • Manager
  • Work team

My Bottom Line

Sometimes a position is so toxic that you have to get out, even if you’re risking a sideways move with little benefit. But most times, the devil you know feels safer than the one you don’t. Changing positions is a leap of faith and needs to be well thought out. Kick the tires, look closely at the grass (it could be astroturf or painted) and don’t fall for the HR quick sell.

What things do you do when looking for a new job?

Ben Story
Ben Story is a network and voice engineer for a regional hospital in West Central Illinois. He has been working with networking since 1998, his Freshman year at Truman State University, when he worked for a small dial-up ISP managing their Shiva LanRover modem bank. His random bits and bytes can be found on his blog at http://showbrain.blogspot.com or on Twitter @ntwrk80.
Ben Story

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  • Fernando Montenegro

    Very sage advice: the innards of organizations are often VERY different than what you see outside…I like and try to mirror your use of objective criteria. As someone who works on the ‘vendor side’ of the table, I define my criteria as:- I am working with technology I believe in: it is offering real value to my customers and it is something that interests me.- I am working with the type of customers/projects that interest me.- I like the people I’m working with: they’re professionals that I can rely on to do their part of the job, they’re at the right level of experience to either teach me something or willing to learn from me and they’re nice/fun/agreeable people to be around.- I am satisfied with my overall compensation, including earnings, work/life balance, set of benefits, …Then I try to balance all four requirements. One of them being off for a while is OK, as long as not *too* bad. Two of them being off, I start to take more interest in recruiter calls. Three or more and you know what happens…Notice a lot of “I” in there. Everyone will be different…Thanks for the great post.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree more. The days of ‘get a job with a company for 30 years and retire’ are long over. I won’t go into all the details of that but I will say that searching for a position in a company has been (or should be) a skill in and of itself.

    One of the biggest things I look for is what the job REALLY is as compared to what the job is described as. So many times I see positions asking for tons of experience in network engineering and this and that only to find what they want is someone to reset passwords. And vice versa! Plenty of times I went in for a position only to find that what they want is someone with decades of experience to run the whole show but only want to pay someone at a far lesser rate. This has become especially true in recent years with the recession.

    My advice is this: Interview the interviewer. Consider yourself a sovereign state and enter into the interview process as if you’re their equal and you’re considering what they have to offer for your skills and services. Analyze everything about the position, will you like who you work for/with, what exactly will you be doing, what’s the level of stress like and just as you said, go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right it’s better to walk away than ignore that feeling and kick yourself later.

  • Peskybug

    Good post.

    Besides whats already mentioned, I also consider a few more things 
    (about my current workplace) when thoughts about moving-on occupy my head :

    - Am I learning new (or becoming better at my) business relevant skills?
    - Am I in the company of people as competitive or better than me?
    - Am I receiving constructive (and periodic) feedback about my performance?

    I want to ensure I don’t get into a comfort zone and stop learning
    on the job.Intellectual curiosity is key and sharpening troubleshooting skills 
    on real world complex field issues are a grt way to keep that attribute in good health.

    So yes, if I believe, I am stagnating, people around me are not hungry to learn
    and apply new skills and the management is generally not bothered about my
    performance, then I would look out.