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Don’t Make Long Term Career Decisions, Using Short-term Data

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… when good people underperform, it’s usually due to factors that could have been avoided.

job-seekers grid 4

When I speak to recruiters, I suggest one of the first things they need to do is fully understand what’s motivating their candidates to consider changing jobs. When good people underperform, it’s usually due to factors that could have been avoided with this knowledge.

The problem is attributed to the natural tendency for people to overvalue the short-term benefits of a new job, especially when they’re driven by economic need or some frustration with their current role. Changing jobs for these reasons can relieve some short-term pain, but does nothing to promote future learning or growth. The more common outcome is dissatisfaction and underperformance if the job fails to meet expectations.

These problems can be minimized when the reasons to switch jobs are based more on the actual work that needs to be done and the career growth opportunity, not the title of the job or the financial package. The Job-Seeker’s Career Grid, shown in the graphic, offers a simple means for determining when to change jobs, the reasons why you should and shouldn’t, and how to better balance competing objectives.

Switching Jobs for the Right Reasons

As you read the description of each quadrant in the Career Grid, rank yourself on the following 1-5 scale:

  • 5 – Very True
  • 4 – Somewhat True
  • 3 – Neither/Nor
  • 2 – Somewhat False
  • 1 – Very False

The Job-Seeker’s Career Grid divides positive and negative motivators for switching jobs (the top and bottom) into extrinsic and intrinsic factors (the left and right side). Extrinsic factors are typically short-term, tactical or temporary drivers of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Some of these negative extrinsic factors are problems with your boss or working conditions, being overworked, or being underpaid. The positive extrinsic factors are the opposite: making more money, working for a better company, or having a job that’s more convenient. These are what a person gets on the first day of a new job. Although positive, they rarely sustain long-term satisfaction or drive career growth.

Under this definition, rank yourself on the 1-5 scale for both the negative and positive extrinsic factors. Then subtract your negative extrinsic motivator score from your positive extrinsic motivator score to determine your “itchiness” factor to leave your current job. A total in the minus territory means you want to leave, but it doesn’t mean you should. You’ll determine this based on your intrinsic motivator score.

… when and if you do switch jobs, don’t let the positive extrinsic motivators blind you to what’s really important – the positive intrinsic motivators.

Intrinsic motivators represent the long-term core values you assign to your work and career. Negative intrinsic factors include slow job growth, unsatisfying work, serious on-going problems with your manager, not fitting with the team or company culture in some way, or not fully embracing the company’s mission or strategy. The positive intrinsic factors include work that is personally satisfying, a supportive environment, strong team relationships, continuous learning and a chance for upside opportunity. Using the 1-5 scale, rank yourself on these negative and positive intrinsic factors. If the negatives intrinsic factors outweigh the positive ones you’re probably looking for another job right now, or should be. Regardless, when and if you do switch jobs, don’t let the Day 1 positive extrinsic motivators blind you to what’s really important – the positive intrinsic motivators. These are the factors that will drive your satisfaction, performance and career growth. The lack of them will drive your disappointment.

Don’t Make Long-term Career Decisions Using Short-term Information

When the combined negative extrinsic and intrinsic motivators outweigh the positives, people start looking for new work, and the more negative, the more active and less discriminating they become. I refer to this as a going-away job-seeking strategy. Under this condition, there is a tendency to use the Day 1 motivators as the primary criteria for accepting an offer, since they provide instant pain relief. The downside of this strategy is stunting career growth.

For example, as part of my interview process, I ask candidates to explain why they made each job change and if they achieved the objective of the move. A big red flag is waved when the emphasis is largely on Day 1 criteria with little to show for it in terms of career growth. Of course, people in this situation rationalize their decisions by emphasizing the short-term rewards and blame the lack of career growth on someone else. To avoid this problem in the future, I advise them not to take another job until they fully understand what they’ll be doing, the resources available for doing it, and the upside opportunity if they do it well.

Most of the candidates I work with on search projects are not actively looking for another job. These people have a going-towards career strategy, since their positive motivators far outweigh the negatives ones. To get them interested, I have to make the case that the position I’m working on represents a superior career opportunity compared to the one they now have. Surprisingly, these people still want to know about the Day 1 factors before they’ll even engage in a career discussion. Since all of these short-term items are negotiable, I suggest they should first determine if the job has the potential to be a superior career move, and if so, then determine if the financial package can be adjusted to meet their needs. Unfortunately, few people will naturally make this switch to “long-term first” thinking without urging. As a result, most lose the chance to even entertain the possibility of a better opportunity.

“Time is your most critical career asset. Don’t waste it.”

A going-away career strategy involves leaving a negative situation. A going-towards strategy involves improving upon an already good situation. Regardless of the underlying career strategy, there is a natural tendency for most people to emphasize the extrinsic Day 1 factors over the more critical future intrinsic ones. Recognize that a long-term career strategy built on a series of short-term tactical decisions is unlikely to help advance a career. As my first boss told me many years ago, “Time is your most critical career asset. Don’t waste it.” Using the Job-Seeker’s Career Grid to guide your decision-making can help ensure you don’t waste yours.

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Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. Lou is one of LinkedIn’s top Influencers, and he’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.