The most important decision you make in your professional life and beyond

I’ve been working at 12 companies since 1999. This post is the juice of what I’ve learned hopping jobs until I settled down. After a decade I came up with a criteria for what’s important for a good job which basically boiled down to 4 P’s:

  • Product: the type of product the company is building. Is it ethical? Is it something that gets me out of the bed passionately every morning? Is the company well-known and respected in the field for the product?
  • People: my colleagues and manager
  • Place: how much time am I gonna loose in the commute to/from work? That’s unpaid time I’m investing regularly! Do they allow remote work?
  • Pay: does it pay well? The compensation, insurance, pension, mobile phone, gears, books, gym card, the whole package.

Notice that they are not ordered. It took me another 6 jobs to find their right order. Most job ads are written to address the first criteria: the product/company. That is not the most important criteria!

TLDR (for the impatient); the most important decision is “your manager”, but I really encourage you to read on and internalize why.

We’ve all heard stories of people working at well-respected companies with ill fates.

People leave bosses not companies. — famous quote

The opposite is also true:

People join bosses not companies. — my point in this article

But why?

1. Your manager can grow you or ruin you

Long time ago I worked for the same company under two different managers. The first one didn’t work out, so I quit but then I applied for a different team because I liked the company but didn’t exactly click with my manager. The experience couldn’t have been more different. Where the first job was boring and daunting, the second one was engaging and I couldn’t wait to get to work every day.

Don’t get me wrong. You should never work for your boss! You are your own best boss and you should be passionate about what you do. But there are things that in the hierarchy of a company only a good manager can help you with that.

I also had a case where my manager “accidentally” forgot to tell me that he’s quitting the company just 2 weeks after I started. So I ended up with a not too bright (to put it politely) manager who got promoted to fill in his position but didn’t know 💩 about programming. That gave me a hard time and a couple of stressful misunderstandings before I leave the company in under 4 months.

A good manager gives you opportunities and challenges to grow yourself. She buys you subscriptions to online learning, sends you to conferences, motivate you to join meetups, buys you books and doesn’t give you a hard time if you need to take a day “off” to learn something new. She knows that in the age of knowledge workers, the ultimate winner is the company if you bring new ideas and knowledge to the table. Ideally she’ll help you have a side project and grow yourself in the right direction. She may fearlessly grow you to an extent that you can easily leave the company (but you don’t want to).

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A bad manager will box you in the specific title you are recruited for. She may explicitly label you as “junior” and refuse to offer any growth opportunities. In her book you are just a replaceable cog and unless you are a robot, no self-respecting human puts up with that mentality.

A good manager trusts you and gives you an area of responsibility and if you make errors is there to support you not to punish or blame you.

2. Your manager sets your relationships

Some of the most rewarding professional relationships I’ve made was at teams that were hand-picked by good managers. These relationships sometimes evolved into friendships that lasted for a long time even after we left the company. As a matter of fact managers have a big say in the recruitment process and they consciously or subconsciously choose people that click with them. So if you work with a good team, be sure that it’s not a coincidence.

As social beings a big part of our happiness comes from the interactions we have with other people. We spend the better part of the day doing things with our team. Your manager is the filter who defines the arrangement of the team and essentially influences your happiness.

3. Your manager decides your pay and more

Your manager usually sets your salary and bonuses (or makes recommendations that affect it). I never forget when a former manager negotiation me to go down 200€/mo from the salary I earned at a job before the one he was hiring me for. I accepted the offer because I liked their line of business and didn’t want the money to be a big deal. But when I joined I realized it was a big mistake because the team was average (to put it politely). Basically he made the same deal with the others and as a result no one really put their 100% at work. His point was: if people really love working at our company, it’s a good test to see if they are willing to make sacrifices on their paycheck. But in practice, the team wasn’t engaging. Not fun!

Money is not just for paying bills. It decides who are you gonna be sitting next to. Top talent doesn’t sell themselves cheap so if you want good colleagues, don’t settle for average salary.

What’s the catch?

Sadly every good manager I’ve had was so good that they got promoted. This added an extra layer between me and her and in some cases I had to either leave the company or change teams in search of another good manager. Nothing is static in this world. Enjoy a good manager while you are together.

And hey your manager is a person too! She could use a compliment! If you’re happy, tell it. Don’t be afraid of being labeled a “bootlicker”! A good manager is confident enough to receive a compliment without fearing that you want something in return!

Conclusion

I hope by now it’s obvious that choosing your next job based on the brand and name of the company or product is your second criteria. The first one is tha’boss!

Read How to pick a good manager?

Written by

Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer

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