To find your best next job, focus on the company not the job

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When you are trying to figure out your next career move, the company match is more important than job match. This is because the people who are happiest at work are doing what they do best, every day.

You can be a janitor and use your strengths, and you can be an associate at one of the very best law firms and not use your strengths. This is not about your IQ, it’s about your core personality, and matching the needs of your core personality to a company’s needs. “Don’t use past skills to get a future job” says, positive psychologist Senia Maymin. “Use your strengths. A job should be more about what excites you and less about what you’ve done”

This is good advice, but it requires having a solid understanding of yourself and of what companies have to offer.

A book I’ve been waiting all year for is Recruit or Die by Chris Resto, Ian Ybarra and Ramit Sethi. This book tells companies how to recruit young talent. (The first thing I like about this book is that now we can stop arguing about if employees hold the stronger hand in the recruiting process. They do. And every time people tell me that I’m nuts for saying that employees are forcing corporate America to change, I can just point to this book.)

Recruit or Die explains that the companies who get the best employees year after year do so by selling themselves more than selling the job, and the recruiting process is a time to show the candidate who the company is. When there are tons of candidates for every job, only top-tier firms do this. In a market like today, where workers are in high demand, any company that will survive has to do it.

As a candidate, this book is a peek into the secret world of your suitors. You should understand the range of ways that forward-thinking companies recruit so you know how to judge the company you’re talking to. This will help you to match your strengths properly with a company’s.

One of the most important things to notice in the recruiting process is that the best companies don’t use money as a recruiting tool. It’s not that they think you don’t care about money. But they know they cannot differentiate themselves with money. Because you probably have a lot of friends who make the same amount of money you do; your pay range is not going to make you feel significantly different about your life because the happiness that money brings you is always relative to the people around you.

Recruit or Die is also gives us a good way to understand career possibilities. For example, the book recommends that companies do things like send you a congratulatory card or gift basket when you finally take the job. This is small, yes, but it sets the tone for gratitude going forward – and a culture of gratitude can almost single-handedly make a great work experience.

So how do you get to know your strengths? Here are two tests to take – either one will tell you your strengths and each takes about 30 minutes: Signature Strengths Questionnaire and Gallup StrengthsFinder .

And how do you figure out what company is a good match for you? You know how you go on dating sites and before you answer any ads, you read a bunch to see what the possibilities are? Use Recruit or Die like and get educated on what the market has to offer before you offer yourself.

30 replies
  1. Aaron Erickson
    Aaron Erickson says:

    Spot on.

    Engagement matters. Employers can either create a sense of identity with the company in their employees by (drumroll…) treating them well, or they can do the following:

    * Pay well above market. Lots of people will take abuse for $200k per year. The legal profession is walking proof of this.
    * Create indentured servants – manage down the self-esteem of the employee base so that *they think* they are not worth what they are. Make sure to limit their contact with the outside world, and hence, your competition.
    * Hire contractors rather than employees. You may not get much in the way of innovation, but if the position happens to not be one where you need “strong identity with company” for it to work, then by all means, pay 150% of market for a “temp”. That said, if you have many positions like that, you are probably doing something wrong anyway.

    My company, Magenic, does a lot of the things you are talking about here. Upon hire, you get a package with a t-shirt, a book by one of our many published authors who work in our organization, and follow-up calls from recruiting to make sure onboarding is as smooth as possible. We also make engagement of our consultants a top priority.

    We also happen to be hiring great .NET consultants at the moment – my email box is always open ( to people who want to have a conversation about where to go next. (sorry for the shameless plug ;)

  2. Aaron Erickson
    Aaron Erickson says:


    Funny enough, yes and no. Actually, one of the biggest outsourcers of call center work – Tata of India, operates call centers in Ohio. Much of the work is, in fact, *coming back*. Seems that having someone with the appropriate cultural fluency for your audience is now considered a competitive advantage.

    That, and Indians and Chinese have discovered upward mobility too – which, when combined with the appreciation of the Rupee and the slide of the dollar, means the cost advantage is slim enough to make American workers costs reasonable – even for global companies.

  3. Loryn Jenkins
    Loryn Jenkins says:


    The tests you’ve pointed to are misnomers. They actually identify Talent, rather than Strengths.

    For people to discover their Strengths, they’re better looking over here:

    * * * * * *

    Oh, thanks for this comment, Loryn. I confess to not being sure about the difference, so I will investigate…


  4. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    It may go without saying, but I think a big part of finding the right company is actually finding the right manager to work for. The company will manifest itself to you more through your manager than in any other way – the projects you work on, the small group atmosphere you work in, and the salary you’re given. Ideally you have both a great, forward thinking company AND a great manager, but I think I could tolerate a mediocre company with a great manager/mentor better than a great company with a poor manager. Perhaps its implied that the two go together in finding the right company.

