You will likely be lucky to go all the way through your career without making a job move that you later regret. It's not easy choosing a company or leadership team that fits exactly with the way you think, act and want to operate.
Technology is creating new industries, fast growing companies and increased opportunities and responsibilities that can sometimes cloud our judgment.
Take Uber for example. A market disruptor with 'rocket ship' growth, billions of dollars valuation and looking for innovative and creative people.
But a day does not seem to pass without the company coming up in the news for another 'corporate culture shock.' From sexual harassment claims that an ex-employee blogged about, the CEO, Travis Kalanik, renaming it 'Boob-er' in a GQ interview or bring caught on video berating an 'employee' driver, to an executive encouraging digging up dirt on media critics or the questionable cloaking of its app to avoid authority detection and using behavioral science to manipulate driver actions.
You may have seen the recent news of Uber's President, Jeff Jones resigning after only a few months, with the departing words of;
"It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business,"
Jones was the former Chief Marketing Officer at retailer Target and was initially expected to move into the eventually re-created position of COO at Uber, having already taken on some of that type of roles responsibilities. However, the announcement that the company would be searching outside for a candidate may well have been enough for him to realize this was not the place to stay, although I suspect it was much deeper than that.
I can imagine that the attraction to go from a retailer facing increased online competition and still reeling from a disastrous and expensive foray into Canada to an organization that employees describe as one that "offers unique opportunities: "rocket ship" growth." As well like "the chance to solve real-world problems and a culture that frees them to experiment with radical solutions in a burgeoning field," was very tempting, maybe even 'blinding.'
Indeed with just some cursory research, even before taking the role, Jones would have quickly known that Uber had a reputation as an expressive, unrestrained, even toxic culture that until recently was proud of saying it hired 'brilliant jerks.' In the New York Times, the challenges start-ups face were highlighted in an op-ed piece 'Jerks and the Start-Up's They Ruin'
Of course, it is not just 'start-up' style companies that can have toxic cultures or be ruined by influential leaders or key personnel, as the Fox News accusations and settlements that continue to come to light shows us.
So how do you avoid making a similar mistake and either having to be looking again or put up with working for a company that is not a fit for you and hating every minute?
Here are seven ways to avoid the pitfalls of making the wrong career move and potentially damaging your personal brand;
1. What Do You Already Know?
A quick Google search will return you thousands of results both negative and positive about working for the company. Many of these references related to driving for Uber, but with the recent negative press, there are plenty of major media pieces too. Uber has even taken to placing paid advertising spots in Google search to links explaining company culture and career opportunities. They have even gone on a PR offensive with the release of a diversity report highlighting similar workforce make-up as other tech companies and pieces like this on CNN.com, including more honest and open video interview from Rachel Holt, General Manager of North America.
Google can be your friend and also your enemy in this situation. As you are going through an interview process being up on the latest news is important. You do not want the bad news to cloud your opinion so much that you are going into the process looking for reasons to say no. Don't rely on only a cursory search to be the total basis of your decision.
A company's website can also be useful to see how much importance they place on careers and hiring. Look for employee videos and other materials. It is unlikely you are going to get warts and all presentation that some of the recent content Uber has produced, but there may be some signs and indications you can find.
2. Evaluate the Hiring Process
How your new potential employer treats you throughout the hiring process can be an excellent indicator of how you are likely to be dealt with once you join. Of course, hopefully, you are both on your best behaviors without being false.
Some years ago, in the UK, when I was looking for a new Sales position I had been sent by a recruiter on an interview with what was then one of the top 100 employers in the world. It was a good career move with a household name, definitely one you would like to see in your resume and great for building my personal brand. I was excited and had prepared well for the interview.
On arrival at reception, I was asked if I would like a coffee or tea while waiting, the receptionist pointed to a vending machine in the corner where I had to pay to get a beverage.
The Director of Human Resources then came down to meet with me and proceeded to call me Peter, I thought it might be a test and immediately and politely corrected him. On arrival in the interview room, the other two interviewees, the Sales Director and National Sales Manager were standing, and I was introduced as Peter again, which I duly corrected!
The room had three red chairs and one yellow arranged in a square, and I was asked to take any seat. I chose one of the red ones and was immediately requested to move to the yellow one!
At that point the interview in my mind was over; the company had failed to make any positive impression on me and had left me with an impression of pettiness. It was no longer a company I wanted on my resume or to associate with my personal brand.
