When you’re job-hunting, instinct tells you to cast as wide a net as possible. After all, you don’t want to limit your options. But narrowing the scope of your search can make it easier to find the right fit. Writing a list of must-have criteria helps you avoid non-starters and brings conflicting priorities to light. I often meet candidates who think they’d enjoy working in a certain industry, only to find that the dream doesn’t match reality. Someone might love a certain product but find that the corporate headquarters of the company that produces that product doesn’t have the culture they are looking for or the type of upward mobility they desire. People often believe that loving a particular product means they’d love to work for its parent company, but that’s not always the case. Maybe your top priority is working for a hot, fast-growing startup. But you also want a predictable schedule and work-life balance. Those desires aren’t typically compatible, so you’ll need to do some soul-searching to decide in which direction to take your job search. The clearer you are about what you need in a job, the more likely you’ll find a position that provides the lifestyle support you require.
The clearer you are about what you need in a job, the more likely you’ll find a position that provides the lifestyle support you require.Here are a few criteria to consider when defining your job search. You should do some soul searching to prioritize each of these criteria. This will make it easier to consider the tradeoffs of different opportunities, knowing that you will need to make considerations here and there. Keep in mind, no opportunity will match every criteria perfectly, and as you will learn below, some criteria are mutually exclusive and unable to be found in the same opportunity.
Job ResponsibilitiesDefining what you want to do in your job should be a major consideration. Being clear on the type of role that you prefer (whether it’s a broad, multi-faceted role or a narrow, focused role in an area of high complexity) is an important exercise to consider. Do you prefer managing a team or working as an individual contributor? These factors will play a part in defining the size of the company that you are considering. Broad roles where you focus on multiple areas and wear many different hats are more likely in startups or smaller companies than in large, mature organizations. Managing a big team of people is more typical in a larger company. Being the “master” of a narrow area will typically be a full job in a larger, multi-national organization with deep complexity, etc. Before submitting your resumé, identify what your ideal position looks like. Clearly define what you want to do and use those specifics to guide the rest of your search.
LocationThink hard about where location falls on your priorities list. If working close to home is a non-negotiable, you need to find a position within a short commuting range.
If you’d prefer a more mature company but live in a region filled with startups, you may need to expand your search to a different location.There are concentrations of types of companies in different regions of the Bay Area. Depending on where you’re located, your area might be heavy with startups, or surrounded by very large, mature companies. If you’d prefer a more mature company but live in a region filled with startups, you may need to expand your search to a different location. Obviously, this contradicts your preference of working near home, so you must reevaluate which matters most. This strategy is applicable in any metropolitan region, not just the Bay Area. Consider where certain types of businesses are located within your area and ask yourself: Am I willing to move closer to my new employer or do I need to reconsider my stance on the type of company I’d like to work for? You can narrow your prospect list significantly with this criterion alone.
CompensationMany people compare opportunities using base salary alone, but you need to consider all aspects of the package. Compensation includes base salary, bonus or other incentive-based compensation, equity, and benefits. If you need the highest cash compensation possible, you’ll emphasize base salary and bonus over equity and other incentives. Stable public companies are more likely to meet that need than startups, because startups typically offer lower base salaries and don’t often have established annual bonus programs.
If you need the highest cash compensation possible, you’ll emphasize base salary and bonus over equity and other incentives.Let’s assume you’re the single breadwinner in your family, and you need X amount to pay the mortgage and other bills each month. You’ll have better luck finding a suitable salary at a mature organization. If the company performs reasonably well, you can assume that you’ll meet your bonus target, too. As a Director at a large, profitable public company, you might earn a $200,000 base salary (depending on your position), plus a 30-percent annual bonus and RSUs. The overall package could reach $400,000. Most startups won’t be able to offer anything near that for a similar role. Instead, you’ll receive a smaller base salary plus equity that could be meaningful someday. The annual cash compensation will be very different than that described above in the larger, public company. Your shares could be worth millions someday, but you can’t know that up front. Startups can be great long-term bets if you’re comfortable with risk. Again, it comes back to your priorities. But base salary should not be the only compensation calculation you make.
