Choosing the Right Job: Strategic Career Planning

Are you graduating college and trying to start a career? Are you a few years into your career and looking to make a move? One of the most important things to be aware of when you are looking for a job is that choosing the right job is a strategic decision for your future.

What type of position will further you in the industry you want to work in? What type of experience is required for the job you want one, three, or seven years from now? What types of employers and coworkers can introduce you to the network you want to become a part of?

Questions like these, and many more, should all be considered in your overall job search. It can be difficult to think that far ahead, and sometimes you just don’t know what you want. One thing is certain, though. Spending the time to connect a few of the dots now, even if you aren’t positive about a specific path, is almost always better than blindly clicking on the job postings that are momentarily available.

Finding a Job vs. Choosing a Job

There is a big difference between stumbling upon a job posting on Craigslist and selecting a job to pursue with reason and purpose.  Browsing the internet for available jobs instead of researching THEE job you want is one of the biggest mistakes college graduates can make.

If you want to get a job that maximizes your ideal blend of income, passion, happiness, challenging work, and career building opportunities, then you need to put in the same research and dedication to the job hunt and analysis as you would into anything else that you really care about. This applies even more so if it is your first job out of college.

Long-term Implications

Some people might argue that your first few jobs out of college aren’t that important. They will not define what you end up doing with your career. I would argue that they are very important and can influence your options down the road.

For instance, if you get a job at a real estate firm, you will gain experience in that industry and know people in that industry. You will then be more likely to get other opportunities at similar companies due to your network and experience. Even if it isn’t what you wanted to do originally, it is now your best option to keep advancing higher up the chain in a specific field.

Often times, breaking this cycle to change industries will result in a pay cut or a lower title. It’s easy to see if you have debt, a family, large monthly bills, etc. it can become difficult to move and you end up stuck where you are.

Major Factors to Consider for a Job Search

Getting experience in the same industry, skill sets, or processes of the job you may want in the future are some of the essential factors to consider when selecting a job for the present.

The main factors discussed below include:

Getting the Right Experience

If I had to rank these factors by importance, getting the right experience would be at the top. Even for entry-level positions, hiring managers are looking for some sort of experience in a similar role. It sounds unfair, but it’s true, and it only gets more important at higher-level positions. Getting the right experience early in your career (or at internships during school) will allow you to get the jobs you really want down the road and work in an area you enjoy.

Experience can mean a lot of different things. You can gain valuable experience in an industry, responsibilities, software programs/platforms, team coordination, communication, customer interactions, project management, and the list goes on. Every job requires a specific set of skills and knowledge. What are the skills your desired job requires? If you don’t have those skills now, what job are you qualified for that will train you in some of these key areas?

An easy way research this is to review the responsibilities and desired experience/education levels on existing  job postings for similar jobs. Look at 5-10 postings for the same position and see what common qualities companies are looking for. In addition, reach out to friends, family, employees, managers, and whoever you can connect with to speak to people in similar positions.

Choosing the Right Company

Once you have an idea of what experience and type of position you want, it’s time to look at different companies you would want to work at. What size? What type of reputation? What type of growth? Do you use or support the product/service it provides? What upward mobility is there? How available is lateral mobility (changing teams)?

It is hard to imagine that a company with high growth and touted career building opportunities would ever be a bad thing, right? Right! But you need to check to make sure they are actually there. Check for data on the company’s annual revenues and employee numbers. Look at LinkedIn profiles and see if people have been promoted or how long they have worked at the company. Try using the company’s product/service if it is readily available. Does it suck? Is it amazing?

One important lesson I learned from a sales standpoint, which I now believe applies to all departments of a company, is that if you don’t believe in the product/service, it is going to be damn difficult to do your job. Try to work for a company you believe in.

If you want to feel valued and have a higher impact at your company, maybe you should look at smaller companies. If working at a company that has a reputable and impressive household name is important to you, you may need to compromise on some of your other desired job characteristics to be able to compete in that market.

A pivotal aspect of choosing the right company is the culture. You need to find a company with the right values and an environment that align with your own. Company information is something that can be researched pretty well online, but talking to people is always helpful. Other factors, like culture, really require speaking to people with first-hand experience.

Choosing the Right Culture

Ideals, traditions, dress code, schedule flexibility, vacation days, acceptable language, respect, open door policies – all of these things are part of company culture. Even if you find an amazing job that gets you the experience you want, it probably won’t be a long-term fit if you don’t like the company culture. If you don’t like the culture, it will be bad for both you and the company.

I have worked at startup companies with less than five people, a tech company with hundreds of people, and a bank with tens of thousands of employees. Let me tell you – I love going to work in jeans and a t-shirt. Some people enjoy dressing up and wearing a suit every day. It’s not for me. The more you can reflect on what aspects of company culture are most important to you and what companies fit your needs, the better off you will be finding a great match.

No matter what type of culture you are looking for in prospective companies make sure it’s a strong culture. Culture always starts at the top of an organization. When you are researching companies you want to work for, take the time to learn who the executives are and what the management team is like.

Choosing the Right Leadership Team

The culture of the company isn’t the only thing that trickles down from the executive team through rest of the company. Everything starts with the leadership team. Do they have a history of success? Are they accessible? Are they transparent? Are they ethical? Do they inspire confidence?

