What happen if you are offer the same job in different types of companies? One company is a big Fortune 500 company which turnover is in the billions while the other company is a fast growing startup which is compounding at 50% month on month on its sales.
While it is a luxurious problem, it is still a problem. This is almost the same as a dating problem. Do you choose a graceful lady who is mature and understanding or do you choose a hot chick with a devilish body? Your career 'date' can affect your work happiness and your productivity , resulting in dramatic changes to your lifetime health status as well as to your lifetime income. Considering that there is no one size fits all answer, here are some thoughts to think about:
1. What stage of life phases are you at?
If you are young, you have more time and energy to invest for a growing startup. The total reward for any firm generally consists of basic salary, bonuses and long term incentives. Relative to a big company, the startup founders will sell you the perks of long term incentives, the nature of the job, the people and the working environment. Assuming all else equal for a simple analysis, early employees join promising startups because the upside of long term incentives can be potentially far greater than that of a big company. When WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion dollar, early employee with 1 percent share gets to yield $160 million dollar.
Of course, a startup is attractive when you look at the size of the acquisition. Yet, we know that only a few unicorns exist. As such, you need to evaluate the likelihood of this startup becoming a unicorn. While every firm faces potential bankruptcy, the likelihood of a startup going down under is significantly higher than that of a big company. Of course if you notice the big company does not exhibit any signs of innovation in producing new products or services, then you need to rethink about it.
On the other hand, you obtained some grey hair or been through the ages, you have more wisdom and some timeless useful working experience to contribute to a Fortune 500 company. Like a basic timeless rule of life: nothing venture , nothing gain. The other interpretation can be high risk high return. Although a big Fortune 500 company cannot offer long term incentive with potentially enormous returns, the likelihood of losing your paycheck within a month of taking a job is significantly smaller than that of a startup. Yet, we are obviously smart enough to exclude outlier events like the Great Financial Crisis in 2010 or the 911 incident. Therefore, the sense of certainty of providing food and shelter offered by a big company can affect your family if you have kids and a mortgage.
Remember that it seems so that I am advocating young ones should go for startup because they have more time and energy and seasoned ones should go for big companies because they have more family commitments. What about young people starting to have kids or other similar commitments at an early age? What about mature people with lots of energy and no family commitments? There are always exceptions to everything. Here we have seen that there is an element of career risk appetite at play. Your willingness to take on risk on your income and the likelihood of finding another job drive your career risk appetite, forming one of the basis for your decision to choose one job over the other.
2. What is the expected risk you are taking?
There are other factors to be considered for taking a job in addition to your career risk appetite. Yet, we cannot find an instrument to quantify the career risk that you are facing. Here I shall point to Markowitz Modern Portfolio Theory as a guidance to think along this direction. ( It is interesting that there is so much research and development in quantifying the returns of financial assets yet one cannot find a product or service for the public to evaluate the return of the individual's time and energy given to a specific job). Investment theory states that there are 2 types of risk: systematic risk and idiosyncratic risk.
Systematic risk is the risk that the market in general behaves. This is generally driven by macro factors like politics, ecology, environment, international relation and aggregate general industry performance. Every firm will face systematic risk but a firm with a strong cash balance can weather the economic storms. You can know the cash balance of a big company especially a listed one but you have to ask about the cash balance of a growing startup.Yet one company with a healthy cash balance can also restructure its organization. The likelihood of such occurrence happens when the company is not growing in revenue faster than its rising cost structure.
Idiosyncratic risk is the risk that the firm faces. This can be driven by micro factors like user growth, competition, demographic changes, geographic changes and company internal efficiency issues. A big company tries to employ controls to mitigate these risks so your job faces relatively lower idiosyncratic risk. Because a startup face uncertainties to capture an emerging market, this risk will definitely be higher than that for a big company. Again, big company can have high idiosyncratic risk if that company does not innovates over time and a startup can have low idiosyncratic risk if this firm has great leaders who can reduce the risk to capture the value from their products or services.
Apart from these external risk factors affecting your job choice, you have to decide whether you like to work with the people and whether you like the general company culture.
3. Why do people leave that company?
What happen if you realize that there isn't someone you know in that company? How then do I know about the experience of working in that company without even risking my time and energy to take a plunge?
You can ask for an opportunity to spend time in the work office so as to understand how people work in that environment or how do you feel in that environment. If the company just sets up the workplace or this happens to be a new team, then you can request to speak to the employees from the most senior department, which is generally the sales team or the product team. By having a conversation with these employees, you would be able to gauge the general working culture and norm.
What is the ratio of the number of people leaving the firm to the number of people joining the firm? How long do people stay on a job? Do you feel that the pace of the company is fast or slow? What motivates you to wake up and come to work everyday? If you are the CEO , what kind of changes do you want to see?
When you ask about the company turnover rate, you can determine the dynamics of a company.
A high turnover can indicate that this company is aggressive or the company leaders make the judgement errors in setting up the wrong jobs or recruiting the wrong people or a mixture of both. An aggressive company culture works for you if you love to execute challenges and working on high adrenalin. You can expect higher burnout rate if you do not know how to pace your work and manage other's expectations.
A low turnover can indicate that this company is hierarchical or the company leaders are prudent. A hierarchical company culture works for you if you like to have certainty about the people you work with and some room to make small mistakes. One thing to note is that prudency can work against you in that you find yourself facing an increasing amount of workload and the company is slow to hire. Against there's is not one size fits all way to stereotyping a company culture. You have to use the above perspectives to figure out the culture by yourself.
Conclusion: Don't be afraid to take the plunge!
Now you feel like wow! There's so many things to consider. I thought that I have done a rigorous thinking about these factors during my interview times. Yes, you might did. If so, you have grown in wisdom in making a better job decision. Most of us did go through these interview phases but how many of us honestly have the guts to ask the tough questions when this is either our first job or when we have been jobless for a quite a while.
Now, let's put everything back into perspective, at the end of the day, you need to know that you are spending about 70% of your waking hours doing that job. After crunching the numbers and critically thinking through those offers, you still gotta make that choice.
Avoid being caught in the state of analysis-paralysis and say, Yes, I have thought about this long and hard.
I choose company XXX for job YYY because I feel ZZZ and thought through AAA.
Now go for it!
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