Monday, November 05, 2007

Employer Selection: a Strategic Career Decsion

Last week I announced a new series which will focus on making the right career decisions in your 20's. This post is the first in the series.

Early on in your career, selecting the right employer can have a profound impact on the direction your career takes and on your prospects for professional success. Future employers will judge you based upon your previous employers; the breadth and depth of your professional knowledge will depend on your employer selection; and your chances for advancement are sure to be influenced by the type of employer you associate yourself with.

With so much riding on this decision, how can you increase your chances of selecting the right company? Here are some important pointers:

1. Brand Names - just as most people prefer branded products to generics, most hiring managers prefer to hire people from brand name companies. Hiring managers know that because more "prestigious" companies are more sought after by candidates, they tend to have a larger pool of candidates from which to recruit, and from this larger pool they recruit the cream of the crop. In essence, if you are able to land a first job with a "brand name" company you have another seal of approval on your resume. This seal of approval will be useful for many years to come. Generally speaking, a company whose name the guy next door is likely to recognize is a brand name company. Failing that test, choose publicly traded companies over privately held ones.

Advice: Always aim for prestigious companies within your chosen industry.

2. Training - in your first jobs one of the most important things you need to consider is on-the-job training. Believe it or not, college does not prepare you for the corporate world. The only way you can prepare is to make sure you are well trained by your first employers. When choosing an employer, be sure to consider the company's reputation for offering professional development to its team members. In fact, be sure to ask your interviewers pointed questions about how the company helps its employees grow professionally. In addition to getting a useful answer, that question is also sure to impress any interviewer.

Advice: choose a company which will offer you as much training as possible.

3. Large vs. Small Companies - should you go for a smaller company or a bigger one? The answer to that question is dependent on your career goals. Smaller companies tend to be more dynamic. They offer employees a much broader range of experience, since their work processes tend to be more flexible. Smaller companies, by definition, have fewer employees to handle many tasks. This means that in many cases employees have to wear several hats. This may give you a wide range of experience early on in your career, and may be ideal if you are considering an entrepreneurial direction.

The down side is that in many small companies, employees tend to become jacks of all trades in their functional area. This means that they find it difficult to become experts in any given area. Smaller companies also tend to have fewer resources for on-the-job training and professional growth. In addition, career mobility within these organizations tends to be limited, since there aren't that many roles you can move into.

Advice: unless you are positive you want to choose an entrepreneurial course for your career, starting in a larger company is a safe bet.

4. Select a Company Not a Supervisor - unless the hiring manager is Count Dracula, don't base your employer selection decision on your prospective manager's identity. Managers come and go. Positions change. People get promoted. People leave companies. If you choose your position based on the identity of a manager, you could be disappointed shortly thereafter if that manager leaves or is re-assigned. On the other hand, organizational cultures are very stable over the long term.

Advice: join a company with a good organizational culture and with strong industry presence. Ignore the identity of the hiring manager, for good or bad.

5. Do Not Follow the Hottest Trend - if everyone else is trying to get into a certain industry (say... private equity, for example), that's exactly the wrong industry to get into. There are a number of reasons for this. If all the best and the brightest are trying to get into an industry, it will be very tough to distinguish yourself and stand out from the crowd. In addition, much like the stock market, industry is cyclical and the industry that has seen the hottest streak in recent years is likely to cool off in the future. Don't pick last year's winning sector, pick next year's winners.

The same is true for companies. If everybody is trying to get into eBay, it doesn't necessarily follow that this is the right company for you. There are many brand name companies out there and some of them are starved for top notch talent. Go for those.

Let me share a personal anecdote here. Between my first and second years of business school, I received a lucrative summer internship offer from Intel. I turned down that offer to follow the latest trend and joined a dotcom. The year was 2000 and that story turned ugly pretty quickly, as we all know.

Advice: go into an industry and a company based on the merits. Do not base your decisions on fashions or trends.

