How to choose between two jobs

About a month ago I got a stack of catalogues from Restoration Hardware in the mail. My first thought was that I had purchased so much at Restoration Hardware in the past year that I am now one of their top customers. I thought about my friend Maria, who teaches people how to choose a color for anything in their home. She can make you feel like a genius and I’m pretty sure that means everything she buys from Restoration Hardware tax deductible.

Before I was her friend and could call her all the time to ask about every little color question in my life (should my dark brown leather sofa be coco or espresso?) I hired Maria to do a color consultation. Well, I didn’t really hire her. She did it for free. But it changed my life. She picked all the colors for my house in ten minutes. And then she let me stress out about it for the next 50 minutes.

I loved that call because I realized that picking colors is like picking careers. There are right answers and we are scared to trust them. I told Maria I want French farmhouse red/yellow/blue. And Maria saved me from creating circus tent red/yellow/blue. You think you can manage these things by yourself but really, you don’t know you can’t until you see what someone who is amazing at it can do.

Like, I can tell you that my favorite chair in my house is the Versailles chair that no one sits in because it looks sort of like a piece of art – from Restoration Hardware, of course.

Before I ordered it, I checked with Maria: “Is the white version okay? Because I like things fast and Restoration Hardware can ship it to me in a week if I buy what they have in stock.”

Maria said yes and that she likes anything from Restoration Hardware.

You are thinking Restoration Hardware should sponsor this post, right?

Well, they can’t, because I’m about to tell you that when I received their stack of nine catalogues, I realized pretty quickly that I was not special because my brother, who lives in commute-to-a-job-in-NYC New Jersey says there’s a Facebook thread for his neighborhood to talk about how wasteful it is to send out all those catalogues.

I did not want New Jersey snark to ruin my wide-eyed Wisconsin excitement over endless bedtime reading. I replaced the Xanax bottle on my nightstand with the stack of catalogues. That’s how much hope I had for pages of Small Spaces (Barcelona! Paris! Malibu!) and Furniture (Deconstructed! Aerospace! Swedish!).

But then I got to Rugs. (Ben Soleimani! Ben Soleimani! Ben Soleimani!)

Really. There are 80 pages of rugs and each page says the rug is made by him.

Wait. That’s not true. There are two pages with Ben that have no rugs photos, only polo photos illustrating a biography of Ben where we find out that he’s a great polo player with inner thigh muscles any woman would kill for.

I mean to have as her own. I don’t know why he thinks we want to see him playing polo. It’s like this is an aspirational magazine but not for the reader, only for him.

I starting thinking about why Restoration Hardware would let this happen. All the other catalogues in my stack have a wide range of designers caring about design. Why would the rug catalogue be all Ben?

I googled him. He’s famous. Well, famous for being born into the rug business, and supplying Prince Charles with rugs and saying the best way to buy rugs is to pay a lot of money. (Suddenly, the polo makes sense.)

I guess Restoration Hardware needs some outside validation for their rug business, and Ben needs to be a household name and wasn’t able to buy his own spot on reality TV. This makes sense. It’s really what every business agreement is: each side needs something from the other.

And if you keep that in mind, it’s much easier to decide which job to take at which point in your life:

Choose the company where you had a great interview. A good job interview is more like a consulting gig. You tell the company what you have to offer. How you will change their business. Because that’s what establishes you and the company as equals – it’s not an interview but a partnership. They want what you can give them. The best job interviews I’ve had have come from me reaching out to the CEO and telling him I see a problem he has that I can solve. Ben did that with Restoration Hardware. He saw their carpets sucked and he knew how to fix that.

Choose a company for its image – it’ll reflect on you. The definition of a good company to work at is one with a good brand. Your career is only as good as your resume, and, let’s face it, a big career is really just a series of company names and titles. If the company has a great brand, then it conveys immediate and significant meaning to your career. Just because it sits on your resume. You could do nothing at the company, but it’s pretty easy to hide that with well-written bullets on a resume. It’s impossible to hide that the company is not a respected brand.

Go to a job that makes a good story. I see that Restoration Hardware did some deal where they had to bend over backwards to get Ben Soleimani to work with them. Ben thinks he looks amazing in his polo outfit. I think he looks desperate. Like a woman who is really hot who had to settle for a short, middle-class guy. There’s something wrong with her. Maybe she is a whiner. Or terrible in bed. Who knows? But we know that you get what you are worth. And you can see what someone is worth on the dating market by looking at who they are with.

