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Should You Look for the Right Job or the Right Company?

by James Citrin, LinkedIn

If you are an aspiring young professional – or are advising one – what do you believe is more important: to get into the right job or to get into the right company?

The “right job” is one that will pay well, offer substantive work, put you under the direction of a good boss, and provide prospects for advancement. The “right company” is one that is well known, highly respected – perhaps even cool, offer good training, and where people and other employers will value you based on your association with the brand.

Of course, you want both. And there is a spectrum of just how great or awful the job is and just how prestigious or obscure the organization is. There is obviously no right answer, but I’m asking you to consider where you find yourself directionally.

I asked this same question to thousands of aspiring young professionals in our careers survey and to a cross section of the senior most business leaders across the land. The results:

  • Among young professionals, two-thirds believe it’s more important to get into the right job and a third into the right organization.
  • Among top business leaders, it’s an even 50-50 split.

The fact is this is a challenging question if you’re starting out in your career.

I’ve long had the view that a core principle in career management is to “go blue chip” early. My thinking is similar to wanting to go to the “best” college or university you can – you will always have that as part of your association and that it will create more options from which to choose over the course of your life. And you will have the opportunity to build relationships and friendships with more people who will go onto great things in their lives which will be beneficial to your success. I’ve also had the belief that if you get your foot in the door at a good organization and add value, work hard, and have a great attitude opportunities will open up for you to move internally.

However, this may be far easier said than done. You need to make a living and you want to develop skills that will establish your foundation. You may find yourself wrestling with this conundrum if, for example, you are offered a minimum wage internship or have the chance to start in a potentially dead-end position in a prestigious company. If this is the case, my advice is to ask some specific questions – politely of course – such as: “Over the past 3 years, how many interns have you had and how many of those were offered full time roles? What is your company’s track record of moving young people laterally from one group to another? How does that actually work?” If the company’s practice and culture is to start in the mail room (literally or figuratively) and move from there (as in the case of talent agencies or at companies such as UPS where almost everyone starts as a driver), that should give you confidence to take the leap. If they cannot give you real examples of how someone starting in the back office moved into a revenue producing role or they have no process for internal mobility then take care.

Alternatively, if you have received a good offer but at a questionable company ask yourself and others you trust a different set of questions: Would you be proud to be associated with this brand? How will you feel going to parties or reunions and talking about what you do? Have people moved from this company to others that you admire? Will the job push you to learn valuable new skills? How will this role help you figure out if this is the right kind of job for you going forward?

In both cases, you can do an analysis on LinkedIn of people from that company to see how they’ve moved internally or where they went afterwards. This will give you real data to inform your view. As with all decisions that you have to make managing your career there are few black and white choices. It’s all about making judgment calls.