Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What Makes A Job A Great Job

There are many recruiters who will call you and say, “I have a great job for you.”  When I was in advertising as an account guy, I used to get those calls a lot.  As a recruiter, I don't say that on a recruiting call because there are many good jobs, but few that are great. 
And besides, great jobs are a relative thing and very individual; what is great for one person may be less so for someone else. However there are elements which contribute to making a job great for most people.

I have given this a lot of thought and wanted to write about the elements which distinguish the great from the merely good.  These six elements are very personal and can vary from person to person. The confluence of all these elements must be there for a job to be great.

A company, in order to qualify as great, for me, has to have a defined culture.  Everyone must be moving in the same direction.  There has to be a system of beliefs, which comes from the very top down.  It can vary by company, but a true culture is one that is defined, believed and acted upon by everyone within the company. 

I remember one advertising agency where the HR director told me that they were building their culture and had free beer on Friday afternoons in their  lounge.  Free beer does not make a culture, but it is a nice perk. Free beer can be the manifestation of a culture, but in and of itself it is not a culture.

Culture must come from the top.  And it must be lived by all employees.  It should be manifest in the work, in the attitude and in the way that people interact with each other. 

I fully recognize that what is great for one person, may not be so for another.

People are critical to the equation.  The culture could, in fact be cutthroat or it could be nice, but the people have to reflect the attributes of the culture – excellence, creativity, passion and the desire to do good work, whatever the work is.  People must exude a sense of mission for the culture and for themselves.

I once worked at an agency which hired very bright people. I worked with three account supervisors (there were, maybe, eight at the agency) who went on to become agency presidents. I worked with art directors, writers, research people and media people who went on to become department heads and agency presidents.  It was a pleasure to work there because the people were bright, upwardly mobile and nice.

I you don't like the people, it cannot be a great job.

Of course, opportunity comes with growth.  As companies grow, their employees will have more opportunity.  But it also means a culture where people are allowed to succeed at what they do.  Failure is never an option, but the ability to try something new and not succeed is essential if there is to be opportunity.  Great cultures allow people the luxury to try to be innovative, smart and forward thinking.  People thrive in that atmosphere.

Great jobs are visible.  Visible to management, visible to the community at large.  (I recently placed a director of social media at a telecom company.  She told me that within four months of starting, her phone did not stopped ringing from recruiters, other phone companies and ad agencies.)

Having a good time is essential.  You spend more time at work than you do at home.  Work cannot be drudgery.  I once worked for a head of account management who periodically ordered pizza for everyone and who, once or twice a year, took all the available account people to the movies during lunch.  These things created a bond among everyone.  We worked hard, but we also played hard.

And the sense of fun created a cooperation among us all.  I could walk into any other account person’s office and bounce an issue or problem off of him or her.  It helped me to succeed.

The Work
It doesn’t matter what your company does –  making widgets, the law, advertising – the work has to override everything.  I recently read Fred Goldberg’s wonderful book, “The Insanity of Advertising” and he talks about being in the business for fifteen years and then going to Chiat/Day.  He discovered, for the first time, what advertising was all about.  The work came first at Chiat.

In the case of visibility, previously mentioned, the social media person received those calls because the work she is doing is great work and talked about throughout the telecom business, the social media community and the advertising business.

When every employee believes in the work, the job becomes more fun, the culture is defined and the people are all moving in the same direction.


  1. Enjoyed reading your piece; albeit not looking for a gig. I worked my tail off with industry leaders TNO & IPG. Also, didn't work the cushy account side...Rather Biz Dev. Not so easy. Folks believe since we get every RFP and own the best my job was easy. It was challenging and rewarding. Nevertheless hard. Have specific questions would like to ask. Consequently, please share the best way to do so. Also, ironically, my sister is one of the most accomplished glass artists around (jordanakorsen.com.). Furthermore, brother is classically trained French chef. Small world. Thanks in advance for a timely reply. It's appreciated. Jamie

    1. Jamie: Happy to chat. My email is paul@gumbinnercompanycom

  2. Good stuff, Paul...as always.

    Where -- if anywhere -- within the above categories would you place compensation? It seems to me that a job could offer great culture, people, opportunity, visibility, fun, and excellent work, and yet an employer could still elect to undercompensate an employee by not meeting or exceeding industry norms. Without a certain modicum of respect on the compensation front, suddenly, a "great job" can appear to be "not so great."

    1. I purposely did not include compensation. If all the other things I wrote about come into play, many people are willing to forego some payment. The old Chiat (pre-TBWA) is a good example. Of course money may ultimately be important.

  3. paul: great to see you back in force.
    couldn't agree more with your criteria.
    sooner or later getting a great job as you define it will inevitably result in great compensation.
    whereas a 100% focus on comp may never lead to that great job.
    let me know if you ever find one for me ;)

  4. Your point about agency culture reminded me of JWT in the early to mid 80's. The agency had a mantra: "Best in New York" and that's what we were all driving towards. Best work, best clients, best employees, best place to work....all of it. We worked our butts off but played too. The cafeteria turned into a bar at 5 pm ("The Company Store") and you were likely to see the president having a beer with a junior media planner or an EVP having a scotch with a broadcast producer. We had regular social events like theme parties in the Company Store, including a back to school event with dance and lipsync contests, summer events where the whole agency took the train out to Belmont for the day, and so on. I believe everyone felt valued and part of the JWT team.

    I never worked so hard and had such a great time doing it. THAT was my "great job."

    1. @Anon. Thanks for that nice memory. The Company Store was merely a manifestation of the JWT culture of excellence. Making employees feel valued is, as they say, priceless.


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