The decision to take a new job can be stressful. Whether with our current company or with someone else, we have to decide if it is the right move. Sometimes it is obvious, other times it is not. How do we make the decision? How do we know if this is the right job?
What you will learn…
- A way to think about your future
- A model for career paths
- How to decide if a new job fits
To help you think this through, I will first start out with a way to envision your future. Then get into the way career paths typically happen, and finally look at a way to decide if the new job opportunity in front of you is the right one.
What Do You See in Your Future?
I expect that all of us have been asked at work or during an interview, the question – “What do you see yourself doing in 5 or 10 years?” Most people just don’t know. For those who thought that they did, it is most often the case that they ended up in a different place than they had expected. There are a number of reasons for this: we don’t know about all of the options that exist; we don’t know what we will like to do; we don’t know how much travel will be the right amount; we don’t know what hours will be acceptable; the list goes on and on.
What I think is a better question is – “What do you envision as your future?” What I mean by that is, think more holistically about your future. This will give you some context in which to consider your career and then a specific job.
Here are some questions that will help you envision that future.
- Where would you imagine living? What kind of weather? In a city, suburban or rural?
- Are you planning to (or do you already) have a family? If so, how involved do you want to be?
- Do you see yourself traveling with work? If so, how much?
- Do you want to be near your relatives? Will any of your relatives live with you?
- Do you see yourself getting up early in the morning to go to work? How about working late?
- How important is your job title?
- How important is money? Do you think you need to make a lot of money to be happy?
Now that you have envisioned your future, it is time to think about your career path.
A Career Path Model
A career path is rarely a path at all. A more interesting life is usually a more crooked, winding path of missteps, luck and vigorous work. It is almost always a clumsy balance between the things you try to make happen and the things that happen to you.Tom Freston
In the same way that you need to envision your future in deciding on a new job, you need to understand how most careers progress also so that you can put the decision into context.
Career paths rarely move in a straight line. That is, moving from one step to the next on the shortest path to your final destination. It is much more likely that they will meander to some degree to a place that you had not expected.
There are a number of reasons for this.
- You don’t know what your final destination is – even if you think that you do.
- You are unaware of the paths that exist to get there
- You don’t appreciate the experience required as you take the journey
- You don’t realize how your experiences apply
Given this uncertainty, I like to use the following model for a career path. Think of all of the jobs that exist as a triangle. There are lots and lots of jobs at the lower levels, but that number reduces as you move up. In order to continue the path upward, you will need to build your qualifications. In some cases, that means deeper experience in a particular function, in other cases, it means more breadth across functions, and often some combination of the two.
As you look to progress your career, you may have the opportunity to move up within your current function. But in some cases, you might need to move laterally in order to develop the skills necessary to take that next upward step.
This model can also be useful if you want to change the path that you are on. In this case, it is ideal that you find a way to move laterally. This is not always possible as you may not have the required skills. But it is likely that you have other skills that apply. You will need to explain how these will be of value while you are gaining the specific skills of the new career path. If that does not work, you may have to take a step down, move to this new path and then begin the upward climb.
Example: Change in Career Direction
Sometimes you end up on the wrong career path. That was the case for a young woman that I know well. She graduated from a great college with a degree in chemistry. She started working for one of the big pharmaceutical companies. It was a great job, but she could not imagine getting up every morning, going into work, and spending the day in a highly controlled clean lab developing products.
She decided that she had to find something else – a new job. She applied for and was hired into a job in a SaaS company in customer support. This could be viewed as a lateral move, or maybe slightly backward as she was the new kid on the block and would have to gain the credibility that she had gained in her last company.
She did well in this job and was on a good trajectory moving from customer support to professional services. Her experience continued to grow especially in the data analysis area. It was in this new role that she had a chance to work with one of the big social networking companies and realized that what she really wanted to do was artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML).
She leveraged the contacts that she had to get an interview in an analytics role, was given the job. She worked hard in this job until she was eligible to apply for a role in the AI / ML team. She studied the latest in AI / ML and did well during the interviews. This together with the reputation that she had developed, got her the job that she wanted. Since that time she has made good progress on her new career path!
Her path is a great example of the lateral, backward and forward steps that you might need to take during your career journey.
Is This the Right New Job?
Now that you have envisioned a future and you have a career path model in mind, you can look more critically at the new job to determine if it moves you toward that future.
To make this hard decision as simple as possible – here are the three questions that you need to answer in deciding if this is the right new job.
Does it fit within the future that you have envisioned?
This question is maybe the hardest as it is the least black and white. The new job you are considering is just a step on your journey – it is not the destination. Therefore it is unlikely that it will fit perfectly with the future that you have envisioned.
It may not be in the right location. It may require more travel than you would like. It might pay you less than you would like.
I recommend that you compare this job to your answers from the section above on envisioning your future, and use the results as a part of your decision.
Does it make sense from a career path perspective?
Given that you are considering a new job – it is likely you have already been thinking about how this fits with your career path. The only thing that I will add to the discussion above on a career model, is that you should be thinking about if there are other jobs that would be a better next step. If so, is there a way to go after those jobs rather than the one that you have in front of you?
Will you enjoy the job – will it motivate you to get up every morning?
This may be the most important question of all – for two reasons. First, we spend a huge amount of time working. We need to enjoy it. And second, we are more motivated and effective if we like what we are doing.
I recommend looking at five things.
- Will you work for a great manager?
- Is the job itself, the work that you will get to do exciting you?
- Will you get to work with great people?
- Do you believe in the products or services that you work on (that the company delivers)?
- Is the company one that you would be proud to be associated with?
Do your homework. Ask around. Go on Linkedin and/or Facebook and see if you know anyone at the company and talk to them. Read what employees are saying on Glassdoor. Be critical!
The decision on a new job is a hard but important one. Start with your envisioned future, consider a model for career paths, and answer the five questions above. Be critical, taking the wrong job can be incredibly frustrating and hurt your career progression.
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