    The point of the article is on the money, though. In the right company with right manager, the position should take care of itself over a short period of time.

  5. Richard
    Richard says:

    +1 to Brian Johnson

    I don’t have a link but I’ve read that people are more likely to leave a company because of a manager and not because of the company itself.

    * * * * * * *
    Yeah, I give +1 to Brian Johnson, too, becuase the manager does make a big difference. But I like to think that the hiring manager accurately represents the company values and culture. Becuase if the manager does not then everyone reporting to the manager is going to get stuck in that company. There’s actually a good little lesson here — don’t work for a manager who is out of sync with the company becuase the manager won’t be able to repreesnt you well in the company.


  6. Loryn Jenkins
    Loryn Jenkins says:

    To expand on my comment above: I thought Clifton StrengthsFinder identified strengths too, until I read Buckingham’s, “Go Put Your Strengths to Work.” On pages 71-72, Buckingham writes:

    “These labels [Clifton StrengthsFinder signature themes] are not your strengths. Your strengths are defined by your actual activities. They are things you do, and more specifically, things you do consistently and near perfectly … As noted in ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’, strengths such as these are made up of three separate ingredients: Talents … Skills … Knowledge … As an example, putting these three ingredients together – the talent of empathy, the skill of giving an injection safely, and the knowledge of the right dosage for the patient – creates the strength of ‘giving injections that seem painless to the patient.'”

  7. Angel Armendariz
    Angel Armendariz says:

    Good points Penelope; I think Aaron makes a good point about concessions as well. It is a challenge for job seekers to find the golden employer.
    For various reasons many companies lack the ability to understand what truly matters to the modern generation of job seekers. Thus, many employees do make concessions and offer themselves up for less than their market value. A mild case of structural unemployment if you will :). I’ve been involved with companies that have strong corporate cultures, and that truly has been the main difference in employee turnover and company “mood”…That kind of reputation will spread into the company’s identity and nurture easier recruitment opportunities for top talent. I say…appreciate your employees and help them grow…that will build true loyalty.

  8. Ramit Sethi
    Ramit Sethi says:

    Penelope, thanks for the great review — I really appreciate it.

    I remember getting interested when my college friends all started recruiting with the same companies (mostly investment banks and consulting firms). I wondered how these companies were so good at recruiting, even though the jobs weren’t the most interesting. After teaming up with Chris and Ian and researching 1,000+ students, we found lots of surprising insights (one: it’s not all about money).

    We’ve put up some book excerpts at

    Thanks again!

    (Co-author of Recruit or Die)

  9. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    In the media industry (ad sales and media buying) the biggest skills crisis is people with about three years experience. Graduate recruitment is not a problem since there are loads of people wanting to enter the media industry. Higher up the food chain, there tend to be fewer jobs anyway, so that is not a problem either. The crunch is that mid-level, with about three years experience. They didn’t take on enough graduates back when the last ad recession hit after the dotcom crash and now they are paying the price. Anyone with two or three years experience is jumping ship and commanding huge pay increases, especially if they have any experience with internet advertising. The catch is that they then stay on that salary level for longer, so they won’t be earning any more after five to seven years than they would have otherwise.

  10. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    Company culture and values are a very important theme to look at when finding a job. Finding the right match is a HUGE win not only for the employee but for the employer as well. I do agree with Brian Johnson 100%. One person can change your view on a company with little effort. Hopefully the company culture is represented in a manager, but there are bad eggs out there that can skew the view so to speak. Great points Penelope…thanks!

  11. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    "Don't use past skills to get a future job" says, positive psychologist Senia Maymin. "Use your strengths. A job should be more about what excites you and less about what you've done"

    Well that would be nice. But probably only applies to about 10% of the hiring managers out there. I would like to hear what some recruiters have to say about this. It seems to me that companies with a job to offer doing “abc” only seem interested in hiring someone with ten years of experience doing “abc.” It never seems to occur to them to wonder why someone left their previous “abc” job in the first place. (Hint: Maybe because they don’t want to do any more of it?)

    * * * * * * *
    Yes, would be good to know what percentage of peopel hire this way. In the article of Senia’s that I link to, she mentions that Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, writes a lot about how everyone should hire this way.


  12. Quasar9
    Quasar9 says:

    “A job should be more about what excites you and less about what you've done"
    This is good advice, but it requires having a solid understanding of yourself and of what companies have to offer.”

