The Most Important Criteria in Choosing a Job


Ask someone why they want a particular job, and they might tell you they:

  • Are looking for a new challenge
  • Are passionate about the product/company
  • Want to leverage their skills, abilities, and experience
  • Have a connection to the organization’s culture/values
  • Have practical considerations (e.g., money, hours, location)

These are all good reasons. Yet research shows that people most commonly leave jobs for a very different reason. People leave because of the person (or people) leading them.

Why the disconnect between a person’s reasons for joining and their reasons for leaving?

It could be that, when we consider what we think we want, we’re too focused on short-term rewards.

In the winter of 1999, I was one year into my first job out of college. The dot-com era was an exciting time to be starting a career in technology, and it felt like my peers and I were constantly being recruited.

One of my colleagues left to take a job with an internet startup in Silicon Valley. I’ll never forget the adrenaline kicking in when he called to recruit me. Should I go??? Yes, I decided. It would be a new and exciting job…and a 20% pay increase…with stock options!

I walked confidently into my manager’s office to announce my decision. And I was totally unprepared for his response.

“Congratulations, Matt,” he said. “I support you completely. Whatever you do, though, don’t make the decision based on short-term rewards. Choose the path that will build your future value. That’s what will create the greatest long-term reward.”

Now, I understand that not everyone has the luxury to follow that advice. Sometimes a 20% pay increase is a necessity. But fortunately, I could take the advice. I stayed because of strong leadership. And I benefited from several more years of his example and mentorship. He provided the leadership and an environment for me to grow in ways that have had a profound impact on me still today.

Perhaps I would have grown as much or even more at the internet startup—who knows? But one thing I do know is that the startup burned through all of its cash and eventually went out of business.

In sports, choosing a team based on the leader is actually the norm. Young athletes often say they want to play for a specific coach. Many top players, for example, are lining up to play for our new local University of Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck.

I see it in my kids, too. I watch the way that my sons are developing in character, skills, and love of the sport through their incredible coaches. These coaches see each kid and encourage them in ways that make them better people. For instance, I recently watched the football coach drop down on one knee and give heartfelt and personal encouragement to one of my boys.

That scene caused me to wonder…

What if the number one criteria for choosing a job was the leader (or board of directors) you’d work for?

What if, in your next job interview, you said:

I’m here today because I really want to work with you. I’ve talked with others who’ve worked for you, I’ve studied what you’ve written, and I can tell from our interactions that you’re someone who builds people.

I’m also excited about the company and the products, and I think my skills are a good fit for the role. If things changed and I didn’t get to work for you, I’d hope there are other leaders here who care as much about their people as you do.

For the time being, though, I think you’re going to help me build my future value. And that will allow me to bring the most value to the organization.

What if you prioritized the quality of your leader over all other employment criteria? What if you prioritized being the leader everyone wants to work for?

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