The Three-Legged Stool of Job Hunting
This is my site Written by Alora on October 18, 2008 – 8:01 pm

Assuming that you are conscientious of being a buyer in your job hunt (and that you have the luxury of being discerning), there are three factors to keep in mind when deciding which position to take:

  • The job itself – This would include everything from the title and the compensation to how much of your time you will be expected to spend in meetings and what type of responsibilities will be put on your plate.
  • The boss – Is he/she hands-off?  A micromanager?  An extrovert?  An introvert?  Located on-site?  Located half-way across the country?
  • The company – This would include everything from the business model (is it solid enough to have a good chance of survival in a recession?) to the leadership (do they have integrity and a commitment to their employees and community?).

I am constantly asking people which of these three things they consider most important, and the answers are always different and make for extremely interesting conversation.  So, in the interest of answering my own quesion, I will posit a proposed priority for these three things when it comes to what I look at during a job hunt.

Penelope Trunk recently blogged about why the mentor was more important than the job itself or the company, and while this is not intended to be a “me too!” post, I do have to agree with her.  For me, the boss is the A-#1 most important thing about a job.  A great job with a lousy boss equals an insufferable work environment.  But, a dubious company or a boring job can be made tolerable with a great boss.

HR studies tell us that the number one reason people leave their job is because they are unhappy with their boss.  As such, the converse is extremely important, and yet far too few people put real effort into getting a sense of who their potential boss really is before accepting a new job.

A great boss is a mentor who teaches you, pushes you, encourages you and helps you manage your short-comings.  Without mentors we don’t grow — at least not as quickly, and often not in ways that help us get better at what we do and as human beings.  Mentors are key.

Now, of course, a boss does not have to be a mentor.  For me the most influential mentors I’ve had have both been bosses, which can account for my bias in this regard (I’m sure it does).  A friend I’ve worked with for years, for example, while enjoying having a strong mentor as a boss also particularly loves a hands-off management style that lets her run her own show.  This is an entirely valid view-point, but I would posit that makes the boss question just as important in her job consideration: the last thing that is going to make her worklife pleasant is a boss who micromanages or who expect her to do things his way.

Because of some of the good bosses I have had, I have learned what is most important to me about being someone else’s boss.  I can’t honestly say I would be as sensitive to these lessons otherwise.  And so, aside from all the other reasons, for me the right boss is critical because that is one of the single most valuable learning tools in my life.

Which brings us to the item I consider the second most important when it comes to the Holy Trinity of Job Hunting: the company.  As the economy continues to spin into a freefall, and as disposable income-reliant business models start having to shore up their bottom line, a company’s core business is certainly not something to take for granted (especially for those of us in the web world).  Yet, despite that fact, what is actually the MOST important thing to me is leadership integrity.  I have long since learned that no amount of money makes up for a firm belief that the top of my corporate food chain is a dispicable human being who is ultimately profiting off my labor.  Or, even worse, that the company’s impact on the community (incuding potentially the environment) is not only antithetical to my beliefs, but is something I would be embarrassed to be associated with.

Personal branding is about how you help manage your career by creating your own “brand.”  Like all brands, you have to maintain the quality and integrity to avoid finding yourself in the professional equivalent of a Wal-Mart discount bin.  Part of how you do this is by selecting the companies for which you work carefully.  In a LinkedIn world, there really is no hiding when you’ve picked a company you’d rather people not know about.

The more personal aspect of this, of course, is that a company with good leadership and a sound business model is an environment most likely to support your development and give you opportunities to strech and try something new.  In an integrity-rich environment, employee engagement is high because employees not only believe in what their company stands for, but also believes the company will stand up for them.  This creates a very personal win-win for both leadership and employees.  This is also why I rank the company as more important than the job, because (in most cases) a company with integrity will make an effort to keep valuable employess, and that includes when it means moving them to new roles within the organization.

This obviously brings us to what I consider the least important factor in the quest for a job: the actual job itself.  That isn’t to say that I think the job is UNimportant, because it’s not: if you spend eight hours per day wanting to poke your eyes out with a pen because you are miserable with your job, that is hardly acceptable.  But what I am saying is that, if you have a good boss who understands your potential and wants to see you succeed, and you are in a company that believes in developing their people and giving them opportunities for challenges, then a mediocre job is usually just temporary.  Think of it as a testing ground, in which you get to show what you can do, gain the trust of the leaders around you, and use it as a launching pad for new projects and new opportunities.

Clearly not every job is a “foot in the door.”  In my very early days, I took a job in a call center because it was a ‘foot in the door’ to a company I desperately wanted to work for, and was having no luck getting in any other way.  Unfortunately, what I did not know at the time (chalk it up to being 24 and very naive) was that some jobs are just dead-end jobs and are frequently dismissed by organizations as being likely breeding grounds for any real, valuable talent.

Of course, what I also realize now is that a company that takes that attitude is probably NOT demonstratinig the integrity I now know to look for in an organization and their leadership.  Double lesson learned on that one.

So, as I go through the process of debating the pros and cons of different employment opportunities in my new city, I keep coming back to the two most important considerations: “Is this someone I want as a boss?” and “Do I want to be publicly associated with this organization?”

Of course, the tough part is that the interview process is designed for and by the prospective employers.  In order for a prospective employee to determine if the boss and company are what they want requires far more work and creativity.

  • Kristi

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It is so unfortunate that so many bosses/companies do not take more opportunities to invest in their employees.

    Great post!