Are you considering a potential business analyst position or a job offer and wondering if it’s the right choice for you? Are you interviewing for a job and want to know what questions to ask so you’ll have the information you need to make an informed decision should they make you a job offer? Do you have multiple potential offers are want a clear way to sort through to the best one?
The heart of job offer decisions comes back to two key elements:
- Benefits – What are the benefits of each opportunity in front of you, relative to the short and long-term trajectory of your career?
- Risk – How much risk are you able or willing to absorb right now in your career?
This sounds familiar right? We do this type of analysis all the time on our projects. This is yet another example where we can use our business analysis skills to help our business analysis careers.
Let’s Look at Risk First
All too often though, we forget the benefits and let the notion of risk freeze us and prevent us from making any decision at all. Risk is the probability of a negative impact. Let’s take a look at both the negative impacts being in the wrong job could have on your career, and the factors which increase the probability that something negative will happen.
How do you use these factors? Just as an example, let’s take the professional in a typical “jack of all trades” type position. This person wears a lot of hats and is successful mainly based on their deep expertise in a system. Wearing a lot of hats isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can expose you to multiple responsibilities and increase your marketability in organizations valuing employees who can pitch in and contribute in multiple areas. But it might limit your options when it comes to pursuing more formal roles within a profession, whether business analysis, development, or project management. The quality and depth of your experience may not stack up to someone who has spent the last several years focused on building a career in that profession.
But what about that system expertise? If your expertise is in a mainframe system that the company is visibly retiring bit-by-bit, the value of that expertise is declining every day. That creates job instability for you, unless you can expand your role and develop expertise with a long-term impact on the organization. But other areas of expertise can be very valuable and have long-term marketability, such as expertise in a widely-adopted tool like SAP or Salesforce.com or SharePoint.
Then over on the probability side are all of these factors that might increase the chances that something bad will happen. In immature organizations, we simply don’t do as much business analysis, which can lead to diminished marketability. In highly specialized roles we increase the changes that economic factors will make our roles (and our skill sets) obsolete (think of all those working in the financial sector in and around New York). If our organization does not perceive value in business analysis, then we’re less likely to have the opportunity to take on more advanced responsibilities, progress our careers, and may even face a bit of job instability when the purse strings get tight.
The point is not to rest on any one factor, but to look at all of them and consider where your risk points are and what aspects of your role might counter-balance those risks.
But What If I Needed a Paycheck Yesterday?
We’re not always in a position to make a decision based on the long-term. Sometimes immediate financial or even career concerns are also a significant factor. When you are deciding to look for a new job or bypass a not-so-right job offer, think about your financial runway. Entrepreneurs use this concept a lot when they talk about starting a new business. They ask, “How many months do I have before I simply run out of money?” Your cushion might be a little bigger. It might be, “How long do I have before I have to start drawing on critical savings to pay the mortgage? ”
Now, Let’s Look at the Benefits
Risks often prevent our clear thinking, so I’ve spent the most time on them. But benefits are important as well. If you look at where you are today and where you want to be two to five, to ten years down the road – however far you can look, does the opportunity help you take a forward step in that direction? Or is it in a different direction that might eventually lead to where you want to go? Will you be building valuable career experiences and will you be minimizing your risk?
Warning: Avoid the “Grass is Greener” Syndrome
A lot of times we can look at jobs outside our company and they seem perfect on the outside. Few people want to tell you the truth in an interview — that the boss micro-manages and the stakeholders avoid you at all costs and it’s just miserable to work here. You might be looking at your own imperfect situation and thinking any situation can be better.
Yes, the grass is always greener somewhere else. Until we get there. Then we sometimes realize they have similar fundamental flaws and our last opportunity didn’t seem quite so bad.
So take that into account and do some diligence around those benefits. Make sure the grass really is greener.
Pulling it All Together
Weigh the pros and cons of all the options available to you, and weigh them not just against the short term of, “What will they achieve for me next month?” but the long term of, “Where do they take me in my long-term career plan?” Look at the relative risks of each situation. After doing your research and looking at the pros and cons, you might take a deep breathe and decide based on your gut — often your gut gives you information that doesn’t show up on any spreadsheet or comparison chart.
And remember, every situation can be influenced by YOU. Careers are not something that happen to us, careers are something that we build in response to the opportunities that we discover along our paths. The decision you make at this juncture could be the most important in your career, or it could be that either answer will lead you where you want to go. I can’t help you see into the future, only make the best decision based on the necessarily limited information you’ll have to make it.