Jan 16, 2013 · 8 minutes

I don’t need to tell anybody about the importance of loyalty. In the startup world, it is the alpha and the omega trait. Loyalty is important everywhere, but in a startup it is particularly important. Why? Because so many jobs are new, unique, and specific to the person holding that job — if they leave, it’s basically impossible to replace them.

So they need to stick around.

But the purpose of this article is to point out another observation about loyalty: It cannot be faked. And a seasoned hirer will be able to spot it out almost immediately, and certainly within the first few months of the job.

I’ve personally hired dozens of people in the last five years, and it amazes me how often they tip their hand. So, consider this a public service announcement. All ye employees should know that there are plenty of loyalty "tells" out there, and here are a few for you to know about:

Loyalty tell No. 1 -- Career jumping

Nothing disqualifies a resume faster than career jumping. If you have held five jobs in six years, then you are a career jumper. If you have been in the working world for a long time, and you have not a single experience greater than three years, then you are a career jumper.

When I get a resume from a career jumper, I immediately do one of two things:

If the resume is printed on a physical piece of paper, I rip it up and put it in my physical trashcan. If, however, it is a digital resume in my inbox, then I simply click the "delete" button on Gmail, and the resume is destroyed without wasting paper. My preference is that we don’t waste a sheet of paper, because a career jumper is worth less to me than $0.001 and 1/100,000th of a tree.

Nothing is a blood-red flag for disloyalty more so than career jumping. There are people who think -- perhaps with some legitimacy -- that the best way to get promoted is through switching companies. And that is a great strategy from the perspective of the employee. But the loser in such cases is the employer. And so I would never let my own company get played as a sucker.

Loyalty tell No. 2 — The magically re-appearing “counter-offer”

Here’s my rule with counter-offers... You get one every two years.

And, because I’m a nice guy, I won’t even ask you any of the details. I was probably already suspicious when you had all those "dental appointments" last month. But you need not give me the whole shtick about “I wasn’t even looking. An old colleague approached me...” I’ve done this long enough to know the story already.

I get it.

You want a raise, and you are proactive enough to go get a competing job offer to force my hand at giving you a raise. Well, I don’t mind proactivity. Poker is one of my hobbies, and I enjoy the challenge of folding or calling your bluff — and, yes, I have called bluffs before. But you will probably win.

And you are allowed to win once every two years. Any more than that, and you are disloyal, and I will let you walk away. I’ll even push you out. If an extra $5,000 per year is going to change your life so much, then go have a good life on somebody else’s dime.

Loyalty Tell No. 3 -- Oh, that vacation that you already had planned

So, you’re starting the job in March, and — by sheer coincidence — you already had a vacation planned for the month of May. You’re going to the Maldives for two weeks, and you will be completely out of pocket. You planned it a year ago...

Sure, you did.

This is the oldest trick in the book. And it happens so often that there is really nothing an employer can do about it. Furthermore, an employer has the prerogative to blow up the hire altogether when the prospective employee drops the vacation bomb. But the employer won’t do that, so the employee always wins this battle.

But, for what it’s worth, it’s so damn annoying.

People should feel comfortable taking a few months off between jobs. In fact, I practically insist upon it. If you have spent years working at a company, and in that time you have toiled hard and developed a lot of skills, then you should help yourself to a few months off. And that is the perfect window to take that romantic dream vacation.

But don’t take the vacation once you already start your new job. That’s such a shitty thing to do. People are hiring you because there is so much work to do. They are hiring you because they have invested innumerable hours of their own time conducting a search, and they really want to hire you and believe in you. They want you to roll up your sleeves and jump in. Most employers would rather you start the job a week or two later, and pay the few hundred bucks in change fees to move the trip forward.

And, yet, probably no less than one in three people who get a new job try to squeeze a big vacation into their near-term plans the night before they sign the offer letter. Sure, it speaks to the sad state of working conditions in America more so than any individual’s attitude — that people can’t take time off between employers — but it’s a kick in the balls every single time it happens.

Loyalty tell No. 4 — You don’t ask a damn question about equity

Whenever I offer an employee a job, I tell them how many shares we are including in the offer. Moreover, I specifically do not tell them how many shares are outstanding or what percentage their shares represent.

Because it is their job to ask.

When I offer somebody 10,000 shares, I expect the very next question to be, “and how many shares are outstanding?” Presumably, they completed their 3rd grade coursework with the M&M’s on the desk, and therefore understand both numerators and denominators.

Now, I don’t hold it against them when they fail to ask such questions. Some people are new to the startup world, and nobody has ever told them otherwise. There are other employees who have had such rotten luck with their previous share grants, that they’ve pretty much given up on caring.

So you don’t lose many points for not asking.

But whenever an employee gives me a hard bargain over their share grant, I admire it, and I give them loyalty cred. When people negotiate up their equity and not their salary, I am particularly pleased. It is one of the earliest and best ways to telegraph that you are serious about the job, and you are in it for the long haul.

We in Silicon Valley are lucky that this form of compensation — which is reasonably unique to our region of the country, at least in the magnitude to which it impacts wealth — even exists. It’s our great differentiator. And the more that people can demonstrate their appreciation of this collective gift, the more I want to work with them.

Loyalty tell No. 5 — Your LinkedIn profile is a wasteland

Let me be clear about this.

You are obligated to be on LinkedIn. You are obligated to have a detailed profile. You are obligated to take care of that profile like it was your bikini line, Corvette’s engine, or Fantasy Football roster.

Setting up a good LinkedIn profile — with thorough job descriptions, a few good recommendations, and a clean photograph — is an obligation. If you don’t do it, you are losing points, and I will be less inclined to hire you. It’s like not owning a suit or having bad credit. Sure, there are some great people with no suit, no credit, and no LinkedIn profile. But they are few and far between.

Because a person with a great LinkedIn profile has much less to hide about their past than does one with a Spartan profile.

Sure, people play the “I’ll recommend you, if you recommend me” game on LinkedIn. But, you know what? If you stayed at a job for eight months then quit, you better have a few people there who liked you. Or else you were a complete dud. And when a job didn’t work out — and there are many good reasons why that can happen — then you owe the world of future employers some sort of explanation.

But isn’t LinkedIn the stomping ground for douche career jumpers worth avoiding? Sure, it is. But they are easily spotted. Just as you can spot them out at a networking event — next to the slightly quieter guy who hates being there, but cares enough about his career to show up and make a damn effort.

If you’re not on LinkedIn, it means that you probably don’t care much about your career, and people like that bail on jobs as often as the douche career jumpers. Maybe they get bored and stop showing up. Or maybe they come to their manager one day and say, “This isn’t for me, I’m really sorry, I thought it was, but…”

People with zero career confidence can do amazing work, but they also run the risk of disengaging. This is a type of disloyalty that gets less attention, because they leave with a whimper instead of a bang. But a seasoned employer knows it all too well.

And you can’t care about our company if you don’t care at all about your career.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]