True North.

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True NorthThinking about how to navigate your career during these murky times?  Maybe what you need is a North Star…and some timeless rules about how and where to focus.  This January 2015 post may be just the thing.

It’s a dirty little secret that this is the time of year that a lot of things start to shake loose. The end of the year means that year end compensation checks come through, and those who’ve been thinking about making a job change are likely to start moving in the next 4-6 weeks. While this is by no means the only period of intensive recruiting, interviewing and hiring – it’s a year-round phenomenon – it’s certainly peak season.

While I have an iron-clad rule against ever sourcing talent (recruiters: sorry, don’t even ask), I do get a lot of calls from sellers and sales leaders thinking about their next career move. Since I end up giving the same advice, I’m putting it out into the public sphere via this post.

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Rule #1: Find Your North Star. Job candidates often find themselves in full response mode, and end up comparing one potential offer to another. Instead, write out the specs for your perfect job, right down to how much you want to travel, what kind of meetings you want to be having, and what kind of brands and agencies you want to call on. Now start measuring your options based on their distance from your ideal.

Rule #2: Stand in the Rain. If you want to get wet… First ask whether the space you’ll be entering is growing or contracting. Will this be bigger and wealthier in three years than it is now? A growing market forgives a lot of sins. No matter how good you are, musical chairs has lousy odds.

Rule #3: Don’t Bet on the Business Plan. Like battle plans, business plans get torn up as soon as the shooting starts. While you’re interviewing, subtly probe on how the company developed the assumptions in the plan. You should be looking at the quality of their processes, as you’ll end up living with them from this point on.

Rule #4: Look Past ‘Smart.’  Everyone loves to tell me how smart the people running the company are. Paraphrasing the late James Gandolfini in Zero Dark Thirty, “It’s the internet. We’re all smart. What else?” Are they wise? Generous? Patient? Will they make the right decisions when things go sideways? Remember that you are interviewing them, not just the other way around. Management and leadership are not going to suddenly get better and more virtuous after you’re hired. Take a clear eyed look now.

Above all, start thinking of your career as a narrative… a story of someone who’s getting wiser and more valuable as time passes. Will this next move be a chapter that fits?

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