The Allure of “Permanent” Jobs

As a recruiter that places both contractors and full-time analytics professionals I have always found it strange that candidates would take less money to do the same job as a “permanent employee”.

I put the phrase “permanent employee” in quotes because there is nothing permanent about being an employee. In fact, the two words don’t seem to even go together.

In Europe employees have employment contracts with employers. It is an ordeal to eliminate an employee. There is a lengthy process that is spelled out in the contract that often includes substantial severance payments when the cord is finally cut.

Moving OnMost States in the U.S. are “at will” employment states. In other words, the day the company suspects that they may be better off without you, they can lay you off. All you get is state and federal unemployment benefits.

There are not tons of lay-off’s in digital analytics, but they do happen. New political winds blow and people get caught in the “wrong camp”… the client they were hired to support jumped to another agency… budget cuts… a very promising start-up loses funding…

Whether they leave on their own volition or they are laid off, the average digital analyst stays with their company for less than 18-months. What is permanent about that?

Fact: our average contractor makes 45% more money than our average FT placement.

Yes, they have to pay for their own benefits, but 45% buys a lot of insurance.

I have lived on both sides of this fence. Most of my career has been independent and entrepreneurial, but I have also had a couple of “permanent jobs” in my life, so I think I have seen the value of both. I know which side of this argument I tend to fall on. What about you?

There are definitely reasons to take a permanent job. Here are a few reasons that resonate with me:

  • Mentorship: If you have the chance to work with experts in your field it can be a great learning / growth opportunity.
  • Building something / teamwork / camaraderie: There is something to be said for common purpose. There is a certain beauty in having 20, 100 or 2000 people waking up every morning and trying to move the ball forward. Also, humans are usually social creatures, so teams are more fun. Long term, working by yourself in your home office is awesome about once a week. Maybe twice.
  • Equity: If you are going to build something, it is nice to have some skin in the game. When the company gets up to cruising altitude and has some kind of liquidity event, it can be a chance of a lifetime to participate.
  • Smoother sailing: When you are on your own, business can be cycles of feast followed by famine. As part of a larger company your teammates can pick you up when you have a slow period.
  • Consistency of income: Even though you may make less, many people find it easier to manage their lives with a paycheck that arrives in the bank every two weeks.
  • Focus: Being part of a larger team means that you do not have to be the chef, host and bottle washer. If you find the RIGHT job you can focus on what you do well and what you enjoy.
  • Career-pathing: If you are motivated by climbing the corporate ladder and would some day like to be the SVP of Analytics at XYZ Corp, the surest way to get there is to have the right sequence of jobs (and have success in most of them).
  • Scale: Owning your own business (or being an independent contractor) can often mean that you become very tactical. In my business, for example, I am very involved in the day-to-day minutia of working on searches. In my last FT job I was running multi-million dollar staffing programs with hundreds of employees. Much more strategic, many more moving parts, potentially more interesting…

ConsultingI think the same is true in digital analytics. You can work as an independent implementation consultant and make a damn good living. OR you can work for a major consultancy, like Keystone Solutions, and have a chance to work on the biggest, most complicated enterprise clients with ridiculous amounts of data and big stakes.

That list turned out to be longer than I thought it would.

I think I just talked myself into taking a “permanent job”.

But wait… there are plenty of good reasons to be independent, as well:

  • Politics: Personally, I don’t want to worry about being in the right “camp”. I am sure to get that wrong. I would really prefer to focus on doing my work well and hopefully I will be rewarded for that work, regardless of whose ass I forgot to kiss along the way. Politics are not in my skill set.
  • Consensus and committees: When I know the correct way to go, I want to just go. I don’t want to spend weeks or months selling my vision to the team, building consensus so that I can gather support and get the green light.
  • Compensation: I need to make too much money. Companies can hire analytics recruiters for $50k/year. I don’t want to sound too much like a jerk, but I wouldn’t get out of bed for $50k/year.
  • I have built multi-million dollar businesses for other people. They take tremendous pride in the businesses that I built for them. I got 10% pay increases, bullshit stories about my bonus and lots of promises for next year.
  • Ego: I take pride in the fact that I started my business in my attic. I enjoy telling that story. I doubt that I would be as proud to be the VP of Analytic Staffing at XYZ Corp.
  • Flexibility: I was riding the Long Island Railroad to work one day (about 7-years ago, when I had my last “permanent job”). I remember thinking: “I don’t have time for anything in my life. How the hell do I have time to ride this train an hour each way, every day??”

In my own business I work a ton of hours, but I work when and how I want. I make my work fit my life. Not vice versa.

There are a greater number of arguments for jobs, but the arguments for independence have more weight for me.

The good news is that people don’t have to choose today which they want. It is not even a question of one or the other. Most entrepreneurs have had jobs. Many go back and forth between the corporate world and their own enterprises.

Sleeping well at nightDifferent things appeal to us at different points in our careers. Different types of challenges speak to us.

I think it is important to listen to your intuition and do whichever is more in line with your priorities. If you’re making 45% less money, but you are enjoying your career and you are sleeping well at night, I suppose that is a pretty good ROI.


2 thoughts on “The Allure of “Permanent” Jobs

  1. Two words you didn’t mention are ‘Severance pay’. We let a number of contractors go in Dec and I was stunned to learn that the normal company rules for severance did not apply. Maybe it’s only a psychological difference, but there is a big difference between ‘I lost my job and I only have two weeks to find another’ and ‘I lost my job and as of tomorrow I’m earning $0.’

  2. Well said, Corry! You really summarized the trade-offs that have been going through my mind as I leave my corporate employer to experience the pluses and minuses of self-employment. For me, the “time” axis has been key — life and career priorities often change over time. It’s a good idea to annually self-assess where you are relative to life goals and consider when a change is needed.

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