It’s why George Clooney is marrying Amal Alamuddin. He needs credibility in the political world so he can be the next California governor. I think she is bottom feeding by marrying him. But he’s loaded. So fine, it makes sense.

Be careful what you reveal by who you pair yourself with. If you hire someone as demanding as Ben you look like you don’t have self-confidence in the field. If you make a deal with your employer that puts your name on every page they print, it might feel like a win, but beware: an overly accommodating employer tells everyone you were too scared to go work for a company that has as strong a reputation as you do.

Choose to work with people who are easy for you. I like that Maria is in this post. She’s an example of someone I like being associated with. We did an online course together and it felt so natural. Ben and Restoration don’t look like a natural fit. They look forced and self-serving. Often people ask me how to choose between two jobs. It’s almost always an obvious choice if you look at the choice in terms of Ben Soleimani’s career.

Each of us has many stories we could tell to describe our career and how we got here. Taking a new job is like making a new ending to the story. And a new ending changes the meaning of the story. Look at what the job choice says about the rest of the story, and figure out which story you like best.

Ben’s story is that he wants to be everything to everyone. A polo player and a rug dealer to royalty who is also trying to corner the catalogue-crooning Restoration Hardware crowd. Don’t choose a job that shows you trying to be everything to everyone. It makes you look unhinged. Even if you’re on top of a horse.

36 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    This is great. I especially like the last one: choose to work with people who are easy for you. I didn’t do that this time. If I can help it, I won’t make that mistake next time. It’s not worth it.

    • Tracy
      Tracy says:

      Hmm, the last one was the only one I disagreed with. I work a lot with my husband and it is not easy for me- we see things totally differently and always have to argue to get to some consensus. Which is a major drag if we are just deciding what to have for dinner that evening, but if we are coming up with a creative solution to a client’s problem, then it is sheer genius. I like to think that if 2 people are always agreeing then one of them is redundant.

      • Jim Grey
        Jim Grey says:

        I don’t think “easy” excludes creative conflict and even productive argument. I think it does exclude butting heads and getting nowhere!

      • Theresa Deitche
        Theresa Deitche says:

        I agree that “easy” doesn’t mean always agreeing. In fact it can be quite difficult to work with someone who never offers an alternate idea. On the other hand yes, if you work with someone who disagrees just for the sake of disagreeing that can be a difficult person to work with.

  2. karelys
    karelys says:

    It always bothers me when you point out the whole people marrying up or down depending on their worth.

    And I am thinking “does it bother me because it’s true but an ugly truth or does it bother me because it’s stupid?”

    I feel like it’s true though. If I had a daughter that was awesome and somehow she married a stupid guy I would be upset. But maybe I’d be more upset that I raised her wrong (obviously! what kind of woman doesn’t know her worth).

    Maybe what really bothers me is that you insist on measuring worth by money and looks and that’s so shallow and shallow always makes me want to throw something at walls. But not wine. I’d rather drink the wine.

    So back to my imaginary daughter. Let’s say she married a short middle-class guy who is very smart and has good character. So what? Does that bother me? no. Not all. It would only bother me if the guy was a piece of crap no matter the money. Unless my daughter turned out to be the kind of person that marries as business so that would be fine. She gets to be miserable for a few years before she divorces with money. I don’t support that way of doing things but at least the person is working it to their advantage.

    I forgot what my point was. I think it was good but I drowned it in my tangled thoughts regarding your annoying shallow statements about people being measured by their money and status.

  3. Emily
    Emily says:

    I think your point about choosing jobs that tell a story is the key here. I just accepted a new job with a huge title (senior…manager, etc), at a lesser known brand, smaller company. But my past jobs have been at major Goliaths with obscure titles that don’t translate broadly in my industry. My resume needs balance right now, and the new job will show that I can be hands on and handle massive responsibility, in addition to the polish that the big brands show.

    Also to the point of brands, there’s a huge bias in the tech industry against people who have worked at big brands for too long. They’re seen as cushy jobs where no one has any sense of ownership over the product, and lacks the kind of innovation and nimbleness needed to get things done. The tech industry loves people with start-up experience.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I agree that there’s a huge bias against people who have worked at the same big brand for a long time. But it makes sense to me. Because what is the story? Your learning curve goes down dramatically after two years, so it’s hard to say you stayed there because you were learning so much.

