Advice to people thinking about their next job

Over the last couple of days, I had very similar conversations with a couple of people who are looking for a new job. They found my perspective helpful, and so I realized it might be more generally useful. [Caveat: since both of them are ex-Microsoft people (who have good reasons for considering going back there) the first paragraph is somewhat skewed in that direction; the underlying prinicples are more general.]

It’s important to keep in mind that you are the scarce commodity here: there are more jobs at Microsoft that need somebody with your skills than there are people with your skills and who already have experience at Microsoft. your goal should be to go back in at a substantially higher level than when you left; and to go into a job that takes you in the direction you want to go in your career and life.

It’s useful to spend time thinking about what your dream job is. For example, if spending time with your family is important to you and they live elsewhere in the country, your dream job may well be located closer to them (or involves a lot of travel there, if you don’t mind traveling). If you’re into making sexy products, it’s more likely to be consumer-focused than infrastructure or enterprise-focused; conversely, if you’d rather be behind the scenes working on the nuts and bolts, think about who does that kind of stuff in a way that you really respect. For some people, it’s in a particular field (“I want to work on innovation”) or scope (“strategic”) or discipline (“a software developer”); for others, the environment might be more important (“I want to work in a gender-balanced organization which has good female role models”).

You probably won’t be able to get your dream job in your next job; what you want is something that’s noticeably closer than where you are now, and makes it a lot more likely that the following job (at Microsoft or elsewhere) has even more of the dream job characteristics. Of course even that “on the path” job might not materialize; and I’m certainly not saying to hold out for perfection.

Still, thinking about where you want to be going will let you make better decisions about the jobs that do come up — and about where to invest your effort looking and networking.

Thoughts on this? How else do people think about this kinds of stuff? etc. etc.