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Finding the Right Job with the Right Company: 4 Factors to Consider

How do you find the right job with the right company? There are four factors you need to consider:

  • learning potential

  • career path

  • the company's position within the industry

  • organizational culture

We'll discuss each one individually.

Learning Potential

Learning potential is the most important factor when searching for the best match. Careers are built through learning, and the learning opportunity of a specific job should be its most scrutinized feature. "What will I learn by doing these things and working with these people?" is perhaps the most important question to ask about any prospective job. Time and again, people tend to put other criteria (compensation value, prestige, or title being three of the most common) first.

Young professionals and students in particular often reach for the golden ring with their first job. They (as well as the rest of us) would be much better served by asking three questions:

  • "Where do I want to be in five years?" What is your career vision for that period, perhaps two or three jobs from now? This period forms the nearer limit of career imagination. A 20-year goal belongs truly to the realm of deep imagination. A two-year goal is more grounded in your immediate situation and involves practical trade-offs that you face right now. A five-year vision is a blend of your deepest vision for your life and what is almost within reach.

  • "What do I need to do, and what do I need to learn, to be most qualified for the job that represents my five-year vision?" When you begin assembling the vision that comes from answering the first question, your plan must be informed by these realities:

                     >Who would you hire for the position you want in five years? (If you don't know, ask some people who are in the 
                       position you’re looking toward.)
                     >What experience does she have? 
                     >What skills is she known for?
                     >What experience and what skills will distinguish me from the competition?

  • "Where will I best learn what I need to learn between now and then?" Now that you have an idea what you want, and what that goal requires, you have to determine how you are going to develop yourself in order to get there. Most well-managed companies offer jobs that will provide challenges and allow you to expand your skills. But those are the company's challenges, not necessarily the ones you want or need. Developing your five-year vision, and then working backwards from it, provides the discipline you need to identify the specific areas of knowledge and experience that are most important to that vision.

Without this bedrock underneath you, you will be faced with recruiters who will wax poetic about learning opportunities that may indeed be substantial, but not the most relevant for your vision. Faced with multiple learning offers, and having no criteria to distinguish among them, you may well fall back on the less-important dimensions mentioned above (immediate compensation, prestige, title, etc.) to make your actual choice. The result is often that the most important factor – learning – has been neutralized by its apparent ubiquity. You must know what you most need to learn.

Career Path Options

The second factor to consider in choosing a specific job is your career path. We work with too many people who have made their job decisions based on the opportunity and rewards offered them for a specific job that typically lasts for one or two years. They have not explored sufficiently the career path associated with that particular job at that specific company. For example, some strategic planning jobs are one- to two-year platforms for launching a career as a line manager in an operating unit of the company, but other strategic planning jobs lead only to other staff analyst roles, working on larger and higher-level projects.

You need to know the history of career paths associated with the job you take at the time of entry into the organization. It is an important topic to discuss during the interview process. Once an offer is made, you should talk to other individuals in the company who are two to five years down the career path after entering in the position you’re considering.

Related to career path is the issue of compensation. Again, people tend to focus too narrowly on the compensation associated with an initial job offer. Career paths within organizations have different "trajectories." Some jobs come with relatively low salaries but take a large jump up after a relatively short period of time. Other jobs have very high initial salaries but then only increase modestly for a relatively long period of time.

Do not trade long-term dollars for short-term nickels; know the compensation trajectory of the career path associated with the job you are considering.

Company's Position

The third factor to consider when looking at a particular job is the company's position within the industry. Whether or not you aspire to the rapid advancement associated with high-growth industries, you will want to join a company that is positioned to survive and prosper, even if your goals for financial reward are modest. If the company is publicly traded, there is a host of information that you can gather on its current performance, along with analysts’ opinions about future performance – much of it easily accessible (and sometimes free) on the Internet.

Questions you should investigate include:

  • What are the biggest issues facing the industry?

  • How is your prospective company positioned to address them?

  • What is your company's market share?

  • Is it growing or shrinking?

  • Who are the company's biggest competitors?

  • Are there any emerging technologies that have the potential to adversely affecting the way the company does business?

  • Will the company be able to respond to these technologies?

Perhaps the most important aspect of company strength is the quality of its management at all levels.

  • What is the reputation of the senior management team?

  • How long have they been in their positions?

  • Where did they come from and what did they accomplish there?

  • Are they well regarded by company insiders as well as outside analysts?

When you are considering a job with a start-up or other small company, company prospects and the track record of management will probably be much more difficult to analyze. The experience and accomplishment of key managers in previous organizations are important criteria in these situations. If the company is very young, there is inherently more risk, which should be factored into your decision. Attractive features such as learning opportunity and culture must be correspondingly higher to compensate for the additional risk.

Company's Culture

Finding a company with a culture that is well-matched to your personality and work style is essential for career success. You may do a good job of identifying the right function and industry, but if you fail to properly analyze company culture before accepting a job offer, you may quickly discover that you’re ill-suited to the environment.