      But let’s say you stay there six years and then you decide to leave. What’s the story? What made you love the place for six years and then not love it? It’s hard to make sense of that story. For example, if you say, “I need to grow more so I”m leaving” that begs the question why didn’t you need to grow more a year ago?


      • Marcy Brown
        Marcy Brown says:

        RE: leaving a job after 6 years. I once left a job after 6.5 years because they cut my budget at the 6-year mark. *Significantly* cut my budget. Up until then I’d been able to grow because I was building new programs, doing professional development, delegating stupid stuff. When I could no longer do those things, it was time to move on. So not all moves at 6 (or 8, or 10) years make no sense.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        This is really interesting. My husband (has A+ experience and resume, under 2 years at each position due to opportunities and growth) just interviewed at huge huge tech company for very senior role. (I’m being vague here because don’t want to out people) final interview with CEO after glowing rrecommendations from all in upper org interviews comes (8+ interviews) and he harps on his 2 year transitions as being ‘disloyal’ ..husband explained through it, but guy didn’t care- said that’s not their company culture (this is not Google btw). I found it incredibly stupid for someone so senior to think that, but OK.

        • Brian G
          Brian G says:

          Unfortunately, job hoppers are still viewed as one step above unemployed people in the minds of many CEOs and HR departments. Even if every jump was for higher pay/greater responsibility.
          Take it as a blessing in disguise that your husband didn’t get the job. The corporate culture that that CEO creates sounds toxic.

  4. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    I was reading this article around 8pm (2 hours ago, bc I’m from Barcelona) on the subway while going home after work and I’ve never been more related in one of your articles with this one.
    I was thinking the exact same thing while having lunch at Starbucks (just a chai tea latte, I brought my own lunch, trying to cut my spendings) and I was just seeing guys with their suits on. And it’s summer. It’s 25-27 degrees out there and these guys are wearing and uncomfortable suit.
    And I said to myself: “I’m never going to work in a company where you have to wear a suit every single day”. I mean, what’s the point? I’m not going to be more clever or smarter wearing it.
    And then, I suddenly realized: of course, it’s the brand image of the company. The company is showing (besides boredom) a serious and an image of premium and excellent.
    I was so happy to then realize I am working on the perfect company: I can wear whatever I want (even my yoga clothes) nobody gives a f* and my co-workers are like my second family. And I’ve been working there just for a month now. But they are amazing. The environment, the work they’re doing, their service… It’s just what I wanted to be a part of. And I got that job doing the opposite from what all my classmates were doing. They were following the alumni network and applying to this big consulting firms.
    I also did. But only for synergy. Then I started looking up things that really interested me. And as you mention in other of your posts: start to specialize myself into something. In this case, I searched for marketing consultancy. And I wanted a small one. Near my apartment, because I like to walk and I wanted to walk at least 20/30 minutes.
    I don’t know what future will bring, but now I’m the happiest girl working there.
    I’m so passionate about this, that I think I’ve just wrote the longest comment I have ever written in somebody’s blog.
    At least I’m glad it’s in yours!
    Take care Penelope! I hope your boys are well and strong!

  5. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Since the subject of the post is choosing between two jobs, in the following line: “Look at what the job choice says about the rest of the story, and figure out which story you like best” The word ‘best’ should be replaced by ‘better’. If the post was about choosing between three or more jobs, then best would be the correct word to use.

  6. Dee Tgardnern
    Dee Tgardnern says:

    Are you for real? So much fun! Rugs and George Clooney for governor of Californication. She is Marrying down to get his money? Oh so, all over the place. Oh yea, can you send me one of those Rug, Polo, home depot catalogues because I always looking for a great job.

  7. MBL
    MBL says:

    I know the RH catelogues aren’t the main point of the post, but dear god they had better not send more of those things to me. Last year we got a 7 inch stack of those suckers, 3 I think, and I ’bout went ballistic. I didn’t start a FB page, but I did try to figure how much time, money and resources (human and material) they wasted. It really, really sucks.

    I used to love RH a couple of decades ago when they actually sold hardware for, ya’ know, restoration projects. Now they no longer have my number. I mean that literally. I (shamefully) clicked a link and decided to check out their selection of house numbers for our 1937 house, since the RH of old would have been the place to go for such a thing. However, they do not have our house numbers in stock in any font. Seriously. What is in those catelogues?

