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Job Hunt Checklist


September 5, 2012 by Mike Hillwig

Last week, I mentioned that I’m pretty happy with where I work, and I’m obviously not looking for a new gig. But several months ago, my situation was certainly very different.

One night several months ago, I was at the New England SQL Server User Group meeting, and Brent Ozar was presenting on running SQL Server on VMWare. I was fortunate enough to sit beside Tom LaRock that night. Before Brent’s presentation, I was chatting with Tom, telling him that I was looking for a new job. He gave me a piece of advice that hit me like a brick and forever changed my career in a very positive way. He said “Before you send out a single resume, you need to decide what you want in this job that isn’t on the job description. What are the things that will make you happy in a new job?” This was a big change for me. Throughout most of my career, I had been in the job market when I needed a new job and not when I wanted a new job. This time, I had the opportunity to be picky, and that’s exactly what I needed to be doing.

Over the next few days, I made a list and determined what was making me unhappy in my current position. That’s when I realized that it had little to do with the work itself. It was the company and the culture. For me, there were a few things that I knew I simply must have in the next step of my career.

  • At the very top of my list, my boss had to be (or have once been) a DBA. My current boss was a network guy, and he didn’t understand databases or the applications that used them. Expecting guidance from someone who didn’t have a clue what I did was maddening.
  • Casual. Casual. Casual. When needed, I can dress to impress. But I simply refuse to do that when it’s not necessary. I wanted to be able to wear jeans to work. To a lot of people, this may be trivial, but comfort is important to me.
  • Working from home during snowstorms and when life demands it. I actually like going to the office, but sometimes it’s just not practical. During a New England snowstorm or when the Comcast guy is coming, having the ability to work from home is important. I didn’t expect to be able to work from home one day a week, but when life demands it, I wanted the option. My last company frowned upon people working from home, which is really ironic since they were a networking company that created technologies that helped remote employees.
  • A company that used technology to empower employees. One of the things that really caught my attention during the interview at my current position was when the HR recruiter said that everyone starting with this division was given a new laptop, Blackberry and VPN token. It’s hard to provide good service to clients when people weren’t able to connect. My last company gave people laptops, but you had to wait an arbitrary period of time before getting VPN access. And mobile phones? You had to buy your own and expense the service but not the phone. Most of the time, your manager would approve the service expense.
  • A sane commute. The commute to my last job was dreadful. This was the one that frowned on working from home, even during snow storms. No matter how I did it, it was bad. There were days when my commute home would be two hours. And during a snow storm, all bets were off. Today, my commute on a bad day is 45 minutes, and that’s when the Red Sox are playing at Fenway Park. Most days, it’s 25 minutes door-to-door.
  • Structure. I’m one of those people who believes in playing by a set of rules, and working for a company that has some set of compliance requirements works for me. I had once worked in an environment where the developers ruled the roost, and I knew that wasn’t the type of environment for me.
  • A company that was concerned about its culture. Several years ago, I had worked for Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction, who had been named one of the best places to work in Massachusetts by the Boston Business Journal. Shawmut was very focused on the culture of the company and providing an environment that took care of its employees. Leaving that culture was a mistake, and I knew that my next employer needed to be one that wasn’t just concerned with the welfare of its employees, but the culture in which they worked.

As I look at my list, I realize that I now have everything I wanted. Maybe I was lucky. But more than likely, it was because I went into the situation knowing exactly what I wanted. And that put me in a great place. Are there things that I want in my next position? Absolutely. And if I ever decide to leave this company, they’ll go on the next list.

No matter what, I owe Tom a world of thanks for some incredible advice.