In so many ways our search for a longer term employer match is not unlike our search for great personal relationships. We think we have our criteria set in our minds, but after making some connections that sometimes end up being bad experiences we debrief and (hopefully) revamp our mandatories as we look for a better match going forward.
For those of you earlier in your marketing career I’m guessing you’re still working off of that initial shopping list. Based on my recruiting history, I can probably guess most of what’s on it. For you – and for all – I’m going to weigh in with some of my insights over the years that might help you migrate to a ‘2.0’ version. My criteria don’t completely come out of left field (ok, maybe a little) but are rather a refresh in perspective of what you’re currently thinking about. I’ll lay it all out that way so you can see how my thoughts have changed over time.
Current: well-known CPG company
Updated: technology-based company
Brands present fewer and fewer opportunities as they become less and less relevant as time passes. This certainly doesn’t apply to all brands, but there are definitely some watchouts.
Most of the value-added, ‘true’ innovation has happened in CPG; the low-hanging fruit of Diet Coke and Extra Strength Tylenol has been plucked. In the 90s and early into the 2000s we then turned to launching all the phantom premium products that only provided perceptual value to the consumer (Pantene Pro-V created important-sounding ingredients, while Excedrin Migraine led the charge of taking a current product and repackaging the exact same thing with a new purpose). Now what? Brands are caught in a cycle of stumbling for any innovation that can get more shelf space. It has become a game of battling with the retailer as much as it is serving the end user.
Meanwhile, consumers are catching on that existing products are mostly a commodity and so they are migrating like crazy to private label. Tide’s current campaign (at least here in Canada) is coming off as almost desperate, delivering a clear plea to stop buying so much private label because it doesn’t clean your clothes. They have unveiled who they are afraid of while they battle against consumer understanding that the washing machine plays the bigger role in laundry performance, and even if it didn’t, they would have already noticed that their clothes weren’t clean long ago and would have already switched back to brands, if they cared enough.
There are articles being written now that forecast the slow death of brands of commoditized products, so if you’re looking for meaningful long lasting employment you may be looking in the wrong place.
If you choose to pursue CPG you still get benefits. For now they do look good on your resume and signal that you are employable for when you make that next jump. You still learn about strategy and how to study the consumer, skills that will help you no matter where you go. What you are likely to not get is any excitement over delivering on consumer needs with disruptive innovation. More importantly, most CPG companies are in very mature industries and are coping by either blocking and tackling their way to a marginal revenue gain or by consolidating/downsizing/merging to generate profit-maintaining efficiencies.
Tech companies, on the other hand, will give you a whole other set of tools for the future. There, you can create truly game-changing innovation as your teams staff up and you learn how to test and learn your way to better marketing performance (‘growth hacking’ as it’s now called) using new marketing models in the digital, social and mobile spaces. Neither b-school nor traditional companies effectively teach you the new models of marketing which will eventually dominate our approach going forward. So, you best develop them now or you risk being irrelevant.
You’ll find that most tech companies have a youthful energy and are successful at creating welcoming, inspirational and forward-thinking social and physical environments. You’ll actually want to hang out there.
The downside to tech companies is that the lifecycle can be very quick; a new technology can quickly emerge and take over, or you could outright fail. Somewhere in the middle is the possibility of being bought out. All ads up to chaos, which you could either love or hate.
Current: power brands
Updated: growth brands
I have actually updated my personal criteria to include companies that have been in business less than 20 years, are earlier in their life cycle and are on a clear growth trajectory. Why? Young companies aren’t set in their ways and are thus typically open to completely new ways of doing things. Besides, there is nothing less fun than working on a brand that has jumped the shark. What you don’t always see from the outside is how companies manage their portfolio of brands; some are cash cows and receive little investment even though they are large; the profit they spin off will go to the few growth opportunities if there are any identified; if not the funds just get returned to the P&L to keep the shareholders happy.
I have been a part of that kind of ‘death spiral’ in my career. You could end up on a brand of awesome cookies, or coffee but you are given nothing more than 3% of sales to invest in retailer discounts to stave off private label onslaught. The rest of your time is spent building spreadsheets and filing sales and share reports to senior management. Bleh.
I want to work on brands/products that are growing at least 10% annually. Growth attracts investment, experimentation, focus and energy; all components of a job I want. Also the size of your budget matters (yes, I could make an off-color comment here…but I’m not biting). Bigger budgets mean you get to play with more tools in the toolbox; you develop more marketing skill; you work on optimizing your marketing mix as you learn the role of each tactic in the bigger strategic picture. That kind of experience readies you for much more senior roles, so make sure you look for those opportunities as they are invaluable.
