Choosing When to Accept a
Q: When I interviewed for two
excellent jobs recently, I was reminded of the following fable:
A farmer’s daughter wanted to
marry, but was afraid her suitor wasn’t the best choice. The farmer
told her to walk down the first row of the corn field and pick the
best ear of corn she could find. However, she could pick only one
ear of corn and once she passed one by, she couldn’t go back to it.
Later, she returned with a tin ear of corn. When her father asked
her why she didn’t do better, she said she kept passing by large
ears of corn because she expected to find a bigger one later. As a
result, she ended up with one of the worst ears.
Job hunting is similar. You
receive job offers sequentially, rather than all at once. At each
point, you must decide whether to “pick this ear of corn” or
continue looking. You can rarely delay the decision more than a few
weeks. What hints do you have for deciding?
with any decision, there may be more than one right choice. Job
seekers who find themselves in such dilemmas usually lack critical
information, not options. If the farmer’s daughter had known the
size of the largest ears of corn in advance, she could have easily
chosen one of the best ears.
Fortunately, job seekers can
determine in advance what types of positions would best suit their
abilities, interests, and needs. They can use that information to
create an “ideal job” description. By comparing each job offer they
receive to that benchmark, they can make well-informed decisions.
Consider the following elements when
writing a description of your ideal job:
Functional skills. These are
innate skills, such as innovating, teaching, working with numbers,
investigation or solving problems. Functional skills are fun and
satisfying. If you neglect them, your career will lack zest and
Special Knowledge. These are
learned skills, such as using Microsoft Office or Adobe, doing cost
accounting or market research, knowing legal precedents or
administering EEO guidelines. Any subject mastered in school, on
the job, or in your leisure time qualifies as special knowledge. In
profiling your ideal job, decide what special skills you most enjoy
using. Maybe you’re a genius at mergers and acquisitions, but your
real love is helping small businesses develop marketing plans. If
so, seek an opportunity with a venture capital or start-up firm that
will use the background you prefer.
Personality traits. Some
people are born team members. Others thrive on solo competition.
Imagine the angst of those who pick the wrong venue. Competitors
might be team pariahs, and team players, competitive wimps. Include
an honest inventory of your personality in your ideal job
Values. Certainly, your
employer’s moral values must be compatible with your own. You must
also consider whether a company will accommodate your career values,
such as making lots of money, helping others, working independently,
being creative, having opportunities to learn, or achieving
greatness. One of the most common causes for candidate-position
mismatch is a clash of individual and organizational values. If
you’re an entrepreneur, don’t expect to revamp a large bureaucratic
institution. This was Ross Perot’s mistake in merging his
entrepreneurial company EDS with GM.
People environments. Ross
Perot and Roger Smith, CEO of GM, would have been happier and more
productive if they had shared a common vision. Instead, their
conflicting personalities led to an unfortunate and costly rift.
Rapport becomes more important as you move higher in an
organization. Be clear about what qualities you hope to see in your
colleagues. When interviewing, ask about the presence or absence of
those traits. Even the most exciting opportunities can derail for
lack of common purpose.
Working conditions. Penthouse
suites and fleets of company cars initially may impress job
seekers. But such prestigious accoutrements will be satisfying only
if the company’s mission, philosophy, and culture match yours. It
might seem classy for a large law firm to provide lunch for its
associates until you discover that you’re supposed to eat at the
office so management can bill those hours to your client. I(f your
colleagues thrive on a workaholic schedule but you don’t like
working 60 hours every week, your chances for promotion there are
Location is irrelevant to some and critical to others. Don’t
dismiss the importance of family proximity, weather, scenery, or job
opportunities for your spouse. Better to realize that you prefer
the Northeast before a corporation spends $50,000 relocating you to
the Southwest. If a move is part of the deal, make sure you and
your family really want to go.
Compensation. Ah, the lure of
a larger paycheck, stock options, and a corner office with oriental
rugs. Money, perks, and bonuses can be a significant incentive for
you to change positions, but they often require trade-offs.
Determine your ideal compensation package, then compare it to your
offer. Unless you’re miserable in your current job, only change
positions if you’ll receive a raise of at least 10%. If you’d be
moving to an area with a higher cost of living, make sure the
relocation package includes a raise, a cost-of-living increase,
moving expenses, and a hassle allowance.
Level of responsibility. Some
managers want to be on the front lines close to the action. Others
enjoy project management, where they can move from one
troubleshooting assignment to another. A few love wearing a variety
of hats in a small, fast-growing business. Others would rather
manage one department within a large company, where their special
expertise is highly valued.
Before you accept a position, be sure
the company offers future opportunities that suit your preferred
career path. Recently, an MIS manager agonized over an offer from a
firm that designs and sells the software he uses regularly. While
the money and location were attractive, the job wasn’t. He enjoyed
managing an in-house department and had difficulty imagining himself
as a technical marketing expert. He decided (correctly) to politely
refuse the position.
Other factors that may influence your
Feelings about your current
position. You may be burned out, bored, harassed by your boss,
worried about a hostile takeover, or having family troubles because
of long hours and constant travel.
The desire to relocate. You
may want to be closer to family or friends, away from major fault
lines, next door to the Rockies, or anywhere but “here.”
Concern about a layoff. In
this economy, many employees are revising their resumes, calling
friends, and reading the want ads just in case.
Availability of similar positions
in your field. Architects can’t be too picky right now; software
Catastrophic expectations. A
nasty little voice may keep saying, “If you don’t take this job
you’ll never get another.”
The elusive dream job. After
months of discussions, a potential employer still hasn’t decided
whether to offer you a coveted position.
Don’t let these considerations
prevent you from evaluating each offer on its own merits. If you’re
not about to default on your mortgage and a position doesn’t match
your ideal job at least 90%, reject the offer. Conversely, an offer
in the hand that’s genuinely meaty is worth two in the bush.
You may wish you could reduce your
decision to a mathematical formula where x number of points equals a
winner. Unfortunately, following simple logic may mean rejecting
your gut instincts. And frankly, gut is usually more trustworthy
than intellect. Have you ever taken a job that was perfect on
paper, but just didn’t feel right? Bad decision, wasn’t it?
One final thought: Apply for a
variety of positions to increase your yield of potential job
offers. Even if you’re in hot pursuit of a sure offer, have Plan B