The Four C’s of Professional Advancement


Jessa Younker rock climbing at Monitor Rock and Whirlpool Rock, Independence Pass, Aspen, Colorado.

It comes down to the challenge, the career path, the corporate culture, and the compensation.

Normally I use this space for sales topics but the topic of jobs has been hot, particularly in the tech industry. I am not just talking about technical talent either. Across all job roles, hiring is at an all time frenzy.

When I launched the Enterprise Sales Meetup last year, sales roles did not seem so critical. A year later, it seems harder to find decent sales talent than it is to find competent programmers. We even hosted a panel event on the topic of hiring for enterprise sales. While not everyone was actively contemplating a new role, as one of the panelists put it, “you are always looking.”

It is in this context that I am often asked for career advice. The requests run the gamut from folks just getting started to veteran sales professionals with deep networks. Despite the level of experience, many are confronted with multiple job offers and struggle to figure out which is best. Even the offer of a new role at the same company can trigger the same question, “what is best for my professional advancement?”

There is no simple, cookie cutter answer. Rolled into the question of what offer to accept are thoughts of future stability, financial expectations, professional advancement, risk tolerance, and finding rewarding work in an environment that respects good work. Not surprisingly, most employers seem to not get the simple premise of offering and recognizing rewarding work, which often leads employees to seek new employers.

Rather than simple answers, I share with advice-seekers four key questions they should ask themselves. Is the work challenging? Does it advance one’s career goals? Does the culture mesh with your personal values? And lastly, does the compensation represent a fair value for your work?

Challenge – Rarely do I meet anyone that just wants an easy job. Nor do we merely want to work for the sake of work. I did plenty of “work” at a few large companies, but the endless paper pushing and politicking around deals was hugely distracting and wasteful. Ultimately we want to feel that we are doing interesting work that keeps us engaged, builds our skills, expands our horizons, and poses a challenge.

Challenges are important because it is in overcoming challenges that we grow in self-esteem and self-worth. You also build up a body of work that gives you professional credibility. Even if the company you decide to work for fails, the work you do there helps distinguish your standing. A good example are the startups that get “acquihired”.  Many of those employees eventually take leading positions in the acquiring company or forming new companies.

Career – We often seek advancement in our careers. That is not always the case, but generally we look to build a career path where we add responsibility, prestige, and compensation. And let’s be honest, we all have an ego and like the way a big title sounds next to our name.

More important than titles though, is forging a path to achieving professional goals. Sometimes the path is readily apparent and sometimes it twists and turns.  You may take a lateral move or start from the beginning if launching into a whole new career. Your propensity for taking on challenges often helps guide you along your career path. When I jumped into tech from trading, I took a massive pay cut, but it was worth it because it led to where I am today.

Culture – We often get blinded by the attraction of a particular role or the pay package or the prestige factor without fully considering the culture fit. Culture runs much deeper than simply liking the people you work with, though that certainly helps. Culture embodies the ethos around work, respect for others, the level of transparency, a body of shared values, and even cross-cultural issues.

No opportunity can overcome the misalignment of values. Embedded in culture is the DNA of how a company functions and what employees care about. I did some contract sales work for a foreign firm several years ago, and it was immediately apparent there was a culture clash at every level, from accountability to communication. Never discount the importance of shared values with the people you choose to work with.

Compensation – If you find an opportunity where the first three C’s are a strong fit, then compensation is not as critical. Obviously, you want to get compensated fairly, but I have found that compensation usually works itself out if you are doing high quality work at companies that value the effort. If the compensation is not where you expect it, you can always ask. Many people never ask for raises or establish a plan with their managers to reach those compensation expectations.

It is important to note that compensation is a deeply personal issue. Compensation is tightly coupled to our lifestyle and wealth objectives. There are also very real financial considerations based on your current situation like housing and family. If you take a startup job, recognize that you sacrifice near-term gains for an often nebulous future payout in the long-term.  If you take the sales job with a small base but lots of upside, realize that lean spells hit even the best salespeople.

Even with these four considerations on the table, sometimes it comes down to one basic question: Do you really feel passionate about the opportunity? -That is what most job choices come down to and that is perfectly fine. If you give full and proper consideration to the four points above, you will have an informed basis for making your decision. Remember, your professional development is more than just bullet points on a resume, it is your life journey.



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Amila Tennakoon

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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