I sat down to lunch with a new friend and mentor of mine the other day and we had quite a lively discussion about career paths. I currently work for a large and well-known brand, but we aren't the largest or most successful at the moment. In fact, to the average consumer, we are stale and old.
Any person in the industry who knows my company, has heard all the negative press and thinks they have some idea of the kind of company we are. However, if you want the real truth, just talk to a current or former employee and I guarantee that close to 100% would tell you that they loved the people and their time at the company. It's a place that makes you happy, understands that there needs to be a work/life balance and gives you the chance to work with really quality people.
Given all of that , being the forward-thinking person I am, I consider myself a pretty motivated and determined person. I am constantly thinking about my career progression, and ultimately, the immediate next step in that path. For instance, what kind of company do I want to work for? Who are the forward thinking brand names in my realm that I need to learn from? At least those were my initial thoughts until I spoke to my friend.
You see, she works for a brand most people would consider "boring" or old. The offices are in Stamford, Conn., and it's an insurance company, so how exciting can it be? But here's the thing, the culture ROCKS. It's a big company, but not too big that she doesn't get to do what she wants from a management perspective and is able to innovate and keep employees happy with her own style. If she got caught up on needing to work for a larger, well known "brand name" company in her industry, she would be missing out on all the happiness and management freedom she is afforded at her current work place. She would certainly get the check on her resume, but at what price? She can actually be more nimble and learn faster where she is now while also being excited to get up and head to work everyday.
This sounds like common sense, but it really made me re-evaluate. For instance, I have the best team I will probably ever have at my current job. Everyone is a rock star. We each play to our own, specific talents and we help each other where their talent is lacking. I don't lounge in bed in the morning, arguing with myself about wanting to go, I ALWAYS want to go. It's compelling work AND I get to hangout with brilliantly smart and funny people who have become great friends as well.
I have only been in the "real world" for about five years, but I can tell you that even through my 10 years of experience (including internships), enjoying the people around you and the culture in which you work is just as important, if not more important, than the job itself. Compare it to spending a weekend with close friends that get you pumped up about life to spending a weekend with distant family members you try to avoid. Which would you prefer?
In college, I got very caught up in brand names…brands I was wearing that were cool, working for a brand name company that people know and also thought was cool, living in a brand name city, etc. There was no end to my need to work for the best. I am not telling you that working at the large name agencies aren't a great path, just don't get aught up in feeling like you aren't working for the "best" by taking a job a small local agency with a hip culture if that 's what will make you happy. Remember too that small agencies don't have the luxury of extra revenue to have actual departments to handle every task. They need all hands on deck and often times you will learn a ton more, faster, by working for a more nimble, smaller company.
Most importantly, pay close attention to how you are treated through your interview processes. Are the people friendly? Does the work environment look sunny and happy? Is there camaraderie and teamwork present or do people keep to themselves? These are all observations you should be making in evaluating your next opportunity. It sounds trivial, but I can tell you that when I was that bright eyed grad, I definitely overlooked these things a few times in order to take a cool sounding job at a brand name company that didn't turn out to be so cool. People and relationships are what makes us happy and ultimately the thing that makes us get up in the morning. One day, you will love your job too, but you will love it more if you enjoy the people you work for and with!
About the Author
As the senior marketing analyst at Yahoo, Sarah is responsible for the implementation of audience-centric research solutions, including 'mom research' and insights around women & CPG more generally. Prior to joining Yahoo!, Sarah has been involved in the digital industry for several years, with experience not only on the publisher side but also on the digital agency side; strategizing with the likes of MediaCom and Carat on their audience segmentation analysis. Sarah holds a Bachelor's degree in Advertising & Marketing from Drake University and currently resides in New York City. She also holds prominent positions in industry organizations such as The Ad Club of New York and Advertising Women of New York (AWNY).