Maybe, just maybe, the job market is finally beginning to improve. As I write this the headline on CNBC is that jobless claims last week were down by 13,000. There is a less formal measure of improvement in the job market that I am personally beginning to observe. Since the first of the year, for the first time in many months, I am beginning to get calls from some of my friends in the recruiting business who are looking for referrals. I am also hearing from former colleagues and employees who are re-entering the job market and are seeking references and/or advice. In the last week or so I have had more of these calls than I can count on the fingers of one hand. Quite a change from just a few months ago.
Last week I was speaking with a young lady whom I have had the pleasure of mentoring for the last six months or so. She is employed by a large and successful US company but has come to realize that she may need to move on in order to realize her career goals. In a telephone conversation on this subject she posed a question that I believe is an important one for anyone looking at making a career move. “How can I assess if a new job is a good fit for me personally?” was her question. Having made a couple of, shall I say, questionable, career decisions early in my career, let me suggest seven things you may want to consider when evaluating a potential career move.
One thing to keep in mind from the beginning; basically, all position descriptions, or “specs” as recruiters sometimes call them, look the same. They all talk about the greatness of the opportunity, the wonderful opportunities for advancement and they are all, at least at more senior levels, looking for “leaders” and “change agents.” Trust me, I have seen probably over a hundred of these (and written quite a few!). Your objective is to find out what the “opportunity” really entails and, more importantly, can you succeed there. A few thoughts.
If you don’t have contacts there look at the company website. Do they have a clear mission and corporate values and are they consistent with what you value? Google the company to see if they have been in legal or ethical trouble and how they handled it. Finally, have a candid conversation with the recruiter as well as with people you interview with, especially representatives from HR, potential colleagues and the person you will report to. Ask them to describe the culture. If they all give similar answers, then that is a pretty good data point for your assessment. If they give wildly varying descriptions of the culture, well, you may want to think hard about whether you want to work there.
We don’t often think about national culture but, as a person who has worked for US, European and Asian companies let me assure you, national culture makes a difference.
Where the company is headquartered, and the extent to which the business you would be working in is controlled from headquarters, will impact how decisions are made. Let’s face it, many of the traits that we in the US value in our managers and executives such as ambition, toughness, a “sense of urgency” and forcefulness are considered offensive, or at least rude, in other cultures. Americans tend to value quick decision-making whereas in Japan for instance, decisions are made more slowly and by consensus. In some European countries the work ethic, especially with regard to things like the hours spent at the office and the use of vacation, is different from the US. (and sometimes healthier, in my opinion). I could go on more about this but you probably see my point. The culture of the country where the company is headquartered will have an impact on the overall corporate culture. Make sure you understand this.
Going into a newly created job is a great opportunity. I have done this several times in my career and it affords the opportunity to shape both the role and the new organization. Make sure that you are clear on the specific problems the position was created to solve and/or the opportunities it was created to exploit. Most importantly, are you comfortable that you are a good fit for the challenges ahead?
Another warning sign of the overly aggressive hiring manager is problems filling the job. Are they desperate? Don’t allow your ego to get in the way if the people at the company, especially the boss, seem overly eager to land you. Find out either from the recruiter, the folks in the company or from your own internet research how long the position has been open. If it has been open for a long time there may be something else going on that you need to know about. It is in situations like this where your personal network of contacts can be helpful. Can you find out why no one has taken the job or, better yet, who else has looked at it and why they turned it down? Very early in my career I took a job in an organization that, as it turned out, had some very serious problems that, with a little research, I could have learned about. It was a miserable experience.
The first step is to know what you are good at. If you haven’t done so, take the Strengthfinder 2.0 assessment and read Now Discover Your Strengths. Critically look at what the job requires and whether or not you will be able to exploit your strengths in the role. Also make sure that you will have the latitude to move or hire people to compensate for areas of weakness.
Second, when you interview, look around. Can you see yourself working in these surroundings in this city with these people? Where will your office be and does it fit where you see yourself at this stage of life? It is important to find out where your staff are located and of course where your office will be because this can tell you a lot about the status, importance and initial power the role will have. If you are in the executive suite that is probably a good start. Several years ago I looked at the CIO role at a very prestigious research institute. We toured the campus, I talked with a lot of folks and, near the end of the day, asked where most of the staff were located and where my office would be if I accepted the job. They gave me a building name that was not one of the ones I had seen. When I inquired further it turns out that the entire IT staff was located in a rented building some eight miles from the main campus. I couldn’t see myself working in an environment where my department and me were so remotely removed from the rest of the organization and I politely declined their offer.
Several years ago an acquaintance interviewed with a large multi-national company for the global CIO role. He had a great day until late in the afternoon when he was talking with the CEO (the job reported to the COO) and he posed the ”what does success look like” question. To his surprise, without hesitation, the CEO responded, “Fix SAP in Asia.” Throughout the preliminary discussions about the role and the day of interviews no one had mentioned SAP or Asia. Turns out there were some serious problems no one bothered to mention. He didn’t take the job.
On the contrary if the key people you speak with give a clear, reasonable and well-thought-out answer, and it is something you believe you can accomplish, you may have found your next job.
As the economy rebounds, and it eventually will, many of you will have the opportunity to make your next move. Make sure you make it a good one.