What really matters in your next job
Looking for a job can seem incredibly daunting, it’s a huge commitment and can feel like an incredibly complicated one at that. So much so we often subconsciously reduce the roles we look at down to simple heuristics such as “How much does it pay?”, “Have I heard of the company/are they well-known and respected?/read about them in the news?”, “What is the title I’ll be given?”, all of which are readily ascertainable and in some cases quantifiable and so we pin our search and decision-making on these criteria.
Unfortunately, these are largely superficial things that on a day-to-day basis will barely impact you at all. They are the things that may help you talk about your job to someone else “It pays well” or “I’m a manager at x” but that is about the extent of it. You spend close to half your waking hours in the week working and commuting to work along with the majority of your adult life so you should probably be paying a little more attention to the things that’ll make it bearable (and hopefully, enjoyable).
When considering jobs think of it from the perspective of what impacts you most each and every day, what brings you joy and what pisses you off? What would a great day at work look like and what would (or has) made it hell?
What doesn’t matter
Let’s start with understanding why some of the things I mentioned earlier don’t really matter:
Obviously, there is a threshold of earnings you need to live a comfortable life, eat out from time to time, go on a few holidays, not worry too much about your bills etc, but actually, you’ll often find that your happiness through your life doesn’t often change considerably as you earn more money over this threshold and so optimising your job hunt trying to eke out an extra few pounds here and there at the expense of some of the other things I am going to discuss is short-sighted, to say the least.
People often quickly assume that companies and the people within them are one homogenous blob of people and that if it is a prestigious company then everyone then must be smart or that if it has a bad reputation then the employees must all be of questionable ethics. Neither are true.
Nor really should pretty much any “best place to work” poll should be given much attention, it’s just marketing. People aren’t good at surveys or telling the truth and even in the “best company” to work for you will find instances of bad behaviour, horrible bosses and questionable practices.
I know of some incredibly kind and compassionate people working at Goldman Sachs (a.k.a. the ‘Vampire Squid’) and people of much more questionable character working at far ‘nicer’ companies. Corporate ‘brands’ are also often created in isolation from their employees and barely permeate through a small handful of their population so don’t think just because they are talking a good game on sustainability or diversity it means a jot about how things actually work in the company.
Completely irrelevant. Every company has different, subjective definitions of them. A manager in one company may mean you are a manager of a team of 100 people or an entire division of a business, while in another you could manage nobody and nothing. In one company it could take a minimum of 15 years’ hard graft to get there, in another it could mean 2.
This isn’t just the case at junior levels, but all the way up to CEO. To be CEO all you have to do is register a company for £10 on Companies House and nominate yourself, but does that mean you should be knocking on the door of Mark Zuckerberg to ask when he’ll be stepping aside to let you take the reigns at Facebook? You should also probably be aware that titles also don’t necessarily correlate with performance or competence…
What does matter?
So, what kind of things do matter? Well, it absolutely depends on your circumstances but at a minimum, you may want to consider a few of these:
Your direct line manager
This is the person who will likely decide what you will be doing each day, may be heavily involved in your performance review, will be leading you in tough times and working to develop you as a person. There’s a good chance you could be stuck with them for several years to come so you better make sure that you meet them before you start working!
Almost everyone has a story of a bad boss, and along with it how miserable they made them at work. I think this is probably the most important influencing factor on your daily happiness while working. They should be someone you feel you can approach and can talk to (they don’t have to be your best friend), they should be someone you feel like you could trust, someone who can teach you things and has complementary areas of knowledge to yours. They should be interested and engaged in your personal development and what you want to get out of the job.
There are many more things a good manager should have but these are at least some baseline hygiene factors.
Your effective boss
This isn’t necessarily your immediate line manager (but could be), nor does it have to be the ultimate boss/CEO of the company (as they may be several steps removed from doing anything that will impact you directly). This is the person who calls the shots of the business you are working in day-to-day, deciding on the strategy and direction, leading the people in your department.
In a bad situation, this will be someone who doesn’t care about their employees, putting other parties before them, someone who is mocked and feared by those working for them and who doesn’t ‘get’ how the people and business really work on the ground.
They should be someone who you could feasibly meet up with for a coffee and have common grounds for work discussion. This person must be a leader, someone respected by those below them and someone whose role you would ideally like to vie for one day.
It is incredible how few people take these things into account still (albeit more are nowadays). A long commute can have such a detrimental impact on your life as it is time worked but not paid, usually in conditions you don’t exactly relish being in. Just a 1hr commute to the office can result in 10hrs ‘lost’ each week, and that is time, that isn’t just unpleasant but it is actively keeping you from things that make you feel better/enjoy — think spending time with friends/loved ones, keeping fit, sleeping, the list goes on.
Such wasted time will shortly build resentment and negativity, as will long working hours and a restriction on where you can work. A company and the people within that company should trust their employees to get the job done, if they don’t they should be hiring people that they do and building processes/management practices to ensure that it isn’t an issue.
Approach to personal development
You are not a commodity, someone interchangeable with A.N. Other person at the drop of the hat. As such you must ensure that your new company will invest in developing you, uniquely as a person. How will they help you to work on your weaknesses and build on your strengths? What regular formal programs do they have for it? What informal structures are there?
Look for change in a business. Look for one that is constantly adapting to the market and its surroundings, one that is taking the lead and being bold. Change in a business is necessary in order to survive as a business and change means you will have to adapt and will learn as a consequence.
It may seem quite abstract, especially if you are looking at very junior roles, but trust me, you want to be aligned and proud of what the company as a whole is setting out to do, and more importantly, how you will be contributing to that purpose. It’s the thing that will keep you motivated in the tough times and ensure you know what your ‘true North’ is when making decisions.
Someone should be able to tell you in simple language why the role you are looking at exists and how the absence of it would be detrimental to the company achieving its stated purpose. It’ll also be important in ensuring you are making wise career decisions as you progress through the company and allows you to step outside of the detail and stand back to see the big picture from time to time.
When looking for a job, give less weight to: salary, job titles, company reputation and more weight to: your line manager, your effective boss, approach to personal development, change, purpose, and working practices/attitudes.
Prioritising positive answers to the latter list will give you a damn good chance of ensuring you will be starting a role which you enjoy.
Good luck with your hunt!