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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 23, 2019
Question

Will joining a company with a mediocre brand hurt my career?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

I received a strong offer from a company. The role is excellent, but the company is boring & moderately successful. Will joining a company with a sleepy/mediocre brand hurt my career?

When assessing a job opportunity, there are two important areas of inquiry and examination to help candidates determine the viability of a new position:

1. How will this opportunity help me move forward in achieving my career goals?
2. How does this opportunity align with my values that are core to my personal and professional happiness?

In your situation, you have a strong offer that includes an excellent role…but the company is unexceptional. So will a company with an average/unknown brand hurt your career and future marketability if you take the job? Does company brand even matter?

Generally speaking, lackluster company brands do not sabotage candidacies in the legal profession if other valued factors are present including: excellent…and relevant experience, strong interpersonal skills, acceptable credentials, good presentation/interview skills, a good reputation etc.

With this said, there are exceptions. In some instances, company brand can play a more compromising role when: (1) joining a company in a vastly different industry than the one you’d like to pursue in the future (i.e. joining a food/beverage or life sciences company when you want to maintain marketability for software or social media); (2) the company is a fierce competitor of the company to which you’d like to apply (especially when they’ve had contentious litigation); and (3) being affiliated with a patent troll or other negatively viewed entity.

**As a side note, while mediocre company brands won’t typically spike a candidacy, a superb brand can enhance a candidacy quite a bit-and is a strong factor when evaluating job prospects.

As you assess the viability and attractiveness of your current opportunity, you’ll need to analyze how the position will advance your career, how it will facilitate personal and professional happiness and what negative impact may result from working at this ho hum company. And then weigh your conclusions.

Regarding career advancement potential, answer the following questions about this opportunity:

• Is there a compensation increase?
• Is there a title elevation?
• Is there a more appealing reporting structure?
• Will you manage anyone?
• Will you enhance and/or diversify your experience? If so, how?
• Does the company allow you to transition into a more desirable industry?
• Does the company allow you to move to a more preferred company status (i.e. public, private, international, bigger, smaller)
• Do you like the culture and the people?
• Do you like the person who would be your boss?
• How important is it to you to work at a “hot, sexy, well branded” company?
• What type of opportunities will this role position you for in 2-5 years? Do these prospects appeal to you?
• Is there a chance this “moderately successful” company could go under, get acquired or undergo mass layoffs?

Next, assess how the aspects of this opportunity align with your values for happiness. If they do, how? Are there any that do not? If so, what are they? Are any misalignments deal breakers or can you be flexible and still preserve happiness?

Finally, think about the company itself. Is “boring” ok if you are in a great role? Are you ok with the risks associated with a “moderately successful” company? Is the brand just “Blah” or does it fit into one of the three exceptions above? If it’s an exception, how negative is it when weighed against the career advancement and happiness factors?

After you’ve gone through this exercise, work through your thoughts again and then take some time away from the issue to let things percolate. Then revisit and go with your gut.

In an opportunity-rich legal market, selecting the right job can be stressful and at times…confusing given all the factors to consider. A company’s brand can influence marketability, but rarely will it destroy it. So assess all the factors in front of you…and the clearest choice will emerge.

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Comments

David Boundy, ,

When I saw the caption on the article, I had the same thoughts that I now see in Julie's article. A "boring" brand has no downside for your career (except the opportunity cost, if you had an otherwise-equal offer from a company with a high value brand -- as Julie notes, reflected glow can have a big upside). I have several friends who have built really nice legal careers in boring companies (the legal issues can be fascinating and cutting edge, even if the product is boring), and used good years in boring companies as a springboard to other positions. The only time I've seen this play out badly is when the company's reputation is not boring, because it's affirmatively bad. Julie lists a few examples. Other examples include a company in a sleazy industry. A company that has "bad boy" reputation in its industry. Etc. A lawyer's single most valuable asset is integrity and judgment -- and the quickest way someone can get an quick but objective read on those two is the company you keep.

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