When you are networking, company reps won’t usually reveal how much they spend on marketing. Your next best option is to ask what percent of the budget is spent in each area including retail, digital, social, traditional advertising, PR, B2B, market research, new product development….think of as many things as you can. You’ll get some good insights on their level of investment in not only funds but energy.
Current: good training
Updated: development and exposure
Think carefully about what you mean by ‘training’. If you think that means being sent away on more courses then my answer to that will be to what extent do you feel all the courses you have taken in the last several years have prepared you fully to excel?
Instead you want to audit the tools for your development. Most of your learning comes from meaningful experiences along with your exposure to all levels of management so that you can see how business is done and decisions are made. Questions I would think of asking (don’t ask them all!) are:
- Do you have a formalized development program?
- Is it documented and reviewed?
- Am I given developmental projects?
- Do you identify the list of skill sets that must be developed and create plans to develop each?
- How do you prepare employees for more senior roles or promotions?
- Are there self-study or other courses at my disposal?
- Will I get to present to or otherwise interact with executives over the course of managing my business?
- What other management meetings or forums will I be able to attend to listen in on?
- How prevalent or formal is the practice of building networks and seeking leadership mentors beyond your direct manager?
- What (other) tools are there to develop my skills at my own initiative?
In order to navigate through generalized company lines and jargon, use words like “common” and “formalized” in your questions where possible and ask for examples.
Current: great (starting) salary
Updated: total compensation and reward systems
I have been asked by recent graduates if they should negotiate starting salary. My usual answer is ‘no’. The exception is where a starting salary is so far out of line with the market that it needs to be pointed out. Employees at one company I worked with converted the annual salary to an hourly rate and effectively argued that the pay was little more than minimum wage….and there was no overtime paid. If you can put the salary in a proper context to make your argument then go for it. Otherwise, leave it alone. You only get so many chips to cash in during your career, so choose wisely.
What you want to probe on is what happens once you get there. Audit all the types of compensation (cell phone reimbursement, gym memberships, bonuses, salary increases, salary adjustments) and try to get a sense of the amount, although companies tend to give general answers.
Also ask questions about advancement. Seek specifics by perhaps asking your contact how many direct reports they have and how long they have been at that level. Career progression is a great way to get increases, and note relative to my earlier discussion, tends to come more with companies that are growing. As headcount expands, opportunities open up. The addition or contraction of headcount over the past year or two might be another subject worth exploring.
Current: work-life balance
Updated: a cool job; work-life harmony
I won’t take up space here, because I have a whole article on work-life balance that I wrote last year. Be careful about just looking for a stable job with contained work hours. They don’t really exist in the professional sector, and if they do, consider yourself a sitting duck. Instead, find a job you can love as much as possible and look for an environment where you can just be you while you blur the lines between work and life. I address much of this and provide examples in my article on the next generation workplace.
Updated: motivating environment
Gym memberships and free laptops are great ways to entice employees to sign on. For young, emerging companies, the standard issue seems to be ping pong tables, catered lunches and free coffee and snacks.
I love all of this stuff and yes, it does make a company more appealing. But, if you think carefully about your entire work day and the types of things that can breed long term happiness, you may develop some keener insights that go beyond the veneer of some of those enticements.
To me, there are two factors that have a huge impact on my motivation at work. The first is how much time I spend doing stuff that makes a difference on my job versus stuff that I know just wastes time. Long meetings, make-work projects and inefficient systems are examples. So I tend to probe on efficiencies; how well internal data systems work or are up to date, how well meetings are run and what amount of time is spent in them.
Along the same lines lie the second factor — lean decision making infrastructure. The lean org is a big turn on for me and is an offshoot of the efficiency discussion. I like to ask, “what is the biggest decision you were able to make without referring upwards?” or else I otherwise probe on the types of decisions that mid level employees have to make and what it takes to secure approval to move forward.
I recommend you take some time to think about what truly makes you happy day to day on the job and worry less about the sexy things you can tell your friends about to make them jealous. It’s a little different for everyone but there are many commonalities. Back to my original analogy. You may be dating someone who makes you laugh or is stone cold good looking, but you probably shouldn’t lock into a relationship if some of the deeper awesome qualities aren’t there. Same thing with an employer. Hopefully I’ve given you some fodder to consider more thoroughly what your perfect match is. I hope you find it, because after all, you deserve it!