Where should one work? Questions to ask and how to decide

I interview developers and project managers for my own division and occasionally for other teams as well and I am always intrigued by the reasons people give for wanting to work at a particular company.

Many candidates say they’re motivated by the content of the products or the hot prospects of the agency. Some candidates talk about their search for ill-defined “challenges”. The better candidates cite a desire to contribute to the overall success of the organisation, to learn and grow with the company.

My guiding question is : “would I need permission to do amazing work here?”

It’s a notion that usually is framed the other way, as an inspirational exhortation : you don’t need to ask permission to do great stuff!

But many cultures – corporate and otherwise – don’t work like this.

Sometimes managers prefer the status quo or jealously guard their centre of power, no matter how disastrous for the company. Other times, there’s absolutely no incentive to do anything but the bare minimum and outstanding performance would draw more questions than praise. I recently had a conversation where I was told: “I’m judged on X, so I really don’t care if [another product] in this department succeeds or not”.

I once worked for a chap who, when I asked for something new and challenging to work on, replied that “you don’t actually have to work that hard – there’s no real room for growth and everyone else is happy with the level they’re at”. That was the first time in my professional life where I found myself in a situation where I was required to under-perform – and it was devastating.

Ever since that experience, I make it a point to tell the people who work for me that permission is never required to do something useful, something kind, something amazing – those are the requirements of the job, after all.

And when I look around at potential opportunities, my top requirement is: I don’t need anyone’s permission to come in, do a terrific job and make brilliant, profitable things for my company and my clients.

NB : Merlin Mann’s great podcast, Back to Work, helped shape my thinking here. Listen – Back to Work, Episode 63 

Where should one work? Questions to ask and how to decide

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