1. The company is not financially sound, so either you decided to leave it yourself or you have been laid off. If there is a danger to be laid off, it's always best to start your search as soon as you become aware of the issue and not wait for further confirmation or until this actually happens. To act quickly, you have to be well prepared. In order to be prepared, you have to always follow the 4 simple rules:
- always keep your resume up to date and update it once a year or once a job-related trigger happens (promotion, certification, membership in a professional association);
- update your LinkedIn profile and maintain your connections, do not be shy to ask for references (my norm is two references from each place of work or position); thank people who recommend you, post links to your presentations, certifications, and awards; participate in LinkedIn forums;
- maintain professional relationships - via LinkedIn, meetups, luncheons, conferences, and other professional events;
- maintain certifications and membership in professional associations. Many employers will cover costs, but even if they do not, it is a norm today to invest in your own education and professional growth, even if you are a full-time employee and your employer does not have a budget for professional development. This happens a lot. I worked for a Fortune 13 company, which had a training budget of $5,000 total for a group of 30+ people, but even in this case, we were able to find an internal employee who was certified to teach an important and relevant certifications class, paid a licensing fee of $100 per person (below our budget) to a certification body, and we were able to train and certify everyone within the group. So there is an opportunity to come up with creative solutions, even if your budget is restricted. Do not save on education and stay up to date!
If you follow these four rules, the job search is an easy challenge for you. You reach out to your contacts informing them that you are ready for the next step in your career, share your updated resume and a link to your LinkedIn profile, apply to a few LinkedIn postings to test the market, make calls to a couple of recruiters who have been recommended to you or with whom you worked in the past, and start interviewing.
The most complex question though is how do you decide what you want.
2. You leave your job because it is not challenging enough and you do not feel that your skills and knowledge are growing. This situation is more complex. If your primary concern is learning and your ability to grow professionally, you need to understand the culture of any organization you will be applying to. If you are in IT, check if they run internal hackathons. Once you get to an interview, ask whether they have time and budget allocated to training and professional development. Check Glassdoor reviews. Talk to people you know over there. Do not assume that if a company is doing very well financially, they have training funds. We've observed multiple companies when the situation was completely opposite. In other words, research directly and indirectly things that are specific to you.
3. Check and confirm any information you receive. 100 (500, 1000) most creative (flexible, fast growing, best place to work) company lists and many other awards may apply to a company but not apply to you. I worked for a company which was continuously on the list of best 100 US companies with flexible work policy and you would assume that if you are looking for flexible work arrangements, this company is the best employer for you. This was an educational company and its instructors did in fact have significant flexibility. However, its full-time employees in Headquarters had 9-5 work day with the expectation of their presence in the office.
They had an ability to submit a three-page document to ask for a Flexible Work Arrangement such as working from home one day per week on a specific day, but it was painful. The application had to be reviewed and approved by your manager and then took a month to go through a committee at executive level. Some of those requests were approved, some were denied and I am not sure if there were an appeal process. I wouldn't necessarily call it the most flexible work policy, but the company was consistently on the most flexible companies list for many years in a row. So the advice is: if this is important to you, verify.
4. Reconcile title with the job description. This is another important advice. In many instances, you will get the title that you like, but your actual responsibilities will turn out to be very far from what you expect. You may say that all you need is a Director title and you may get it, especially in a smaller company which has no specific rules or restrictions, and then you will join to find out that you have a zero decision-making power and are expected to follow instructions coming from a manager who is the actual decision-maker in the area of your responsibility. Check the job description and make sure that you understand every line item, and if you do not, have a conversation about it before you make a choice to accept their offer. If a title is of a concern, find out how fast people are promoted in the organization and what their actual rules are (run away if the organization values seniority, stick with those that rely on employee skills, dedication, and hard work).
Compensation is another important aspect. While compensation alone is rarely a valid reason for a move, you need your basic "financial health" before you can appreciate the motivation that you new job brings you. If compensation is not in sync with your expectations, negotiate it and do not forget your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) - a course of action you are prepared to take if the negotiation is not successful.
5. Ensure that company values resonate with you. This criterion is frequently overlooked but it is in fact, one of the most important parameters in your job search. We are not talking about the list of nouns on company web site (Integrity, Compassion, Reliability. etc.) - every employer has an impressive list. The list from Enron is an example widely cited.
In its annual report to shareholders, Enron listed its core values as follows:
- Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
- Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
- Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
- Excellence– We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. (Enron, Annual Report, 2000, p. 29).
However, multiple examples reveal that the culture stood opposed to these core values. Instead of reinforcing the code of ethics and the list of virtuous core values, the actions of leadership established a culture with values of greed and pride. And this is not the only example.
When you join a company, check the actual values that govern decision making. If you want to help other people, review their charity record. Check how they contribute to making the world a better place. Many companies even allocate workdays or funds to their employees to support charities of their choice.
If you want to change the world for the better, you may enjoy, for example, working more for an healthcare provider or an educational company with forward thinking rather than for a financial services company. If this does not matter to you, look for the values that resonate with you personally.
6. Find out whether the company has what you are looking for, based on your professional aspirations and career interest. Confirm that you have what it takes to be successful in the role that you chose for yourself. Consider job type: if you want to experience many companies and gain knowledge, check consulting jobs. If you care more about job security and are ready to stay with your new employer for a long time, choose a full-time permanent job.
Give a lot of thought to a company you want to work for. Maybe you value a short commute and you only have a few companies that are in close geographic proximity to you that you offer jobs in your area of expertise. Then think: what makes you happy at work. Is it the environment? ability to achieve career growth? ability to be noticed? For example, Google is an outstanding employer but if you are looking for a fast career growth and an ability to stand out, this won't be easy there or even fast. If you are overly competitive or looking for a promotion, Google has a complex system for self-nomination and subsequent reviews which will take time and effort. If you want to make an immediate impact, you may choose a smaller and less competitive organization where each individual is easier to be noticed or to provide a lasting impact. Don't let free lunch and weekly massage offered by many startups backed up by venture capital fool you into the environment that is not right for you.
On the other side, assess your skills. Calibrate you competencies by learning new skills, by interviewing with several companies that are not your first or second choice before interviewing with the ones where you can't wait to work, ask your interviewers questions about the skills you lack or need to build. Act upon that promptly by building the skills or calibrating your expectations.
7. Ask! And most importantly, ask questions. Ask about a prospective employer, review Glassdoor reviews, LinkedIn postings, reach out to the individuals who are connected with you on LinkedIn, directly or indirectly. Verify any information that is important to you and never stay away from any opportunity to learn more. And in addition to that, remember that the best job is the one where you have been referred to. Invest in your research and you won't be disappointed in your next professional step.