Evaluating Job Opportunities

Two months ago, the consumer health startup I was so enthusiastically working at shuttered its doors without warning. What started as a frustrating and sad moment of team commiseration, quickly escalated toward feelings of anxiety around the pressing need to figure out what the hell I was going to do next. Visa complexities only added fuel to the fire.

Spoiler alert: I took a role at BuzzFeed and all is great in the world!

Depending on your discipline, next steps in your career may be obvious, but as a designer in the startup/tech industry, a traditional career path rarely exists. After speaking with friends who were curious to hear about the journey, I figured I’d try to share some thoughts about my process, while it’s still fresh in my mind. So in this installment, I’ll focus on the four criteria I used to help me figure out which opportunities appealed most.

1. Mission

Coming from a company with a mission to make the world live healthier, longer lives, the bar was set incredibly high. While constraints are helpful in providing friction to work against, I found that I initially weighted this quality too heavily to the detriment of the other three, potentially more relevant qualities. Of course, a social mission is always a great thing to be working towards, but for me, my baseline was a little more modest. The question I tried to answer from each opportunity was “Assuming I do a good job, am I happy with how the world looks a year from now?”. The result may be positive for humanity, but as long as it’s doing something positive for a focused group of people that I can get behind, then I’m happy.

2. Team

This is arguably the most important day-to-day quality, but requires the most time to evaluate. Do I feel inspired by the interactions I’ve had with the people I’ll be working with? Do I leave an interview feeling like I just finished a test, or had an interesting conversation? The latter is generally a good indicator of the type of conversations I imagine will continue upon taking a job. Is my future boss someone who shares similar design / leadership values? If there are direct reports, what are their strengths and areas for improvement? Is everyone respectful with how their / my time is used during the interview process?

3. Contribution

I used to think job titles didn’t mean anything, but it turns out, in most contexts they are actually really helpful at figuring out what type of contribution is expected. Questions I’d ask myself here are: Is this contribution something I’m currently capable of? Am I excited by the potential impact I could have in this role? Based on the team structure, do I have the support to execute well? If there are clear challenges to my contribution (and there should be) what are they? and am I OK taking these on?

4. Growth

Will this opportunity allow me grow in the areas I’m looking to learn? If I am already capable of contributing to the role, does the new environment look too comfortable or will this experience bring a new perspective toward my current skill set? Do I actually want to grow the skills this opportunity requires of me? If I imagine the sort of role I’d like to be doing in 2–3 years time, will this job set me up well for that? If I have no idea what I want in two years, what sort of roles will this job set me up for and am I happy with how those possibilities look? Is the company growing sufficiently to be around and larger in two years time? If it’s an early-stage startup, am I confident the KPIs for unlocking their next funding tranche will be met?

A gut feeling

Despite all these questions, I’ve found the best way to really know if something is right or not is to trust your gut. Perhaps this contradicts everything I’ve written above? But I’d like to think going through this process helped me more clearly articulate what I was looking for, and evaluate opportunities early on while I was still training my gut to make these sorts of calls.

Do you have criteria for how you evaluate job opportunities? Is there anything you’re curious to hear more about from this recent job hunting process? Let me know on Twitter!