    I just found this on wiki:

    “Time Magazine was critical of the company for its large catalog called the “Source Book” for its length (992 pages), specifically its waste of paper.[8] The full 2014 catalogue weighed 17 lbs and had over 3000 pages. The company stated that by combining all of the different sourcebooks into one package reduced their carbon footprint, while critics still stated that the volume of paper used for the publication’s mass delivery was wasteful.”

    End rant. Fun post though!

    • Leslie
      Leslie says:

      You can sign up for Catalog Choice and ask that your name be taken off the various mailing lists. I have not received a catalog in years, except for one or two that I choose to keep.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      I don’t think that you should focus everything on just money and benefits, yes these are very important but you should factor a lot more into it than just compensation.

      If you do not like the job or you will be under a lot more stress, then you have to really think is the little bit of extra money worth it.

      I make good money at my job but it is a very stressful position, my little sister on the other hand has a job with virtually no stress and she gets to travel the USA on the companies dime but she makes about $10K less per year.

      I would gladly give up $10K a year to be in a job I love and got to do cool and exciting things.

      Just my opinion though

  8. Karine
    Karine says:

    Thanks for this piece, Penelope. I tend to disagree with some points, though. When it comes to the company image, and if you’ve been in the market long enough, you know when people who work for a certain big brand actually get to do something substantial or not. For example, some top consulting companies are known for hiring whoever has a degree from university X, regardless the superficiality of ones résumé. In the end, the branding can work for an employer who is not well aware of your company’s dubious selection procedure, but it will be harder to convince a competitor of your value, when they are well aware of it.
    The “do just anything in an acclaimed company and that will reflect on you” can work for a while and for some recruiters. Won’t work for everyone though, specially in countries where your experience is rather more important than where you worked (for instance, that is the mentality in some EU countries). In the end of the day, you got to ask yourself whether you prefer to be the empire’s John-doe or the colonel of the village.

  9. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    I’d never seen a RH catalog before, I guess I’m short on aspiration.
    Did you see the article in the WSJ about how people with houses full of furniture who’re downsizing have trouble getting rid of their “brown” furniture? In some of the examples the people paid plenty for it 10-20 years ago and now they have to pay people to haul it away.

    Now I don’t feel so bad about not ever getting the RH catalog. It’s tomorrows haul-away.

  10. Athena
    Athena says:

    I loved all of these tips. I also think whatever company you work for is similar to a reflection of who you are dating. It says what you feel you are worth and what you think about yourself more than people realize.

  11. VTESI
    VTESI says:

    There’s often times where I disagree with you but there’s one HUGE error in here:

    Alam who is marrying George Clooney, is rich in her own right!! She is an incredibly successful barrister and doesn’t need him. [It’s also fair to say that she’s a ridiculously smart woman who could eat you and everyone else for breakfast, so god knows why she’s marrying him] Whilst you may be right that he needs her, your implication that his money is why she’s marrying him is utterly inaccurate! And unhelpful.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      When status is not in question people can marry up or down if they like the person enough and not be afraid that anyone will mistake their choice for the thought that they had limited options.

      I am guessing that a woman in that strata (beautiful, self-sufficient, smart, well employed, and wealthy) has no qualms about marrying someone because she likes him a lot due to a mix of looks and personality.

  12. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    Several valid points here but are you saying a good looking woman should only marry rich? Isn’t that shallow? And really bad advice? I dated (and could have married) a rich guy, who treated me terribly. I now date a middle-class guy who treats me really well. So, I should have chosen the jerk? Makes no sense to me.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      It makes no sense to you if your priorities are not to marry someone with status or money. But if they are, you see natural resources and advantages like being born beautiful (really, it’s a mix of genetic lottery and hard work) and smart to be such a waste.

      So if this is not what you want don’t worry about the advice since it’s not going to get you closer to where you want to be.

      I find it incredibly shallow but also very helpful if that’s what you’re shooting for. Since that’s not what I am pursuing I can just skip it. Especially because it’s very annoying.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s not binary. Not all rich guys are jerks. Not all poor guys are nice. Everyone has standards. Like, no ex-felons, even if they are really smart and really nice. Or, some people have religious standards. The standards are there because of the type of life you want to have with your future family. The earnings standard is one similar to that. You can easily fall in love with someone who wants to be a stay-at- home dad in San Francisco, but then you’d have to find a way to support that financially. So you say no. We have practical, non-romantic standards for who we date all the time.


