Considering the Adjacent Alternatives


How to nail your next career pivot. 

You’re fed up with your boss. You’re grown tired of your industry. You’ve stopped growing in your role. Regardless of the catalyst for change, once you’ve committed to exploring your next professional challenge, confidently charting a path forward can be hard. This is especially true when you want to leave the ‘traditional’ career path behind. 

Most big companies and established professions have career advancement norms that are easily identifiable - the rungs on the career advancement ladder are clear, well-worn and within reach. But if you’re determined to build a career that weaves together experiences in different industries, professions, and companies, the traditional norms are less relevant. And so are the traditional metrics used to compare competing job opportunities.

If you’re working at a Big Three consulting firm considering your next gig, how do you compare an analyst position at traditional CPG company against a Director of Operations position at an early-stage wellness start-up and a Chief of Staff role in your hometown’s city council? I’ve heard hundreds of variations on this example over the last five years and I’ve found that the best approach to comparing seemingly incomparable opportunities starts with isolating the four components that really matter: the basics, the work, the people and the culture.

Considering The Basics
How well will each opportunity help you meet or exceed your basic needs? I like to include the following criteria in this bucket:

Salary & bonus: Are you getting paid enough to meet or exceed the basic needs of you and your family?
Office location: Does the office location improve your current quality of life? Does it worsen it?   
Benefits: Are there benefits (e.g. healthcare, wellness) associated with the opportunity that help you meet or exceed your basic needs? 

This is usually the easiest component to qualify and compare with different opportunities; salary, benefits & location are the details most easily accessible to the candidate. But it’s a mistake to end your comparison here. The components that will have a greater impact on your professional and personal satisfaction lie well beyond the basic needs. 

Considering The Work
How does the actual work compare with the different opportunities? I like to include the following criteria in this bucket:

Clarity: Will the goals of your work be consistently clear?
Attainability: Will your work balance ambition with achievability?  
Challenging: Will the work challenge you? For how many months or years?
Autonomy: Will you have the freedom to choose how & when you get your work done?
Learning: Will the work present an opportunity for learning & growth?
Purpose: Will the work move your closer towards your evolutionary purpose?

Comparing opportunities across these criteria is challenging because it requires that you investigate aspects of a job that are rarely advertised and because it requires your honest introspection.

Considering The People
How do the people who you’re considering working for and working-with compare? I like to include the following criteria in this bucket:

Company leadership: Will you learn valuable lessons from the company leadership?
Team leadership: Will you learn valuable lessons from the team leadership?
Colleagues: Will you learn valuable lessons from your colleagues?

To properly audit varying opportunities in this category, you need to determine 1) what types of lessons (e.g. scaling companies, leading global teams, building cultural connections) are most valuable to you, 2) the likelihood that the people associated with each company/organization possess the experience and expertise that you find valuable and 3) the likelihood that they will be generous in sharing their experience and expertise with you.

Considering The Culture

How does each opportunity's organizational culture compare? I like to include the following criteria in this bucket:

Company impact: Do your values align with the company/organizational practices? Not what they say, but what they do.
Team impact: Do your values align with the team practices? 
Growth: Will the company be supportive of your professional & personal growth?
Wholeness: Will you be comfortable bringing your whole self to the office/organization?

Similar to the Work and People areas, a proper evaluation of Culture at competing opportunities requires a deeper investigation of the people, practices, and norms that make-up each organization as well as a proper evaluation of self.

Once you’ve isolated the essential components of competing opportunities, they become much easier to compare and contrast. This isolation exercise also allows you to recognize where otherwise compelling job opportunities are deficient, which might encourage you to negotiate for missing elements (e.g. negotiating for executive coaching where the learning opportunities are weak) or supplement outside of the workplace (e.g. seeking external professional networks with the diversity that might be missing inside of the organization).

Thoroughly auditing and investigating competing opportunities in this above-suggested manner is not easy. It requires your approaching the job evaluation process with more care and attention than you would in advance of a significant purchase decision (like buying a house or a car). We’ve created a free tool to help people approaching a career-pivot compare their competing job opportunities against one another. Downloadable as a Google Sheet, Numbers Spreadsheet or Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet, this tool will help you compare job opportunities using all the metrics that matter.

Check it out here, let me know if it jibes with your experience comparing competing job opportunities and definitely reach out with feedback on how we might make future iterations of this tool work better for you.

Happy exploring!