By Jack & Suzy Welch I have two job offers, one from a respected company for a job doing work I'm passionate about, but with terribly unpleasant co-workers who have no team spirit, and the other from a so-so company offering a job I somewhat like but with people I thoroughly enjoy. The compensation is about the same, so what do I do? — Anonymous, Luxembourg
You ask yourself five simple questions and see where the answers take you. At least, that's what we suggest whenever someone writes and, like you, basically says: "With all the choices out there, how in the world do I possibly figure out what job is right for me?" Now, we're not claiming this process will make your decision any easier. You face a common quandary that can strike people at almost any stage of their careers. But in the end, whatever you choose to do after this exercise, you should have a clearer sense of why you're doing it.
The questions that follow are in no particular order. They all count in somewhat equal degrees. We'll begin with the question that concerns something you already mention—people—since, to our minds, success and happiness at work start with your team.
Will the new job be filled with co-workers who share my sensibilities, or will I have to zone out or fake it to get along?
The key word here is "sensibilities," those values, behaviors, and personality traits that make you feel, well, like you're among kindred spirits. If you share sensibilities with your co-workers, you tend to work at the same pace, for instance, confront each other and tough issues with the same level of intensity (or lack thereof), and laugh the same amount at meetings, often at the same jokes. We're not saying people with shared sensibilities are all alike, but they pretty much all like one another.
Will the new job stretch my mind and build my skills, and otherwise take me out of my comfort zone, or am I entering at the top of my game?
Sure, it's appealing to join a company where you're the smartest person in the room—for a while. In time, though, most people start to feel the downside of being the resident expert, namely boredom and career stall. There is risk, of course, in taking a job where you can blow it. But beware of any job that promises to be a layup. It will, ultimately, make you want to lie down—never a good career move!
Will the new job open or close doors for me should I ever leave?
Some companies are so respected for their training programs or hiring standards that they bestow a kind of golden halo on their employees—consulting firm McKinsey is a good example; others are Microsoft (MSFT) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). Other jobs will keep your options open because they happen to be in thriving industries with promising economics (as opposed to, say, the airlines or publishing). Obviously, we're not suggesting you lunge for any job at Google (GOOG) or Genentech (DNA), just that you think twice about taking a job where the day after tomorrow seems tenuous.
Will the new job turn my crank, touch my soul, and give me meaning?
You should never take a job based just on where it might take you, unless it's a place you really want to go. We're talking about job content, what you do all day. If that actual work—be it selling a house, designing a medical device, creating an advertising campaign, or whatever—doesn't seem exciting and important to you, it doesn't make any difference if the company or industry is on fire. You won't be, ever. That's no life.
Who am I making happy by taking this job, and am I O.K. with that bargain?
This final question concerns an emotional dynamic we call ownership. Very few of us have the freedom to make decisions without considering the needs of other "constituents." We all know people who have passed up great jobs because of the impact on their families and people who have taken less-than-great jobs for the same reason. Such choices are part of life. But in making yours, we'd advise you to be clear on why you are taking any given job. And make peace with the trade-offs involved.
As for your immediate decision: It seems the first job gives you great opportunity, options, and work content. It flunks on people and appears neutral on ownership. There's really no wrong choice here—just your own to understand.
Jack and Suzy Welch look forward to answering your questions about business, company, or career challenges. Please e-mail them at thewelchway@BusinessWeek.com For their podcast discussion of this column, go to www.businessweek.com/search/podcasting.htm