You also want to consider who your direct manager will be. Trying to gauge your potential manager during the interview process is just as important for you as it is for him/her to gauge you. Is it somebody you could grab a beer with? Is it somebody you will be afraid to ask questions?  Aligning yourself with a manager who will help you grow and challenges you to take on more responsibilities should always be on your radar.

Even if you really like your potential manager and leadership team, sometimes there are outside factors than can affect your relationships with them. Much of this comes down to the team you join in the organization.

Choosing the Right Organizational Team

Choosing what team you are on in a company is easy to overlook when searching for a job. A specific team can be stagnant even when a company is growing rapidly with opportunity everywhere else. A team can also be growing rapidly while the rest of the company trails behind.

Some teams are more important than others to a business, and this can be especially apparent in the company culture. How important is your team’s function to the overall core business? What does the group dynamic with your potential team look like? Would you like working alongside these coworkers? How big is the team? Will you be working directly with your manager or other more experienced peers most often? Would you be managed by a director? Executive?

If the team is new, it may be easier to gain an important role for the expansion of the team. If the team is large, there may be more opportunity to become a manager within the department. Most of the time a company is hiring, it’s hiring in multiple departments; so be sure to take a step back and think about your strategy entering the organization. Also, one thing to keep in mind is that it is often easier to move to another team within a company that knows and likes you than to jump ship. Do not write off lateral mobility!

Choosing the Right Location

The city you work in has a different weight of importance for each individual. This may be the first thing you have a solid decision on or you may have a “wherever the wind takes me” type of approach. Maybe you want to travel all over as part of your job.

If you are set on a location, use that as an anchor to begin researching other major factors for your job search. What candidate companies are in the area? What industries are exploding with growth there?

If location is not one of your initial concerns, you can focus in on other factors first and work outward. It’s always nice to have friends and family where you work; however, sometimes you need to take the plunge and explore a new place to jump start your career. Some of my most successful friends moved across the country for their initial job out of college.

Getting Fair Compensation

Whatever industry or position you are going to work in, the compensation should never be a giant surprise if you get an offer.

What is the industry standard? What do similar employees at similar companies get? Use online tools like Glassdoor and PayScale to do some research. Obviously, you want to maximize your income within reason, even if having a high salary isn’t at the top of your agenda. But most of all, you want to be sure you are getting fair compensation.

One of my favorite professors once said he would feel like a fool if he didn’t at least try to negotiate his initial compensation offer, even if it was already good. Don’t be scared to ask for more. Be realistic, though. Use facts. Don’t come back with an outlandish demand that could get you dismissed for the position. Why should you receive more than the offer? You can also consider different types of compensation – vacation time, salary, stock options, etc.

Normally, if you are a good fit for a job and a company, compensation will not be the barrier to your employment.

Accounting for Your Happiness

Every economics student is familiar with the term utility. It is the measure of something’s usefulness or the satisfaction/happiness it brings you. Every major factor discussed in this article affects utility – your experience, team, location, income, etc. Where does utility rank in your priorities?

More and more people are giving up high-salary jobs for ones that give them more flexibility or less stress. I have read many articles about wealth vs. happiness and success vs. satisfaction. Here is an article from the Entrepreneur by Sarah Vermunt that I though was well done. 

Is it more important for you to make $100K+ or to have a job you know genuinely helps people in an altruistic manner? I don’t mean to say these are mutually exclusive or one is better than the other. It really only matters what is important to you and gives you the most satisfaction.

Accounting for Your Personal Circumstances

Of course, there are always outside factors that might not allow you to be as selective and diligent when you are searching for a job. The timing might be difficult if the economy is slow or the job market is more competitive. You may be in a tight spot for money with a lot of debt and need to get a job quickly. Maybe you were let go from your last position and need to find a new job this week. If this is the case, find the right balance of necessity and selectiveness.

If you are lucky enough to put those outside factors aside, take your time and think through your job search carefully. It’s not the worst thing in the world (or maybe it is?) to shack with Mom and Dad for awhile and get your priorities in order if that is an option for you. It may be better than rushing into a job you end up hating and gaining nothing from.

Whatever your situation, planning ahead and taking action early can only benefit you when it becomes crunch time.

 Researching for Your Ideal Job

When you want to research these factors for different jobs, there is a handful of tools at your disposal. One of the those tools – you guessed it – is the internet. But it is important to use the internet the right way.

Some great tools online you can use are LinkedIn, Glassdoor,  or any reputable job listing site. You can read more about how to utilize the internet in my post How to Use the Internet the Right Way to Find a Job.

Offline Resources

I covered some of the different ways to research the major factors in each section above, and to recap, some of the other tools you should utilize during a job search include friends and family, current employees, managers of similar roles at other companies, and anyone else you can get information from.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your social network or even complete strangers. Only good things will come from being proactive and engaging. Most of the time, people are willing to help a courteous and curious person – even if they do not know you. If things go well, they may even refer you for a job. So, talk to as many people as you can!

The more you engage with people –> the more meaningful data you will gather –> the more connections you will have –> the higher chance they will think of you when a job opens up.

Relevant Podcast Question

I recently heard this little 3 minute clip at the end of a podcast from Stuff You Should Know that I thought was relevant to this article. Click the link and go to 5:25 remaining in the podcast:


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