Frameworks, systems, tools – You could say I’m a fan. I like using them, building them, breaking them down and re-building them. I like how they open up new ways of looking at data, at making comparisons and creating metaphors, and at either zooming out of a problem or zooming into one. With that said, I wanted to dive into a new framework I’ve been using to compare and contrast one of life’s biggest questions:
“Why do you want to work here?”
The question was innocent enough. When I was first asked, I didn’t have a great answer. I didn’t have anything waiting in the wings or a super-concise story that made it all clear and obvious. I just knew intuitively that I did, but I didn’t have a good way to really explain it either objectively or subjectively. Obviously, this irked me because I really enjoy explaining things. So, to work on that irk, I’ve want to share a framework I built out over the past few years to help me better address that question, not only for my current employer, but when comparing employment options into the future.
The First 3 P’s
“People, Purpose, Pay. In that order.” – A professional mentor
I once had a chat with someone who told me that they select jobs based on the above criteria. It was simple, concise, and I enjoyed it immediately. These are definitely some of the biggest variables people consider when deciding what company to work for, but traditionally, you’ll see them in the reverse order. For many, especially for those young and just staring out their career, that makes perfect sense. Let’s explore these first few criteria for career perfection.
Salary and compensation are some of the biggest drivers for people throughout their career journey. For some, it is the only driver. In a world based on capitalism, its inescapable that career movement decisions are commonly based on steady increase of the number of zeroes on the check. And unfortunately, for many people it might be the only criteria people look for as they develop their career. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one has to get compensation up to a certain level before some of the other criteria can even come into play. On the opposite side of the coin, though, a 2010 study has shown that after a certain amount of cash flow, it simply stops being the primary driver for why people may take on new work. Salary is obviously an important criteria, and its ultimate importance will change based on the individual, the industry, and where they are in their career.
So, once Pay reaches a certain comfort level, net-new dollars don’t necessary create a more fulfilling career. Which often leads to another variable being added in most people’s career search – Purpose. Purpose is the ‘Why‘ that drives you to get out of bed in the morning and makes the hard days worth while. Whether your an teacher, medical worker, or even just a volunteer, there are plenty of occupations and tasks that require belief in the overall purpose and mission of the role, company, or industry to drive the best output from someone.
Early in my career, I discovered the concept of “Ikigai”, ‘a reason for being’. It provided an interesting approach to finding fulfillment in ones career, as well as within life in general. To avoid “Framework Inception, I won’t dive too heavily into the concept, which has been better explained by other people online. But, I will comment that learning about Ikigai in my twenties helped me start making changes closer and closer to my passion and in my career when I moved from writing code for a living, to management consulting, to an MBA and eventually the Mecca of Tech which is the Bay Area. Once pay reaches a certain point, I recommend spending time concentrating on the your internal purpose and passion and how it can overlap with your career.
To really understand the value of Purpose, and where it might sit up in your own hierarchy to some of the other variables in this framework, you can view this criteria from the opposite perspective. There are likely some jobs out there attached to a mission so abhorrent to your moral compass and internal being, that it wouldn’t matter what the salary was, you would never work there. Pay can only drive most people so far, Purpose can get people farther.
Over the course of your life, you generally spend more time with your coworkers and colleagues than your own family. Who you work with becomes crucial to your mental health and well-being, particularly in high stress environments. Your coworkers are crucial in your daily experience and make up the average culture of the firm. Is the environment homogenous? Diverse? Cut throat? Collaborative? The people that make up the firm will paint your experience and are a vital thing to consider when looking for a new role or career growth.
This seems pretty intuitive – think about the worst people you’ve ever met or interacted with in your life. Now, how much would you need to be paid in order to spend 40+ hours a week with those individuals? Is there an amount that would make it feasible? For how long? Again, salary and compensation may ultimately be lower on your ranking than the People you work with, just like my mentor’s framework: The People > The Purpose > The Pay
The Next Three P’s
So, once I had that starting point, I knew I wanted to build on it. Although those first three are some of the major variables we explore in our career, I feel they are very broad strokes. I wanted to add a few more letters to the framework and let myself better differentiate on career opportunities based on where I am in my career personally, especially in the Bay Area where every startup is striving to dent the universe.
The title. The corner office. The movement from Associate, to Staff, to Senior and eventually Super Awesome Principal. Your position is often the external watermark on how high your career has gotten. What types of problems and what level of responsibility you’ve taken on. Its commonly used as an broad indicator for salary range as well.
I think many young people get blinded by their pursuit of the next level. Its almost ingrained in us from the American educational system. For almost twenty years, we’ve been trained to expect upward progress. We’re supposed to get promoted and move up, almost yearly. But one piece of advice I’ve started to give to people is that a career is long – 40 to 50 years these days. And within that time-frame, upword mobility is important, but isn’t something that should be pursued completely on its own.
