5 Reasons Not to “Obsess” Over an Single Employer

“Matt, you’ve got to help me.  There’s this one company I’d kill to work for and I need your help landing a job there…”

Many folks have come to me over the years, making statements like the one above, and in almost every case my reaction is the same.  It sends shivers up my spine.  While it may fly in the face of the standard “aim high and follow your dreams” advice that permeates so many career advice circles, my experience over the years leads me to believe that it is generally NOT a good idea for a job hunter to focus solely on getting hired by a single employer.  Or even to focus any significant portion of their time and effort in such a direction.

At the end of the day, as much as you may have heard great things about REI, Tableau Software, the Gates Foundation and similar organizations, and as much as you may believe in your heart of hearts that working for one of these places would bring you nothing but boundless career happiness, there are some hidden traps involved that you need to contemplate.  Here’s a short list of the things I’d encourage you to consider:

1)  Statistically speaking, let’s be honest.  Given the increasingly specialized nature of the marketplace, it’s highly unlikely that the “company of your dreams” just so happens to have a need for your exact talents right at the moment.  So even if you did manage to get an audience with somebody there, and convince them that you’re all that and a bag of chips, they just might not have an immediate business need that fits your qualifications.

2)  The competition level for such places is usually off the charts, since unless you’re fantasizing about some really unusual, off-the-beaten-path organization, you’re likely one of thousands of people in the local market who are also gunning after that exact same employer.  The Gates Foundation, again, is a good example.  Many folks I meet act like this is some sort of “sleeper pick” in terms of a place they’d want to work, when in reality, it’s the single most sought-after organization by far throughout the Seattle area.  So don’t give up hope by any means, but make sure to manage your expectations, too, since you’re going to be up against some stiff competition from other folks pursuing a similar dream.

3)  On a related note, folks who get overly enamored of a given employer also expose themselves to the risk of a major confidence hit if they end up not having any success gaining traction with their employer of choice.  And since confidence is a huge part of a successful job hunt, setting yourself up in this way, emotionally, can really hurt your chances of having success in other avenues of your job search.  So dream big, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get hired at one place that you start to perceive any other opportunity as a failure or letdown.  Try to maintain a mindset of “cautious optimism” instead.

4)  Next, there’s the disillusionment factor to consider.  Are you sure the company in question is deserving of your adoration?   I’ve had numerous clients end up landing jobs with organizations they thought would be wonderful places to work, only to discover that the day-to-day experience within these companies wasn’t as glamorous, enriching, or satisfying as hoped.  So while there are definitely places that treat their employees in marvelous and dignified fashion, it’s pretty hard to tell this from the outside looking in, since so much of the “we value our employees” language that gets tossed around can turn out to be PR fluff.  So don’t believe everything you read.  Ask around and find some employers that get really good marks from those who have actually worked in the trenches there.

5)  Lastly, I’d stress that focusing on a single, solitary “dream employer” is just bad marketing strategy, plain and simple.  It’s like somebody on the dating circuit saying “I will only go out with Brad Pitt” or a company saying “we’ll only sell our services to Microsoft, nobody else” or some similar notion.  It’s silly.  And greatly limits your field of possibilities.  It’s far wiser, I’ve found, to diversify your job hunt to a greater degree and capitalize on the fact that there are over 100,000 other employers in the Puget Sound area (as an example) that might be a terrific fit for you, if you just opened up your horizons and gave them a chance.

In closing, let me clarify again — I’m not saying you shouldn’t go about applying to the organizations that have captured your imagination or that you shouldn’t do everything humanly possible to get hired by the companies you fancy most.  Go for it.  Shoot for the moon.  Pull out all the stops and see if you can gain an audience with them.  But at the same time, try to avoid fixating on a single potential employer to the exclusion of all others or letting yourself believe that there’s one and only one place that will provide you with the career satisfaction you’re seeking.  It’s often a trap, both emotionally and professionally.

Anybody out there relate to this or admit to having a “mad crush” on a given employer that they might need to mitigate slightly?

3 Responses to “5 Reasons Not to “Obsess” Over an Single Employer”

  1. (comment received directly from client, published with their permission)

    Matt: I love your blogs and can relate to this one completely. A couple of decades ago, I was lucky to get a job with a small start-up firm (WavTrace). A couple of months after working there, I happened to see a TV interview with Craig McCaw and Bill Gates about a start-up firm these two successful billionaires had started (Teledesic). I was so enamored by these two entrepreneurs’ interview and the story of their start-up that I became fixated on getting a job there. Six months later, I was successful in getting a job at Teledesic. One year after I had been with Teledesic, the firm I left (Wavtrace) got bought over by Harris Corporation and went public, and a few months later, Teledesic – the firm I put all my energy to get a job with, went kaput, and all the stock options I had received with them.

  2. I like what Randy says above about variables. I’ve found that I’ve been able to stay longer than I thought for companies where I had a great boss but had challenges aligning myself with other aspects of the company. I’ve fixated on particular companies before and have both been hired and not. In the end, the fixation did not get me the jobs when I was beelined determined–my attention and qualifications did. Learning to let go of fixation keeps me from having blinders to other opportunities that can be right in front of me.

  3. Everybody is different so it is entirely possible that a person could find joy and happiness driving toward a single employer. Not me, but we’re all diffetent. Seems to me to be both a matter of preference and evaluating risk reward as you suggest in bullet points.

    My experience with employers is they either slowly grow on you or they don’t. But, until I actually worked there I had no way to really know. There are so many variables when you break it down to: departments, culture, people, leadership,the market they are in, and what they actually have you doing which can differ from HR job discriptions. In targeting just one the risks are simply greater is all. A person could surely increase the probability they are right about the firm. That will take time and research.

    I’m one who prefers more eggs in the basket.

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