Ensure you are looking at the whole hiring process from communication, responsiveness, right through to interviews, the people you meet and the quality of locations and offices. Also, evaluate how others in the company are treated and how your questions are answered. Of course, never forget the interview process is a two-way street, you need to be delivering on your promises too.
Far too many businesses pay lip service to the adage of 'our people are our most valuable asset.' Be sure they are walking their talk.
Are too many businesses paying lip service to the adage of 'our people are our most valuable asset?Click to tweet
3. Reach Out to Current and Past Employees.
With the wealth of information now available at the click of a mouse and the reduction of six degrees of separation to probably two or three at most, there is no excuse for not finding others who have worked at the company you are interested in who can help.
The obvious place to start would be LinkedIn, even with smaller companies, because 59% of LinkedIn members have never worked for a company of more than 200 employees. If you have a network of at least 500 people, there is a good chance that you are only one or two steps away from a current or former employee of your target company.
Hopefully, those people are 2nd-degree connections. That closeness is best because you can ask for an introduction from someone you mutually know giving much more likelihood you will get a response and some insights.
There are also other employee review websites that provide insights into the company culture, work styles, and even salaries. Two of the more popular sites are Glassdoor and Indeed. Again it is good to remember the nature of this feedback, and the circumstances it might have been offered, and not let it completely influence your opinion. The information can certainly be used though to dig deeper at interviews with your questions.
4. Play to Your Strengths and Stretch a Little
I have always been of the belief that many skills are transferable and industry or vocation do not limit you. One of the reasons you are seeking a new opportunity is for that next challenge, to take on more responsibility or to get involved in a new industry.
Early in my career, I was downsized from one of the world's largest tobacco companies. They were well respected, which meant our skills were in demand and all of us were getting immediate new offers of employment. My sales experience to that point had been in product sales.
However, I was attracted to, and accepted, a position from Avis, the rent-a-car company, selling their car hire to corporate and travel industry accounts, a service. It was a disaster, primarily because I could not get used to the notion of making a presentation and not getting an immediate 'order.' Accounts would verbally commit to using you 'the next time,' but you never knew when that was.
Within a few months, I was looking again, and I happily returned to another consumer goods company. It was not until years later that I had the skills and experience to transition to selling a service again.
While it is always good to be growing and learning, you want to ensure that you are a success in your new role by leveraging your skills and experience. Yes, a stretch is good, but not to the detriment of your personal brand or longer term career management. Be sure the career move plays to your strengths most of the time.
5. Don't Kiss on the First Date
Often finding a new job is likened to dating and there are many similarities. One is that we can get carried away by all the excitement and newness of the relationship. This career euphoria can be especially true when in the 'courtship' process.
Often companies want to hire currently employed and successful people. The hiring manager has a vacant position and is keen to fill it and move forward. This 'desperation' can mean they may be overly enthusiastic about you and promise something they can not deliver on. Don't be distracted by shiny objects or vague promises.
It reminds me of a classic hiring joke.
One day while walking downtown, distracted by looking at their phone, a Human Resources woman was hit by a bus and killed. Her soul arrived up in heaven where she was met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter himself.
"Welcome to Heaven," said St. Peter. "Before you get settled in, though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we've never once had an HR Manager make it this far, and we're not sure what to with you."
"No problem, just let me in," said the woman.
"Well, I'd like to, but I have my orders. What we're going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven, and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in" the Saint replied.
"I think I've made up my mind.....I prefer to stay in Heaven" she responded.
"Sorry, we have rules....." And with that St. Peter put the HR Manager in an elevator, and it went down-down-down to Hell. The doors opened, and the HR manager found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club and standing in front of her were all her friends - fellow HR professionals with who she had worked. They were all cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks, and they talked about old times. They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the country club where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil who was a nice guy (kinda cute), and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing.
The HR manager was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved good-bye as she got on the elevator. The elevator went up-up-up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates where St.Peter was waiting for her.
"Now it's time to spend a day in Heaven," he said. So the HR manager spent the next 24 hours lounging around on the clouds and playing the harp and singing. She had an okay time and before she knew it, her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her. "So, you've spent a day in Hell, and you've spent a day in Heaven. Now you must choose your eternity" he said.
The HR manager paused for a second and then replied, "Well, I never thought I'd say this. I mean, Heaven has been good and all, but I think I had a much better time in Hell."
