Higher or wider? Choosing your next role

As I was approaching my senior year of high school, me and my classmates were lucky to have the opportunity of receiving considerably more counseling than the average high school senior when it came to the point of choosing our university and study majors.

Besides receiving good support to prepare for our SATs, our career advisor provided us with all sorts of tests to understand our learning styles (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) , our intellectual abilities (nummerical and verbal reasoning, space and time analysis, long term and short term memory, auditory and visual etc.) and of course career aptitude in the future.

For the purpose of this post I will focus on the last one and the results I was presented with: Suitable to all careers.

Yes, that was not much help really. I was very confused and didnt know which direction to take. With a decent skill for Maths and Science I had, it was silly not to consider a career in Engineering. Yet, I could not ignore my passion for Art and Design, so I ended up studying Business and Informatics.

While being busy studying Business, I was concerned not to let my interest for the Arts die, and I started considering to do a double major. This was the setting under which my mother gave me one of those career analogies that haunt you sometimes at worst and in the best case push you further. My mother, who is now well known in her field as an author, researcher and a professor told me at the time that a career was like building stairs. I was at the time busy building a step, and it as important for me to consider if:

  1. I want to build a wider step (having two Bachelors degrees)
  2. I want to build a next step to go higher (pursuit a Masters)

And that is I believe one of the questions that burns in the heads of most professionals now when a career transcends from university into the realm of promotions and next steps: Should I be a specialist or a generalist? How do I balance both?

As I started my career I decided to build higher, but when is the right time to build wider? How do you chose your next role between the palette of opportunities you are offered in a given time? What are the factors to be considered?

Based on my personal reflection and the experience of talking to thousands of candidates over the last decade, the answer turns out to be far more complex than money and career advancement. The factors that people assess when evaluating an employment opportunity fall into three categories: the firm (platform and track record, current and future prospects, people and culture), the job, and the compensation. These factors are interrelated, and most candidates willingly make tradeoffs.

Platform and track record 

How strong is the firm’s track record? What is its reputation? Working for a successful company is of the utmost importance to many. People want to be associated with success and not failure. Successful companies attract the best people, and, as they say, ‘success breeds success. Today we look for an overall platform, that is, not just a job but an opportunity to continue and evolve beyond the specific roles we discuss and I think this is particularly important in the service industries.

Current and future prospects

One also appraises a firm’s future prospects, market competitiveness, and business strategy. Is it well positioned? Today we look at the “strategy of the company—is it viable? Are they changing enough?”  People want to be part of the team that drives organizational growth, and be recognized for the added expertise that they bring.

People and culture 

When assessing a firm’s culture and people, many raise the question of fit. Is this a place where [I am] going to fit in and, most importantly, enjoy working and contributing? Do I share with the owners the same values and vision for the company? Today we also want to work with people we respect and can learn from. It is a hard lesson to get but the prospective boss or bosses (in a matrix organization) is maybe the most important individual(s) to consider when joining a firm not forgetting of course the sense you get from the team you will be working with.

The job 

When it comes to the job itself, the single most sought-after characteristic is opportunities for career advancement and personal growth. Change, variety, and some element of diversity, i.e., something new and different that will continue to challenge you, make you grow, and make you learn more about your own abilities and the world out there.

Many also consider the likelihood of succeeding and having an impact. Assess the training and development that the position offers, the resources that would be available to you, and the degree of autonomy the job entails; Many also think about how the outside world would perceive them in the role, particularly if they are highly visible.


Often times compensation is no longer as decisive as it used to be. It is more a matter of adhering to industry pay norms. But many do want the firm’s compensation system to be fair, transparent and consistent. People want assurance, that they will be rewarded and compensated according to the results delivered. Yet as a rule of thumb compensation must be equal or greater than current compensation, with longer-term positive prospects.

And here we go. A new year, a new choice, a new adventure with the best hopes. Taking the plunge.


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Filed under Business, Goals, Human Resources, Personal Discovery, Recruitment, Uncategorized

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