6. Think About Your Next Job - you know those folks that buy a house and are always thinking about how each change they want to make will impact the house's resale value? Well, those folks have it exactly right. Before you take any job, think about how that job will look on your resume next time you try to sell yourself to an employer.

Before you accept any job offer, it is important to have a career plan. I know that for someone in their 20's who just got out of college and is working his first or second job the term "career plan" may sound scary. However, by career plan I don't necessarily mean a formal 10 year plan. For the purpose of this discussion, what I am referring to is a vague idea of where you would like your career to take you. Do you see yourself going to law school? Do you see yourself as an Ad Executive? Do you see yourself as a CFO? Wherever you think you are headed, is the job you are being offered sending you on the right path towards that goal?

Advice: before taking a job ask yourself: "is this job the right step towards [INSERT LOFTY CAREER GOAL HERE]."

7. Compensation is Secondary - Shadox are you mad? Isn't money what it's all about? I may be slightly off my rocker, but that has nothing to do with the specific point I am making here. Remember, you are not trying to maximize your immediate earnings potential. You are trying to maximize your lifetime earnings potential. Your first jobs will pay you peanuts compared to what you can make somewhere down the line. Keep your eye on the big prize. Don't accept a job that pays you $5,000 more a year if it doesn't take you where you want to go. That's like boarding a bus that is going to the wrong part of town, just because it looks nicer.

Advice: maximize your long term earnings potential, not your next pay-check.

Other posts in this series include:

Employer Selection: a Strategic Career Decision
Your Colleagues - Your Assets
Active Resume Building
Recovering from Early Career Disaster


plonkee said...

How did I do?
1. Yes
2. So-so. They try, and I contribute my personal time and money to this.
3. Yes
4. Yes, I knew that I'd be working in a different office to the one where my interview was
5. Yes, my field is definitely one for the future (that's right, no one has heard of it)
6. No, I haven't bothered with this, but am fortunate enough to have lucked out.
7. Yes.

Little Miss Moneybags said...

Here's my score:

1. Not for my first job, but for my second.
2. I will be going back for an advanced degree. Neither job I've had has had specific training programs in place.
3. First job was at a small company. It was great, because I knew everyone and they knew me, and I got to tackle some projects I never would have had the chance to work on at a larger place. However, I also had intern-y typ jobs for longer than I should have, because there was no one else to do them. I turned down a small company to work at my current huge one.
4. I interviewed with my current supervisor, but I picked the company. It's gravy that I've clicked so well with her.
5. Ha! People have been calling the demise of my industry for years.
6. Yes. I expect to stay with this company for some time, but I am always thinking about what I will do next here. I took an entry level position despite several years in the workforce in order to make it into the industry; I sort of can't help but think about moving forward.
7. Oh, yes. Do what you love and the money will follow.

SF Money Musings said...

I changed careers after my first attempt at being a kick-ass newspaper reporter failed.

So I took any job afterwards hoping to figure what I wanted. And how did I fare? Terribly. I ended up in a great industry with lots of growth and opportunity but wrong company and division that's bleeding money and the work is terrible. There are no advancement opportunities and the boss is well a boss.

1. I chose a large corporation but the wrong division which can make or break your career. There's so much red tape and layers of corporate to go through for simple decisions.

2. They didn't provide me with much training. They did pay for one class and that's it. Even when I pitch going to a free seminar, the boss isn't budging.

3. I chose a large company but much prefer the smaller one. Less hassles, bs and decisions are made quicker.

4. I chose based on the manager who seemed genuinely interested in my advancement until I bugged him after 6 months and he said there are no places to grow.

5. Everyone in school was saying how tech was the next big thing. Well the rush came and went and now it's back to normal in Silicon Valley. Following the trends is bad just like following the stock market's past performance.

6. I had no idea what I was doing when I interviewed for the job - my career was to be a journalist and when that didn't work out, I was back to square one. Sometimes it's okay not to know because you figure it out as you go along.

7. Money's an important aspect but not everything. I'd trade money for more vacation days which can be done for cheap and frugally. Most people in teh US work so much with big paychecks, they don't see life outside of the money.