I have been in my job for six years, but there is very little runway for me here. Last week, a business acquaintance offered me a job at his company. It is not really my area of expertise and the position is somewhat unclear, but it seems exciting. Do I go for it?
—Name withheld, Wayne, Pennsylvania
Does your new opportunity seem exciting—or just different? We ask because you have our alarm bells ringing.
Not that we don’t like exciting jobs; far from it. It is just that we have seen too many people take a new job just to get rid of the old one.
Jack and Suzy Welch
That choice can work; we have all heard stories of people who owe their careers to a spontaneous switch. But, in general, when it comes to managing your career, we would have to invoke and twist an old saying: It is better to be smart than lucky.
By smart, we mean informed—which is exactly what you aren’t right now. You are just intrigued, probably because you are a little bit bored or frustrated at your current place.
Maybe you work for a family business and you have reached as close to the top as you will ever get. Or, maybe your company isn’t growing. The specifics are irrelevant. What matters is that you seem poised to leap before you look.
Don’t—at least not until you have conducted some serious due diligence.
Start with the opportunity itself. From where we sit, it is pretty confounding: The work isn’t exactly what you know but, of even more concern, your role isn’t defined. It is as if your acquaintance is saying, “We’ll figure out the details after you get here.” To which we say, “Run for the hills.”
Almost nothing in management is more frustrating than being given responsibility without authority. Your new boss—whether he or she is your acquaintance or not—will surely want results from you soon enough. But, without a clearly defined job, you are in trouble. You may not, for instance, be able to hire people or spend any real money. Your co-workers may shrug you off. Who are you, anyway?
This dynamic has no better illustration than a story told by Cathie Black in her terrific business memoir, Basic Black. After a year of being wooed by company founder Al Neuharth, Black accepted the job as president of USA Today in 1983.
On her first day, however, she was mortified when an advertising executive approached her to announce, “I just want you to know up front, I am not going to be reporting to you.” With a sick feeling, Black recalls, she realized she had made a classic mistake: “I had never nailed down, in writing, the reporting structure and what my actual duties were to be.” It took Black months to straighten things out for herself at USA Today though, as everyone knows, the story of her long run at the paper had a very happy ending.
And your new job might, too, if you get its specifics clarified before signing on. Even so, there is a second and final piece of due diligence you cannot ignore, and it concerns values. You need to make sure the new opportunity being dangled before you isn’t attractive for the wrong reasons—namely, money and prestige.
Make no mistake. There is nothing wrong with taking a job that increases your compensation or enhances your reputation. But, too often, such jobs can come with a real cost to your less-than-immediate future, not to mention your pride and authenticity.
We have a friend whograbbed an unexpected offer for its elevated title—vice-president—and a $25,000 (around Rs10 lakh) salary boost, only to end up as the fall guy for a company that was going down the tube.
Another friend, a golf pro, gave up his job at a friendly little club for the glamour of working at a fancy, big-name course. But he went from partner to serf, treated by members as little more than a scheduler. At the small club, his wife was an office manager and playing member. At the big one, she is working in the bag room.
Yes, the pro had feared this exact outcome. But he had let the oohs and aahs of his friends over the new job’s cachet drown out the big uh-oh sound in his head.
Without doubt, the offer in front of you could turn out to be the breakthrough of your dreams. Maybe it will replace monotony with magic. But don’t leap for it without looking hard, both inside the new company for clarity and purpose and into your own heart for a sign that the change is worth its consequences.
©2008/BY NYT SYNDICATE
Write to Jack and Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Campaign readers can email them questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.