The Good Job Framework

Or, five factors to keep in mind while changing jobs

Hello, and welcome to a new edition of Expander. I’m Abhishek, and each week I share practical ideas on doing product, measuring what matters, working with people, and growing a business. Send me your questions and in return, I’ll humbly offer BS-free actionable advice. 🤜🤛

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If you find this post valuable, check out some of my other posts:

  1. Decision-making for new hires

  2. Why you should avoid demanding customers

  3. Why not to over-rely on culture fit

  4. An antidote to poor estimate, overwork, and burnout

Today, let’s talk about job change. What do you look for in a new job? Better work? Better culture? Better manager? Perhaps a combination of all three, with better pay. 💰

In a ten-year-horizon, an average joe may change upto 4 jobs. Yet, even with all that experience, we never really figure out what’s wrong with our current job and what to look for in a new job.

A good job is not just a combination of good work and good money. It’s much more. If you are one of them chaps who dunno when they should change jobs, what kind of job they should get, how they should balance between good pay and good work — this post is for you. Let’s crack on!

A “good job” has multiple factors. They are dynamic, and they change depending on where you are in your career arc. For example, when you are just starting (fresh outta college), a job is all about “learning.” Learning comprises acquiring skills and getting education that contribute to your overall development as a person and a professional. This is Level I — the first 1–2 years in your career.

After learning comes “commitment.” How committed do you feel to the mission of the company? Do you derive meaning from your work? Do you feel driven to solve this problem day in, day out? Unless you connect with the mission, the product, and the work you produce, you are just like a clerk who is in at 9, out at 5, and is content with everything as long as they get their salary. Make sure not to be a clerk.

When you are just starting, you are just learning. Commitment may or may not be an important factor at the beginning of your career, since the whole startup world itself is new to you. But as you gain a bit of experience, commitment starts to become an important factor. This is Level II — the next 1–2 years of your career after Level I — comprising learning and commitment.

After commitment comes the “social” aspect of your job. At this stage, it’s important that a job not only gives you learning, but also prestige and identity. Social capital is good to have in the beginning as well, but not at all compulsory. But 4–5 years into your career, when you are at Level III, it makes sense to work at a “hot” company that gives you recognition.

If I have to give you a clichéd example, working at any revered YC startup is bound to give you a lot of social capital — via recognition and networking. Social capital is important — not only to help you work at a much “hotter” startup next time (or build a massive Twitter following), but also to help you start your own venture someday.

Level III is also where work gets fascinating and changing jobs starts to become a li’l bit of a headache since the stakes are high, and you have to juggle the learning, commitment, and social factors — all at the same time.

Apart from all these, there’s obviously an ever-present “financial” factor at all levels. But if you ask me, it’s kind of an external factor. It’s important, yes, but most def not the most important, and god forbid should never be the driving factor in a job decision.

At every stage, you need “just enough” money, given all the other factors are taken care of. Rest should be equity (or ESOPs), i.e, money that isn’t liquid yet. Mind you, just enough isn’t bare minimum. Just enough is just that — just enough to make a good living.

Money should never be the primary factor while choosing a job because if you run after “more money,” there’s truly no end since every next job is likely to pay you more. This, as you must’ve already figured out, would seriously hamper your job prospects, since you would appear to be an immature hedonist.

And believe it or not, somebody out there (who is less talented than you) is always making way more than you are making at any level. Focus on making money, but train yourself not to get distracted by this. Because it’s not only a good recipe to make you unhappy forever, but also derail you from your career track.

There’s absolutely no upside in chasing money. On the other hand, if you are smart about it and never forget to weigh in all the factors while choosing a job, money will take care of itself in the long run, especially if you have equity. In other words, never take a job without owning a piece (even if it’s a tiny piece) of the business. Always have some skin in the game.

But the show ain’t over it. There’s a Level IV, and it’s all about “autonomy.” When you have at least 5–8 years of experience in your bag (i.e., when you “officially” know your shit), get a job that gives you autonomy — because that is what’s gonna give you (and the company you work for) the most ROI. At Level IV, you are officially a “smart” person, and companies would hire you so you can tell them what to do, not the other way around.

There you go, the five factors — learning, commitment, social, autonomy, and money — to help you measure what you are lacking and what you should focus on in any job at any level in your career. If you’re unhappy in your current job, start by rating each of these factors on a scale of 1 to 10 based on your current level. This will help you diagnose the problem and figure out what you should improve.

For example, at Level IV, if you think your current job gives you 6 in learning, 9 in commitment, 5 in social, 8 in autonomy, and 7 in money, you would most likely want a job that gives you more opportunity in learning, social, and money factors — keeping everything else similar. You may not get everything you want, but you’ll definitely get closer to an ideal job.

The more experienced you become the harder it becomes to find a job to your liking. But on the other hand, the more experienced you become the more you are in demand as well — provided you take good care of all the factors at every level.

But of course, there are caveats. First, the experience-to-career-level correlation assumes you are in a similar role or domain throughout your career. If you change tracks in between, you have to recalibrate. For example, if you get a PM role after 7 years in a design role, you wouldn’t become Level IV by default. You would most probably be a Level I or II as PM. To give a more extreme example, if you have 12 years of experience as a developer at a legacy company, getting a job at a startup would probably bring you down to a Level I or II. Use good judgement. Measure accordingly.

Second, having 7–10 years of experience doesn’t make you a Level IV by default. That’s just a ballpark figure based on the roles and experiences startups hire for. There’s a difference between a ten-year-experience and a one-year-experience repeated ten times.

That’s why learning is the most important factor of all. Because, if you aren’t learning, if you aren’t working on newer problems, if you aren’t working on problems that scare the living daylights out of you, you aren’t doing a good job.

To be super clear, by “learning” I don’t imply simply getting better at your craft. Learning also comprises soft skills such as persuasion, communication, managing up, handling conflict, etc. — skills that make you a well-rounded decision maker.

Before I end, when in doubt about your career level, don’t give yourself the benefit of doubt. If you have 15 years of experience, but you don’t feel like a Level IV when you compare yourself to others, there’s a strong chance you are not a Level IV. There’s no point in levelling up with a hollow foundation. Autonomy without experience will only bring anarchy.

So, assess your skills, rate your job, but better be safe than cocky. It’s important to make sure you don’t fool yourself, and as Richard Feynman said, you are the easiest person to fool.

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Do you agree with what I said, or do you think otherwise? Send me counters, comments, questions, and other ways to run a business. 🙌

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Until next week,
Abhishek 👋

P.S. I also write The Sunday Wisdom, a weekly newsletter that challenges the norms and learned beliefs about how the world works. Delivered every Sunday at 6PM IST.