Before Taking a Job, Consider the Fit

Jim Citrin

Phil Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of Turner Broadcasting System -- the cable programming giant that owns such fabled networks as CNN, TNT, and Cartoon Network -- was in New York last week for the cable industry's annual gathering.

As we were catching up, Phil told me, "I need to thank you for the great advice you gave me a few years ago. I quote you often."

"I'm flattered," I replied, "but can you jog my memory with the pearls of wisdom I might have shared?"

He reminded me that when he was deciding whether to join Time Warner to lead its multibillion dollar Turner division or accept a potentially more lucrative offer as CEO of a global public company in the videogame business, I'd boiled the choice down to one deciding factor -- the people. "The who is more important than the what!" Phil said proudly.

Is the Job Right for You?

Phil's story illustrates just how highly complex making high-stakes career decisions can be. There are hosts of unknowns. Judgments need to be made with partial information; decisions typically are required under a lot of pressure.

There are many different variables to consider, both in your role as a candidate and in your position as a hiring manager.

When you're a candidate, the considerations include:

* The job itself

What is the nature of the role? How much will you learn and develop? How fundamentally interested are you in the business? How prestigious is the organization and the title? How great an impact can you have?
* The money

What is the current compensation? Is there a long-term incentive? Under what conditions can bonuses be earned? Is there an opportunity for wealth creation? Does the organization offer stock options or restricted stock? What's that likely to be worth in three to five years? What about a pension? Benefits?
* The lifestyle

How will the job fit into your life? Where is it based? What is the commute like? How much travel is involved? How much control will you have over your schedule? Will you need to work weekends? What are the deadlines and crunch times?
* Tradeoffs

Is the money worth the sacrifices you and your family would need to make? Or is securing the right lifestyle so important at this point that it's worth taking a step backward regarding compensation? Is the job so interesting and important that you're willing to throw away your weekend-warrior rituals or postpone the attempt to build financial security?

Hiring Considerations

Conversely, when you're a hiring manager evaluating candidates for an important position, the key factors to consider include:

* Relevant skills and track record

How does this individual line up with the key selection criteria agreed upon for this position? How exceptional is the candidate's expertise in the area most important for the job (e.g., marketing, finance, investing, general management, technology, etc.)? How sound is his or her performance track record? What role did the candidate really play in the results?
* Cost

How much will it cost to attract the candidate? How will the base salary and bonus requirements align with peers in the organization? Is a buyout provision necessary? What's the cost and risk of relocating the candidate? Is this individual that much better than others given the cost?
* Timing

Is this person ready to make a move now? How much transition time is required? Can you afford to wait on this candidate?

* Culture

How strong is the cultural fit between this candidate and the company? How will the organization respond to this individual? Will it embrace the person or reject him? What are the risks?

Looking for the Perfect Fit

When you cut through all of these issues, the most important consideration is the people equation: the fit. If you accept a job and misjudge the fit -- even if everything else is right --you will, in all likelihood, fail.

Similarly, if you hire an individual for a key position and people decide that he or she is a severe mismatch with the culture -- even if all the skills and experience line up beautifully -- all of your efforts will be for naught. The cost of getting it wrong is extreme from an out-of-pocket financial perspective and, more important, from a disruption and opportunity cost point of view.

On the other hand, other considerations, such as the money, lifestyle, even the job itself can be suboptimal, but if the fit is right, you'll generally be happy and successful. And, if you hire someone who doesn't quite have the full experience or required expertise, if the person is embraced by the organization and considered "one of us," he or she will get the support needed to get the job done well.

The Heart of the Matter

Making career decisions and hiring decisions are two sides of the same coin. Think of it this way: When a company hires a new professional, it's like an organ being transplanted into a body.

To the extent that the body is receptive to the organ and comfortable with the fit, the connective tissue grows and the organ becomes integral to the functioning of the body. In a company, this is when relationships take hold and internal people become champions for the person's success.

When the fit is bad, however, antibodies attack and the body rejects the organ. In business, this happens when off-handed comments like "he just doesn't get it" are thrown around, or the person is excluded from key meetings, or subordinates circumvent a new manager and go to the old one instead.

The polling organization Gallup has done millions of workplace interviews and surveys to come up with some fascinating insights that tie this all together. Gallup has found that an employee's job satisfaction is the key determinant of their happiness and their effectiveness inside the organization.

And job satisfaction itself can be boiled down to one question, according to Gallup's research: "Do you have a best friend at work?" The answer to this single question correlates to an individual's happiness with his or her job.

This is because the conditions that have to be in place for an affirmative answer to the question -- an environment of trust, a person or people with whom you enjoy spending time, feeling at home in the workplace, relationships that nourish you -- are the underlying causes of job satisfaction.

Three Key Questions

In thinking back to the advice I gave Phil Kent, I remember suggesting three questions that he consider to figure out the people equation:

* "Do you like and respect the people with whom you would work on a day-to-day basis?"

* "Is the environment and culture one in which you can truly be yourself?"

* "When you consider the senior-most leadership of the organization, do you aspire to become like them one day?"

With "yes" answers to all three questions, Phil was good to go. This worked for him, and it will hopefully work for you, both in your next big career turning point and your next big hiring decision.

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