Finding a job is like finding a woman: you think you found what you’re looking for, but reality sets in sooner or later. If you seek job satisfaction and relationship fulfillment, then leave no questions unanswered.
Approaching the company
With larger companies, you have little choice but to submit your resume and hope for the best. It is a widely accepted fact, however, that knowing someone in the right department goes a long way in securing an interview or position.
When it comes to joining a company you are familiar with, stay abreast of its development in order to pull the trigger and make the move when the moment is right.
Dr. Chester Karrass, widely considered the top negotiation guru according to most Fortune 500 companies, states that instead of getting what you deserve in life, you often get what you negotiate for. This is true, but you also need something to negotiate with .
The passive approach: play hard to get
Life is a game of poker. If you show your cards too early, you leave the table empty-handed. Dr. Karrass argues that people make mistakes throughout negotiations because they are too eager to seal the deal. Even Hitler was able to expand at will prior to World War II because his counterparts were rushing to reach an agreement.
If time is on your side, it only makes sense to sit back, be patient and wait for the firm to up the ante. But this only applies at the higher levels, with experienced and accomplished individuals. This predicament can be a Catch-22 of sorts. On one hand, if your value will only rise to the surface once you are actually on the job, you’ll need to get to work before making demands. On the other hand, if you offer more than what’s expected once working, those tasks will eventually become part of your responsibilities.
The active approach: control your destiny
The alternative strategy involves showing the firm’s human resources department that you are more than a prima donna waiting to be wined and dined. Your ego may enjoy seeing people beg you to join their firm, but this is a bad long-term strategy.
First, you are setting their expectations way too high. Second, if you anticipate a retraction in the capital markets or an overall economic slowdown, it will serve you better to take initiative. Third, this takes the focus away from you and your benefits, and places the focus on the firm. Once the proposal is accepted, you can come on board, suggest ideas and see your plans come to fruition.
Have you any experience…
Responsibilities and experience
Your responsibilities should be spelled out and the manner in which you will be evaluated should be made clear. A jack-of-all-trades is always in great demand, but always make sure that your trades are being requested rather than offered for “jack.” Often in large and small firms, there are additional duties attached to a job description; whether you wish to accomplish these should depend on pay and the opportunity of getting promoted. In times of economic difficulty, this is a very limited downside once you find a job. Nonetheless, your clout and compensation should reflect these additional tasks.
The paradox of experience
Tenet 1: People seldom value what they obtain for free. Price and value are rarely on par, so employers rapidly lose perspective. Employees suffer because they do not get recognized. Employers suffer because they fail to associate a cost to the function. If an employee leaves, it will be impossible to sustain productivity without incurring an additional cost.
Tenet 2: People only value the experiences you have gained at previous jobs. Sadly, there is a myopic belief that all employees at the same company (and at the same level) are similar. Employees may be equal, but they are not created equally. Different people are exposed to different facets of the firm’s operation. They also come from different backgrounds and have a higher propensity to learn, adapt and teach.
It is thus important to segment the wannabes from the stars. It is idealistic to pretend that all employees are equal, but the truly successful firms are the ones that separate the boys from the men, and compensate, reward and promote accordingly. This is the GE way and it largely explains why GE is the most valuable company in the world.
If a manager says that “anyone” can do “anything,” they are succumbing to an Orwellian school of thought; this says more about the manager than it does about you. Company leaders who fail to separate the different types of employees will see their firms become industry laggards because mediocrity and apathy become the norm. And ultimately top talent will walk away.
At some point your skills are valued more by outsiders than they are by your supervisors and colleagues.
Tenet 4: Multitalented employees will have a better opportunity to employ a majority of their skills at smaller and flatter organizations. Nonetheless, if you find yourself using only a portion of your skills, ask yourself whether your career is suffering as a result.
For these reasons it is of utmost importance that you only deliver what is asked of you from day one. Anything more is nice but unnecessary. If you wish to be promoted, give your managers a sneak preview of your capabilities, but cap it off. The purpose of the sneak preview is to convince people to attend the movie and not skip it altogether.
The elite circle
My friend is a lawyer at a very prestigious firm in the city. Despite his work ethic and productivity, he remains largely an outsider vis—vis most of the company brass. What he fails to accept is that if you work at the law firm of Goldman & O’Reilly and your last name is neither Goldman nor O’Reilly, then you will never be at the core of the elite circle.
Elite circles at law firms consist of founders and senior partners. At public corporations they consist of large, influential shareholders and a handful of senior managers, while elite circles at private companies tend to vary due to the nature of ownership and contribution.
Disregarding the concerns of founders will lead to structural conflicts, while undervaluing the plight of industrious contributors will lead to adverse operational results down the road. Successful firms strike a balance between these two forces, and you should seek employment at such firms.
More things to consider…
Size does matter
Large firms: Sound exit strategy required
Large firms need to motivate employees. They achieve this partially by sharing ownership of the firm with employees, but the key variable is getting all employees involved in the issues of the firm. Elite circles that foster a private boys club only hurt the firm’s fortunes. Turnover increases, loyalty decreases and the bottom line evaporates. Employees should keep their options open so that when the learning curve flattens, their exit strategy works out.
Small firms: Warning! Fresh paint
In the firm’s early days, partners soaked their hands in fresh paint in order to rub their seniority in the face of later employees. While this is largely a subconscious phenomenon, it fails to reward the risk that individuals take by joining a fledgling company. This can lead to mutiny down the road, as employees feel underappreciated and neglected.
Unless you are part of the elite circle, understand and accept that you will always be an outsider in order to avoid headaches and heartbreak in the future.
Negotiating a competitive salary vis—vis the firm and the industry is key. Salary should also reflect your experience and wage history. If you are up for the challenge, the salary is secondary but it must be consistent with the overall corporate framework.
InfoSpace founder Naveen Jain has received some bad press in the past couple of years. Many senior managers at the company said they felt that they were getting the short end of the stick because their equity packages were skimpy. Everyone thinks that they deserve more, but only a small proportion actually has a legitimate claim. After all, you can complain that your piece of the pie is not large enough or you can work at enlarging the pie.
The problem with the Infospace predicament (and many others) is that the employees could enlarge the pie all they want, but the benefits are largely Jain’s. Infospace remains a viable firm but the pie has lost its puff and time will tell whether a famine will hit the company. It is thus in the interest of all pie holders that the portions be fair.
When you seek employment, you have the choice between a handful of pies. Would you choose 50% of a stale pie that tastes bad, or 5% of a fresh pie that tastes good?
Finally, the remaining variable remains an intangible one. Once you start your job, the challenge turns to understanding the implicit roles of managers and determining where you fit within the office culture. Traditional firms have rigid structures and clashing against these will harm your career and your health.
When 5pm rolls by, remember that you are an employee and your job remains that — a job. Punch out and enjoy the finer things in life.
Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com.