    Sound advice, if more people sought a job that is satisfying, rather than a job that has a certain income or ‘social’ status – more people would be happy or happier in their jobs.

    The job is not just a means to an end, to pay the mortgage and pay the bills. It is an integral part of your day & your life. It influences and/or interferes with your social & personal sphere (of course) – and viceversa – your personal life (or problems) influences your life at work.

    Seems if people are happy with at least one, they are willing to sail or wade thru the other, but in the end one is selling oneself short if one simply drives oneself to unfulfilled work experience, and relationships – or worse to a sad and bitter grave.

    Sort of demeans the whole purpose of the life work experience. But I repeat, it is a test track out there – few are born into the world and find the ideal job and the ideal partner on the first day. Seems mortals have raised their expectations of what they hope to achieve on the one hand, and lowered their expectations of what they’ll settle for. Saaad but soooo true!

    * * * * ** *
    What I like about this comment is how well you show that many issues converge on a job — status, money, fulfillment — it is all complicated when so many factors pull at us to find the best job.

    I think that I sometimes try to separate these threads to make sense of things, but then I gravitate toward (my intellectual downfall) making things too black and white. I like how you show things complicated and messsy. Good balance to have both of us writing :)


  13. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    “Recruit or Die” sounds like an excellent book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Have you considered hosting a contest on your blog to give away a copy?

  14. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Last fall I entered my senior year of college terrified of ending up unemployed and homeless come graduation. I would never have believed Recruit or Die in the statement that employees have the upper hand. Sit through one ‘information session’ led by McKinsey or Goldman Sachs at my school, among hundreds of your anxious peers, and it’s hard to be optimistic that you’ll be in that very small group of offerees. But, indeed, in the end I ended up with multiple job offers one of me to go around. The same was true for all my friends. I quickly realized how much time, money and energy these firms put into marketing themselves. They work so hard to get students to those information sessions, to make themselves look like the most desireable, the most prestigious. Would I have taken the job I did if I didn’t at all care about the perception of others? No, of course not! I’d be working 40 hours a week somewhere far less stressful.
    This therefore brings me to my next point: how truthful are companies being in their marketing schemes? I myself ended up at a bulge bracket investment bank for a summer with incredibly high expectations and, therefore, a lot of disappointment and, at the end of my internship, the certainty that I’d at least ruled one career out. With all the question and answer sessions, the coffee chats with current employees, the sell weekends and the one-on-ones with partners at these different firms, very few–if any–people will give an accurate and realistic depiction of what work will be like and what the demands will be. If a someone from a firm is trying to convince an employee to sign an agreement to work for them, he or she is not going to talk about the occasional (or frequent) 100-hour work weeks or the extent of data-crunching in Excel.

    Basically: employees have power, but we need information too. If firms try too hard to sell themselves, we might be buying something else than they’re actually offering.

  15. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    I agree. Our work environment also matters. I think it shouldn’t be just company match, but it should be both. There should be balance in this area.

  16. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    “If firms try too hard to sell themselves, we might be buying something else than they're actually offering.”

    They don’t just direct their overselling toward recent college grads, either. It is truly amazing, how many times I’ve seen an entry-level staff accountant job dressed up as a “senior financial analyst” position. Their is nothing senior-level or analytical about them, and companies could save themselves so much money if they’d just describe the position like it is and hire an entry-level person for the job. They seem to think these jobs are rocket science and an inexperienced person couldn’t get in there and learn them. If they hire someone with fifteen years of experience for a routine job posting debits and credits, what on earth makes them think that person is going to stick around for any length of time?

  17. Ken Forester
    Ken Forester says:

    I think you should compare different jobs by their Job Security Scores ( and go for the one that comes highest for you. For me a good job is one where I will not be laid off.


  18. Arun
    Arun says:

    As a career-changing non-traditional student, your article(s) definitely is very helpful.

    1 suggestion: Set up your links (especially the ones which lead to other sites) to open in a new window (code example: Visit Fontstuff).

    That way your visitors have the option of going to the new site/article or staying on the same page. This will ensure more time on your site, as else even if they(your readers) wanted to, they might navigate and browse the other sites and forget how they got there in the first place.

    If already knew this, then I apologize for wasting your time.


  19. Arun
    Arun says:

    Addendum to previous message:
    That example link did not work, but am sure you can figure that out.


  20. five mistakes
    five mistakes says:

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  1. Ian Ybarra says:

    My book is out – RECRUIT OR DIE…

    Click here or on the cover to see Recruit Or Die on Amazon. Read the introduction for free Listen to my first interview about the book. Or scroll down for links to more early media mentions. Kirkus Reports – review……

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