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What makes BI specialists move (or stay)?

Recently, I got a message from within my network. The guy reaching out was looking for a senior MS BI specialist, and asked my opinion about what made people move towards another employer. Here's my $0.02:

When people start moving

If people are 100% happy in their current situation (or aren't convinced a better situation could possibly exist), they're not willing to move. As soon as people are willing to move, the only thing you've got to do is drive them in your direction. Sounds simple, eh? That's how pro-active recruitment works: if you can convince the other party to start moving at all, it's way easier to drive them in your direction. Also one of the reasons1 many companies (especially consultancy firms) are looking for students just finishing school - they have to move. But what makes people want to move from their current situation at all? Here's a few reasons I've seen with colleagues around me:

Not being recognized

Although a company could be pretty good - in say a technical way - and you're held in high esteem by your customers, that doesn't mean you get the acclaim you deserve. Or maybe the company gives you credit - but does that in a way that doesn't appeal to you (think of praising your significant other where all he/she wanted was a hug). When using the DISC model, I've seen people leave a company which was very solid in a technical way, with many of their employees on the S-C side of the quadrant. Employees leaning more towards the I-D components of the DISC quadrant either made it as a manager or project lead, or left the company within a few years - missing connection or drive.

Too few sparring partners

On the other hand I've seen a few highly qualified professionals who have too few colleagues matching their technical qualities and knowledge. This can be highly challenging (as long as you're a trainer/coach type), but it's a thin line: this is the scenario in which I've seen people getting feared of the company being "bad" for you (because everyone else is on a so much lower technical level) or getting angry because they were always extinguishing fires and couldn't finish or work on their favorite projects. The opposite is allowing people to work together with other bright minds. If people are on a lone height, provide them with possibilities to meet other top-performers outside the company. Conferences, masterclasses and other professional events are great possibilities to do so.

Not enough room for personal development

Other employees left their employers 2 because they lacked possibilities for professional training, attending conferences, and other ways of personal development. Highly-skilled technical people have one treat in common: they usually want to know what's going on for real - and be able to set aside some other work in order to get a clear view of how things work. That's how they got so good in the first place. Without ways to replenish themselves in a technical way (or "sharpen the saw") they'll want to leave soon. Turned around, this is one of the key strengths of a company: valuing employees for their unique qualities, while empowering them with high quality training and inspirational events.

Unease with company

Former employees often start criticizing their former employer for many things, often spelling doom and seeing it all going downward. I've even had a few colleagues who decided to leave a company driven by fear. They weren't convinced the company's name would look good on their resume3. The reverse, of course, is being proud of your companies' qualities, achievements and people - and the "ding" it puts in the universe.

Extrinsic motivation

Finally, there are several reasons I group under "extrinsic motivation" - though many of the reasons stated above have extrinsic components as well. Things like financial compensation being too low, travel distance, changed personal circumstances (for example illness, parenthood) etc. As for financial compensation: people really going for the maximum amount of money usually either start as an independent consultant or practitioner, or aim for jobs they think are paid better (like management positions). Don't expect seniors to move for money alone - although many of them have a base salary they'll require for their work. Travel distance is a consideration for sure (all time spent traveling is time not spent doing other things), but in my experience never been a deal-breaker for anyone I know. Of course, they can be reasons to leave a company - but as far as I've seen always on top of other (intrinsic, more important) reasons to leave. Employers are usually pretty keen on finding ways to make it work if you really want the job - work from home, stay in hotels, get you a bigger car, get paid a bit more. As a recruiter, remember that this is usually a very bad starting point for conversation ("maybe you want to work closer to home/get paid better").


This article hasn't really a point, other than to write what's on my mind. But if there's a key takeout, let it be this:

  • As a recruiter, don't focus on extrinsic things. Rather, show you've got a good view of the market you're operating in.
  • As a company, focus on getting the right people. If you find a recruitment company is too smooth/commercial, chances are high they'll repel some good guys too - or lull them into a job that's not a real match. Which you only discover after you've paid them, of course..
  • As a possible employee, looking for another position: figure out what works for you.
    • Is the company you're considering something that you'll be proud of?
    • Do they offer room for the personal development you want / need, offering professional training?
    • Do they have peers you can easily connect with and are allowed to work with?
    • Are the colleagues-to-be people you feel at ease with? Set aside your likings for the recruiter or HR - you won't work that often with them.

So, I'm wondering what are your thoughts about this? What made you - as a BI specialist - leave your last job? What are your experiences with recruiters (in-company or external) - what didn't work, what was a total showstopper?

Founder of this blog. Business Intelligence consultant, developer, coach, trainer and speaker at events. Currently working at Dura Vermeer. Loves to explain things, providing insight in complex issues. Watches the ongoing development of the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack closely. Keeping an eye on Big Data, Data Science and IoT.

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  1. Sadly, sometimes if you want better compensation, you need to switch jobs. I think this is more important in the start of your career, but later on this becomes less important. The highest pay raises that I got, where because I switched jobs.

    But to answer the question: as BI Developer, I switched jobs once for a significant pay raise (in the beginning of my career) and once because I didn't have enough projects.

    • It's true - especially in the beginning of your career a significant pay rise can be a primary driver for switching jobs (I can confirm switching jobs leads to significant increase of salary early in your career, although that wasn't driving me at all back then). Too bad your employer back then didn't see that - because it's a lousy reason to lose good guys just because you're not willing to pay them enough.

      Now that you reached a "base salary" you think is fair, would you make another move solely for another significant pay rise?

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    Koos, I agree with the reasons you mentioned in your post. I would like to add some other reasons as well:
    - Company is too slow in adapting new technology or at least to give it a try
    - Following the process in the right order is the holy grail

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