Culture & TeamLanding at a company that isn’t a cultural fit could derail your career progression and make your personal life miserable – so don’t treat culture as an afterthought. Most of the people we advise make it a top priority to find the right team. This makes sense as you spend 80% of your life at work, it’ll probably be more enjoyable if you like and respect the people you work with. Sometimes the team that’s the best fit might not be at the company with the most potential, or in the industry that you’re most excited about. Team is only one consideration but usually a critical one.
Sometimes the team that’s the best fit might not be at the company with the most potential, or in the industry that you’re most excited about.Regarding culture – do you prefer a laid-back vibe where everyone wears jeans and hoodies? Do you require flexible work policies so you can be home with your kids when they need you? Are free lunches and ping pong tables appealing? You are more likely to find these aspects in a startup or otherwise young company. But again, there are other aspects of working in a startup that you need to consider to make sure they suit your lifestyle. While some startups promote flexible work hours, the overall amount of time you spend working could be dramatically more than in a mature company that is not growing as quickly. The key point here is to understand the culture and expectations of the company during the interview process to ensure they will meet your needs. Bay Area companies represent a broad range of cultural options, so devote some time to envisioning your ideal work environment.
IndustryWorking in a specific industry is often a firm requirement – even in finance and accounting which can be more transferable than other functional areas. Generally speaking, leveraging prior expertise in a specific industry can translate into higher level positions and more competitive compensation, particularly in some roles. Candidates who enjoy their industry and want to continue along in this sector will be more competitive and attractive for these hiring companies than candidates without this industry niche. However, we often work with individuals who would like to branch out of their previous industries and try a new one, typically in a higher growth or more interesting sector. This can be difficult to do, depending upon your level and functional area, but not impossible.
Some specific industries are clustered geographically in the Bay Area, so keep in mind that industry often needs to be considered alongside location.Industry is just one of many things to consider and rank in terms of priority in your job search. Also, some specific industries are clustered geographically in the Bay Area, so keep in mind that industry often needs to be considered alongside location.
Size & MaturityAsk yourself this: Would you rather wear multiple hats or become an expert in one subject? A job with a startup will be extremely broad while an equivalent role in a large, mature company will be the opposite – lots of complexity within a narrow focus. Larger companies can sometimes offer more interesting and unique positions because the levels of complexity warrant looking at the information in different ways. However, they might not have as much breadth and diversity in the role, or exposure to other groups within the company. Startups provide excitement and strong growth potential, but they can’t guarantee variables such as bonuses, stock payouts, and job security too far down the line. In either environment, there are tradeoffs to consider that will impact the day to day of the job you choose.
Future of the CompanyHere you’re examining the business’s prospects for growth. Is it a mature company that’s very stable but not growing quickly? Is it a startup that recently received millions in a funding round? How important is the potential of the company to you?
No matter how good YOU are, it will be difficult to progress past your current position if your employer is not performing well.You want to grow with your employer so you can position yourself for even better opportunities in the future. Generally speaking, if you are looking for career growth your best bet would be in a growing company with the most potential. No matter how good YOU are, it will be difficult to progress past your current position if your employer is not performing well. Pick a winning company, and you will win too.
Upward MobilityIf you want to learn and advance quickly, seek organizations that bring in more business than they can handle. This shows that they’re growing, and you’ll be able to jump in on different projects and move swiftly through the ranks. However, upward mobility comes at a cost. Expect hard work and long hours that don’t lend themselves to work-life balance. If having down time and a regular schedule are priorities, you’ll struggle to reconcile those with upward mobility. Be honest with yourself about your values and what you need from a job. Startups sound sexy, but the realities of life at a young company can be stressful. Larger companies that continue to grow explosively can offer the best growth opportunities for you, but they come at a cost. The long hours and risks are rewarding, but they don’t allow for as much flexibility and family time as you may want. On the other hand, more mature companies may lack the exciting dynamic and innovation you crave in your workplace. When you account for your financial obligations, professional goals, and lifestyle preferences, you get a much clearer sense of your ideal position. Prioritizing what is important to you ahead of time will make it that much easier to find.
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