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  • Intelligent Shift

Career Advice- The three rules I used to choose a job

About 15 years ago, I sat in a tiny corporate office chatting with an HR friend about the company’s approach to career progression. We were both early career and trying to figure out the labyrinth laid out before us. He took to the white board and we hammered away till we had three rules which would drive our career choices. I used them for years, unchanged. Here they are:

The rules:

Are people-that-matter paying attention? First, and foremost, the job has to matter to people-that-matter to your career. Someone up the chain has to be vested in the results. To do this right, you have to know who makes career decisions. Does your immediate manager have to go up three levels to get you a promotion? Will three levels up even know your work exists? Once I almost accepted a position on a troubled development program. My mentor stopped me cold, “Mike, you could be a hero every day on that program and no one would notice.” It was true. I could crush it, but it would hardly register with the PM.

Can you fail? You never want the people-that-matter saying, “Anyone could have done that” or “Well the last guy built the team. She just stepped in at the right time.” You want people to know you are taking a risk, maybe one they wouldn’t have taken. Sometimes that means setting your goals high and letting everyone know. It’s simply risk / reward.

Will success be obvious? It’s not enough that you avoid failure. You want it to be clear that you crushed it. I had an employee step in to an area where no one could get through to the customer. He got a glowing comment on the award fee in his first cycle. It was a shocking turn and obvious all the way up the chain. The key here is: can you identify an obvious success like project closure, a contract win, award fee comments, clear change in metric trends, etc? Think of how you can declare victory before you get in the position.

Those 3 guided me as an ambitious young engineer and PM trying to get ahead. It worked well to climb the ladder. I still see huge value in them. That said, it also now feels inevitable that I would have ended up with a career laced with red programs, managing layoffs, and high stress competitions. Those wore me down. As such, the next blog will discuss my view today. Sneak peek- those questions didn’t drive my decision to start Intelligent Shift, a few other questions did.

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