With my time at a startup personally, I’ve always seen a title and position as a set of “Minimum Viable Responsibilities”. These minimum viable responsibilities can quickly grow and change and be consumed by a variety of hats, problems, player/coaching, and enough admin access to make a CISO blush. From within a growing startup, Title is typically a lagging indicator after you’ve been working on a problem for a while. (It may be much different in a more structure environment with clearer career paths and plans.)
I still lean on some advice from the book “How Google Works” which highlighted that its best to not to hunt for role and position first or a as a primary driver. It points out that industry and company choice can have a much larger impact on someone’s career than the individual position they held. The book sketches this out with a surfing metaphor:
“Think of the industry as the place you surf … and the company as the wave you catch. You always want to be in the place with the biggest and best waves,” – Schmidt and Rosenberg, “How Google Works”
Ultimately, I try to think of position and title as a side-effect of solving ever-expanding problems, and not something worth pursing it of itself. Go hunt big problems, and the career progression will follow (not always automatically, but it should follow).
All that being said, most people would never take a job at a lesser title or role. However, one’s career is never a straight line. I’d argue sometimes it makes sense to bounce between individual contributor and management roles, or to shift down to a different role and team to learn how to solve new and different problems. Chasing the title can be fool’s errand if it doesn’t align with what you ultimately want to do in your life.
“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyper-specialization.”
– David Epstein, Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Now that we’ve considered some of the criteria that impact your day-to-day, we can start to look towards the future. What kind of potential does this role provide to you as an individual? Are you solving increasingly sized or scoped problems over time? Larger teams? More regions? More code? More languages? Depending on your careers goals and ambitions, it can be a vital to understand not only what your role is today, but how it will continue to grow and expand over time and over what kind of duration.
This one is pretty straightforward. Where is the company and role located? In your dream city? Completely remote? Is your commute a nightmare, or non-existent? Is it in a food dessert? On a secured government facility? Its very easy to forget how much quality of life is simply destroyed by an overlong or stressful commute, and in many cases, a small bump in salary or title may not be worth that change.
I’d argue this concern is often overlooked. Personally, I gave up a job with a 10 minute bicycle ride commute for something that suddenly required me to brave the commuter-invested highways surrounding Washington, D.C.. Looking back, I could argue the small bump in pay was not worth the quality of life adjustments. Although, I could also argue the consulting experience was invaluable and helped me spring-board to new types of work later in life, despite the short-term pain of a lengthy commute.
Additionally, this variable is a greater concern later in life – when kids, schools, and family are involved, and it becomes near-impossible to jump to a different location for your quote-unquote dream job.
Similar to individual potential, what is the promise of the company? I use Promise here as the next future-looking criteria that looks at the company and industry level views. Are you catching the biggest waves at the best beaches per Eric Scmidt’s advice? Are you working for the gorilla of the market, or just one of the monkey’s in a growing industry? Are you working at a startup carving out a new niche? All of these are equally valid, but worth considering how they align to your longer term career goals. Be it the total addressable market, the technological innovation, or that good old universe-denting, what is the promise of the company? A company with a high level of promise allows your career to be buoyed up and accelerated.
Some call it culture, but anytime there are more than 3 people in the room, its probably best labeled as Politics. What do glassdoor reviews look like? How tired are your interviewees? What does employee retention look like? Is this is a high-trust environment or low-trust? At the end of the day, politics and how they interact with all of the other variables will be an important part of your career journey. You’ll never find a job with a perfect culture, or free from the compounded human frailties that make up employees, managers, leaders and customers. So, ultimately, I’d recommend understanding the major cultural drivers of a company, both the good and the bad, and rounding up when necessary.
As a specific trick here, I’ve listed some cultural discovery questions you can ask during an interview:
1. What is your anti-pitch? Why would someone not want to work here?
2. If money and politics were no issue, what would you change about the company today?
3. What was your biggest surprise when you joined?
Patron – a person who takes the responsibility for some other person or thing
Where the rubber hits the road – Patronage refers to your boss and their potential impact on your career journey during your tenure at the company. What kind of manager are they, and how supportive are they of your career ambitions?
Can you get a sense during the hiring manager interviews what this person will be like? Is this a manager that is going to amplify your ambition and increase your skillset over time? Do you think they will be an effective “shit umbrella” – protecting and shielding you from issues upstream to allow you to focus on your work? These are important questions to ponder when comparing roles and really getting a sense of your day-to-day. Because as many can attest to, a great boss can accelerate your career and experience, while someone either too aloof or too micro-managerial may be a complete hindrance to your career development. (Perhaps a career gardener?)
