For those of you compiling a target list of employers, let me provide some food for thought in your process.  In terms of criteria, most of us think about job function, industry, location and company (brand) name recognition.   Here, I will suggest a different filter – type of company.  The org type may become a more important factor when you consider what each one could mean for you:

Public companies.

Here’s a Larry-ism for you:  the enemy of sensible long-term thinking is the financial cycle.  OK that’s a bit stark and maybe a little overboard but let me clarify what I mean.  We all know that sometimes the right decision to create optimal or sustainable levels of growth in a company involves making tough choices that could pay out in the long run (let’s say 2, 5 or 10 years).  There’s one problem.  Shareholders.  And they demand quarterly returns.  And therefore, so does that board.  Consequently, the fate of CEOs is usually determined within 6 quarterly cycles, +/-.

Against this backdrop, you can expect to witness some agonizing snap decisions made for the sake of hitting the quarterly target.  Learn to be OK with that, despite the frustration over the short term thinking, not to mention the insult to your business instincts. UPDATE: and now, just a few weeks later, I’m watching this great clip of an interview of the founders of google.  Great vid in general, but check out the discussion that starts at about the 5:30 mark!

Privately held companies.

These are a crap shoot and could be amazing experiences or completely frustrating ones.  Three things to think about.

  1. CEO or exec team.  If you hope to stay there awhile you want a leadership team with a sense of direction or an inspiring vision.  Failing that you want to probe for great company strengths or a sustainable competitive advantage.  Otherwise, you’re treading water for the duration.  Not the place to seek longevity.
  2. Training.  Where will this come from? I don’t even mean formal training, but who in the organization can develop you?  Even if you DO identify that person or people, you can’t depend on them staying.
  3. Empowerment.  Privately-held companies tend to be smaller and/or early in their lifecycle.  Leaders have traditionally been accustomed to being involved in all activities and decisions; they find the idea of surrendering control daunting.  This phenomenon is typically worse in family-run companies.  If you receive an offer from such a company, consider asking the hiring manager, “what is the biggest decision you have ever made without signoff by the CEO?”

Service companies.

These companies don’t manufacture any tangible good.  Banks are a prime example.  I love these types of companies because, quite frankly, schlepping your products to the low-margin world of retail can get exhausting.  I’m sort of over it.  The big watch-out in service companies is that the biggest part of the cost structure is people.  So, if the company isn’t growing like a weed then the best way to improve the P&L is to minimize people costs.   There is no product to make crappier packaging for.  It’s all you.   These types of companies are sensitive to layoffs and also are loathe to invest in benefits and perks because the smallest incentive could cost a fortune, depending on the number of employees.

Companies that have been around for a long time.

Beginning about six or seven years ago, whenever I talk to a recruiter about career next steps I request a company that has been in business less than 20 years.  Always baffles them.  But I state this preference because I’m looking for a company less set in its ways or less averse to risk.  This challenge is mostly seen in companies representing long-standing power brands in mature industries like toothpaste, frozen food or soft drinks.  Marketers have built careers on annual growth of about one percent, a number that looks good in a stagnant category.  You can get there with merely marginal thinking.

These types of environments are great to hone your marketing skills, but aren’t so much the petri dishes for innovation and risk taking.  After all, do you want to become legendary for making the one false move that takes down Snickers as a brand?  Hardly.  So, join these corporations for the right reasons while you reign in your ambitions to revolutionlize the company.

Technology companies.

If you are fascinated by the tech sector then go for it.  It’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition.  Start-ups are fun and marketers benefit from wicked cool cultures that are born out of the necessity to recruit and retain the best technical talent, which is usually in short supply.  These organizations have a youthful, high-energy vibe and blur the lines between work and play.  Lots of perks, too.

There are, of course, downsides.  I have spoken earlier about the need for a strong visionary at the helm and tech is where this necessity is at the utmost.  This sector transforms quickly and if your leadership isn’t ahead of the curve you can be quickly obsoleted or bought up as the company races through its lifecycle.  Additionally, there would need to be a clear mandate for consumer-based marketing which should help form the strategic compass for the company.  Without it, you risk having a ‘build it and it will come’ perspective, which is akin to wildcat drilling.  Not the formula for a long-term and efficient business model although many companies do get lucky.

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