So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator, and again the manager went down-down-down back to Hell. When the doors of the elevator opened, she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up rotting food and putting it in sacks for the evening meal. The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her and laughed at her.
"I don't understand," stammered the HR manager. "Yesterday I was here, and there were a golf course and a country club, and we ate lobster, and danced and had a great time. Now all there is is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable."
The Devil looked at her and grinned, "that's because yesterday we were recruiting you, but today you're staff."
Ensure that everything discussed, offered and agreed upon are confirmed in your letter of employment. Depending on the level of role and complexity of the offer it may even be worth paying an employment lawyer to look over the contract. Once you sign, you have little or no leverage.
More importantly, ensure that the role is going to challenge you and give you the experience and development you are seeking. The benefits and salary are important, absolutely, but research shows these can have limited long term motivation and engagement. Choose the role for the right, long-term reasons for career growth and personal brand building.
6. Align Your Values
Seeing a company display its values on a website or even on posters around the office is commonplace. Uber has 14 values that it espouses. The importance though lies in the values having real meaning inside the organization and everyone living and delivering on those values every day. Look for companies that display this, even ask interviewers how they see those values lived up to every day.
Does your company values have real meaning inside the organization and is everyone living and delivering on those values every day?Click to tweet
You then need to decide if those values match what you believe, expect and want from your next employer.
One client, I worked with had explicit values defined around Family and what he called Wealth.
Family - All his career moves and decision revolved around the impact the move (and often it meant house move) would have on his family, his children's education, and friendships.
Wealth - Was not about the money. Money was never initially negotiated or expressed in particular $ figures. My client often used the phrase "You will pay me what you think I am worth." Wealth was more to do with the opportunity of building his personal brand, what he was going to learn, how he was going to be challenged and developed, what the longer term career opportunities were.
Knowing and setting your moral compass is one of the key foundation pieces for building and developing your personal brand. One way to address this is to complete a Values Exercise; it's like setting your GPS for your career and life.
Getting clear on your values helps you to address times when an opportunity arises, and it is so in line with your values that it becomes second nature and you excel at the task and become recognized for it.
Alternatively, if it is going to compromise or effect a value, or you are asked to do something for someone that does not feel right then you can stop yourself early from heading down that path.
We may share the same values, but our definitions could be entirely different. That is why it is not just about choosing a list of words. Defining what your values mean to you are core to your personal brand foundation and will help you better manage your career and set you up for more success.
To clearly label and define your values take the 4-step EvalYOUation values exercise by clicking here.
7. Can Your Leader Lead?
A good leader does not necessarily need to have a charismatic or high profile. However, they certainly need to be able to inspire and motivate their teams.
Take the time to understand how your next boss leads. Ask others in the organization that you have a chance to meet. See what others have written as recommendations on your future boss' LinkedIn profile or employer feedback websites and if they do have a high profile see what the media is saying and try to confirm if this is true.
Use online resources, LinkedIn for sure, or if the company is more innovative, then platforms such as Crunchbase may help.
The bottom line is to ask yourself do you respect them, can you learn from them and do they have a clear personal leadership brand?
The bottom line is to ask yourself do you respect your boss, can you learn from them and do they have a clear personal leadership brand?Click to tweet
If you can follow these guidelines, you are going to be proactively managing your career and your personal brand. More importantly, you will increase significantly the chances of making the right job move, every time.
- Know as much as you can about the organization and its culture.
- Evaluate how they handle you and others you interact with during the hiring process.
- Find out what past and present employees think and know.
- Be sure that your strengths are being leveraged and it's also a growth opportunity.
- Don't be distracted by the bells and whistles or shiny objects, focus on the meat of the job.
- Ensure that your values align with those of the company, you have to turn up every day living those.
- Are you excited about the people and especially leaders you are going to be working for?
As a final step, before accepting the offer, sit down with a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle and come up with lists of Pros and Con's. It is simple yet effective. If you want to get a little more in-depth conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.
Be sure you are making your next career move for the right reasons and have done all that you can to make an informed decision, then make it. And once the decision to leave is made do not take a counter-offer from your current employer, your reasons for leaving remain the same and no amount of promises or money will change that fact.
Yes, sometimes we make the wrong choice, accept it and learn from the lessons, it could be more powerful for your personal brand in the long run.
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