There are so many stories out there of people following their boss to a new company and opportunity for career growth. Additionally, I’ve stories where the boss who hired a person potentially leaves or gets re-organized a few weeks into someone’s tenure, and the entire experience is ruined for them. Within weeks or months, these people tend to be looking for a new job as the bill of goods sold to them didn’t ultimately pan out. Your first few bosses can make a huge difference.
(It may be worth adding that patronage doesn’t have to be limited to your direct manager. Mentorship comes in all shapes, sizes, and org charts, and what this variable is really looking for is that guidance within your career journey to confidently become better at your role over time.)
The Privileged Ps
This P’s aren’t available everywhere or to everyone. They are really dependent on your type of work, your area, and your level of risk, but as someone that entered the Bay Area startup tech market, I wanted to address some of the special considerations that can still come into play when comparing certain roles, either at a startup, or higher up in your career.
Options. RSUs. Sweet, sweet equity.
If this section is an option for you, congratulations on taking a risk on the vision and people you’re working with, or being at the career level where this becomes more common. To the former, you are potentially trading short-term gain like salary and job stability to work with driven people on an interesting set of problems, and you’re taking a lottery ticket to give you some sweet, sweet hope during the hard days.
Personally, I’m a big believer that a major factor of success is ownership multiplied by time, and equity is one of the few ways outside of becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own company, that lets you begin to build ownership in something.
To be considerate, this variable does come risk. There are plenty of companies and startups that never went anywhere and their equity is worthless in the worst case scenarios.
Snacks at the table tennis? Chocolate fountain? Kombucha on tap? Free breakfast, lunch and dinner with laundry on site?
If this section is of major consideration for you, congratulations. You are likely working with only a small handful of firms, or startups that are trying to compete with them. This section really shouldn’t play much of a part in the majority of career decisions, but if you are making a decision between one of these firms, feel free to consider the perks at play as icing on the cake, and choose whichever one has your favorite type of granola bar. (I personally loved the 18 Rabbit’s Granola Bars from Google’s snack cabinets.)
So, how would all these variables come into play in real life? I’ve set up a table below how you can potentially compare and contrast between two companies. Ultimately, how you rank one variable over another will come down to your personal journey and priorities in your life.
|Job 1||> / < / =||Job 2|
I’ve often used the online dating and marriage metaphor to describe my career journey. So, as another way to intuitively grasp at these variables, and how you may apply them to your career journey, you can easily breakout many of the P variables across that relationship metaphor to really help you understand how some of these variables interact with one another, and how you might decide to prioritize them personally.
Pay = Looks
Paycheck is like the physical attractiveness of your partner. Important early to possibly kickstart the relationship, but later many people reassess and re-prioritize as they mature. Sure, many people out there think they want to date a supermodel (or a series of supermodels), but in reality, very few people are willing to make the sacrifices that make that possible. Let alone put up with the specific lifestyle it takes to date people in that industry. What you find is that most people are very comfortable within a certain range and that more money, or physical attractiveness, doesn’t necessarily make them happier.
Purpose = Personality
Purpose is like your partner’s personality. How much does it align with yours? Introverted? Extroverted? Would you hang out, date, or marry someone who disagrees with all of your own core values? Would you do it if someone paid you? Probably not, and why (if given the luxury), people often forgo some other maximizing other criteria if they found a company with a personality, or purpose, they can align to. In essence, make sure to find a company where most people will laugh at your jokes.
People = Hobbies & Chores
Every relationship will have things you enjoy doing together, and things you don’t enjoy doing but have to anyway. These good colleagues (Hobbies) are pretty easy to yes to, the bad colleagues (Chores) often just have to be dealt with. People at companies are similar, some you love working with, and others are a chore. You’ll rarely find a perfect company completely free of chores, but you should be selecting a job where the good days outweigh the bad. Ultimately, if you feel every interaction is becoming a chore, it may be time to find a new firm.
Position = Trust
Relationships tend to have a natural cadence to them. You build up trust slowly and move from acquaintance to Friend, from boyfriend to significant other, from fiancé to spouse. At a certain point in people’s careers, they tend to prioritize increasing the intimacy of their relationships. Success moving up the corporate ladder requires handling more responsibility over time. This can sometimes be worthwhile, since your title is a short-hand for trust.
Place = Place
Is this essentially a long distance relationship or the girl/boy next door? Do they live in your absolute dream city, or the middle of nowhere? You decide what works best for you here.
So, how about yourself? What brings you to work every morning? Is it the paycheck? Are you just it in for the salary? Do you love the mission of the company? Do you go to work for the purpose? Or, is it the people? Are your colleagues just a pleasure that you couldn’t imagine working somewhere else? Is your boss so awesome that you’d work for free, or for enough equity to change your life? Or, do you do it for the free kombucha on tap?
I increasingly believe that dream jobs are built. They are made. There is no one out their handing out dream jobs that will fit your specific criteria and dreams. So, good luck building your own awesome career!