  13. Mary Hansen
    Mary Hansen says:

    There’s retail, then there’s stupid retail, and Restoration Hardware is beyond even that at stupid-insane-retail. Which becomes clear when you see their stuff show up at The Dump for 85% less than their catalog, and it’s STILL expensive. All so they can prop up their 50 lb catalog and their mall store business? No amount of Bens from the Rug Business can save that business model. Brand isn’t everything when common sense flew out the window awhile ago.

    And just why are you paying those insane retail prices of theirs, anyway?

  14. Ellen Stuart
    Ellen Stuart says:

    This is a great post! It’s right when you say that during an interview you have to tell them what you have to offer. An interview is like a deal between an employer and an employee. You have to show them that you are valuable for them and in return they give you the job.

  15. Mary W
    Mary W says:

    It’s interesting you wrote this post when you did, because I was facing the exact dilemma of choosing between two jobs when I read it. I was offered a prestigious job at an NGO in DC, but had already taken an offer for a government travel bureau position in Cali (I live in Cali). For me, the DC job was my “dream job”–working in an NGO, helping others, and making connections in DC. However, my boyfriend was in LA. My boyfriend and I are not only compatible and get along well, but he’s finishing up residency, graduated from an ivy league, a finance genius and an engineer. A good guy like that doesn’t come around often.

    I took your advice of imagining these two different paths (DC hotshot or happily married). I always told myself never to choose a man over a career, but as we grow older our priorities change.

    In the end, I chose not to come home to an empty apartment every evening. I’m in Cali, working the bureau job and being bored out of my mind. Instead of agonize over whether I made the right decision or not, I’m tryin to make the best of the choice I made.

    Anyway, excellent post that really got me thinking, Penelope (and good timing). Thank you.

    BTW my cousin got a huge stack of those restoration hardware catalogues as well. I had no idea why she was saving up so many home living catalogues until I read your post. What a waste of resources.

  16. Joseph T Brown
    Joseph T Brown says:

    A fantastic blog always comes-up with new and helpful information and while reading I have feel that this blog is really have all those quality that qualify a blog to be a good one.

  17. David White
    David White says:

    I completely agree with this post, especially the last one. Working with great people is one of the main reasons why I stay in my job although I could have gotten bigger salary out there.
    Keep up the good work!

  18. Ava
    Ava says:

    Hi Penelope… I love your frankness in your blog and brutally honest and raw truth. I have been following you for a hot minute… since I googled kids don’t need to learn math… hahaha. And I didn’t have time then to dissect your blog so I just would read ones that garnered my interest (of which there were more than less). Anyway… this is getting long and I am getting distracted, but I wanted to say thanks for putting it all out there. And thanks for reaffirming that kids don’t necessarily need so much BS math!!!! I get the SAT stuff… whatever. Just curious what you would do if you had a child who isn’t very keen on math but is bright nonetheless regarding future college. And what is the full point of college. The main reason I wrote though is to ask where there is an online community of world homeschoolers who can connect and make friends… lastly the only thing that drives me crazy sometimes is the local homeschool groups the parents and kids seem like Stepfords… so perfect and always smiling… and I am thinking… .we do not fit in here. ^.^

  19. Mary
    Mary says:

    I read your post looking for inspiration. True inspiration comes from great people working together for a common good regardless of reputation or as you say “story”. I know what you write is true, I have seen this work but in the end it is very depressing. The real truth is that all the time people matter first, you will never go wrong selecting the option that is best for the people you love in your life.

      ONEWEIRDWORD says:

      Thanks, Mary – this is helpful to me. Two offers, both working with good people, one is more exciting and interesting. The other, I have an established reputation. The exciting one has a killer commute. It’s hard giving up the exciting one, but I like seeing my family more, and I can’t see myself driving so much next winter.

      It’s hard though!

  20. Lionel Hales
    Lionel Hales says:

    Great Writing!! Great guidelines! Great message!! This is really a much needed one for guys who are in need of a best guidance in choosing the jobs. Every job seeker must be aware of it. ! Keep up the good work mate ! Way to go. Cheers

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