Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
October 7, 2019

Making Your Next Move: The Three Fs of Job Selection

Recently, I visited over lunch with a friend who happens to be an accomplished CEO. She was contemplating her next career move and seeking my advice.

It may surprise you to know that even the most effective and decisive leaders often struggle to make such a decision at crucial pivot points in their careers. Let me begin by saying I recognize that she, and other executives I reference, are in a privileged position to have an array of promising career options available to them. She, for example, had been torn between accepting an opportunity to join a dynamic, fast-paced, tech startup as the chief executive officer or to pursue a senior management position at a well-established global company. The first option offered room for immense personal and professional growth and the second offered financial security and stability. She was conflicted — which job was the right one? I watched as this normally decisive leader hemmed and hawed over the choice at hand.

My line of work allows me to engage with countless executives facing this same conundrum: Should she invest in a small business or tackle the next, bigger corporate job? Should he accept a promotion to the C-suite or transition into a portfolio of part-time board roles that allow for more time to be spent with family?

The question at the root of these decisions is consistent throughout: What does it really mean to you to have a rewarding job and a great career? What aspects of a job matter most to you?

What makes answering this question so tough for most of us is that our personal goals are often at odds with one another and they tend to shift over time. Making sacrifices or tradeoffs between important considerations is unnerving and challenging. To bring some order to your thinking, I offer a simple but hopefully helpful framework — the 3-F ratio (more on this in a moment) which can help an individual evaluate a career opportunity when applied over a four-year horizon. Why four years? Research suggests that the average job tenure is just over five years, so four-year horizon tends to be the easiest to envision and the most practical to execute given career and personal situations.

The 3-F ratio: Articulating your priorities

So, how do you use the 3-F ratio? Begin by imagining you have 100 points to divvy up when considering what you want out of a job at any time. Then, allocate all your points across the three categories: freedom, finance and fulfillment. Your point allocation will determine where you lie within the pyramid.

Freedom is self-explanatory, referring to the ability to make decisions about your own work and define the boundaries between your work and other aspects of your life (e.g., the ability to control your schedule and plan around outside interests). Sometimes jobs that appear to offer freedom actually have little. As one friend once quipped, “My job allows me to work from anywhere when I need to. In reality, this means I work from everywhere all the time.”

Fulfillment (fun + purpose) can be interpreted in several different ways. It could mean any of the following — literally having fun at work, feeling challenged, contributing to a larger purpose, driving a project or business, or collaborating with co-workers. At its core, fulfillment is about getting intrinsic satisfaction from the work you do in some form.

Finance is the potential to earn compensation — in any form — adjusted for risk.


At this point you are probably saying, “Of course I care a lot about ALL of these dimensions.” We all likely do. But, if you were forced to make choices in a world of imperfect options, how would you select? Pause and force yourself to think about tradeoffs. Inquire with family and friends who know you well — do they see your actions reflecting the motivations you articulate? A colleague suggested I add a fourth dimension to the framework — how the job positions you for the future. While I agree this is an important assessment of a job, understanding your own willingness to trade instant gratification for some future payout ultimately (I believe) still falls across the same three dimensions. However, because many over- or underestimate the risk or benefit of a role for the future, I wanted to be explicit about it.

To help prioritize between the three categories and how many points you wish to allot, consider how you would select among the following three categories:

Category A

Category B

Category C

I like having a consistent paycheck and the opportunity for financial advancement.

I would trade additional compensation for more personal time – either vacation or during the week.

Pay comes second to purpose. Feeling passionate about the work I do and the cause I am behind is what motivates and energizes me.

Work is meant to be hard. Working hard provides you with the financial means necessary to enjoy personal interests, especially later in life.

It is most important to me that I am active in my family and my community. This requires me to plan around work commitments and ensure that work and life are separate.

I don’t mind how hard or long I work – it is all about making an impact on the world or getting in the zone and feeling fulfilled.

I want to do something where I feel like I am compensated directly for the value I bring to the position and that my position title reflects the hard work I have put into getting to where I am now.

I want to do something where I have the autonomy to make my own decisions and don’t have to report to others on a consistent basis.

I want to do something that feels like a mission or a party and will prioritize these benefits.


If you align more with the first category, consider about allocating more points to finance. If you align more with the second, freedom and if the third, fulfillment. This is an imperfect guide, but it may help you start to consider where you lean in a world of imperfect options.

The importance of due diligence

Now that you have assessed yourself and plotted your job priorities on the pyramid, step two is applying the findings to determine which job opportunity is right for you. To do so, consider the following questions to get an accurate picture of the potential new role and how it aligns with your core motivations. Some of the most frustrating conversations we have with CEOs, board members and C-suite executives relate to unmet expectations: The person has made a choice thinking they were prioritizing in a certain way, but their due diligence was insufficient to truly identify whether the role or company would deliver as expected. So, we offer the following as a guide to help you consider whether an opportunity really aligns with your career priorities:

If you land closest to finance, questions you should be asking and characteristics you should focus on include:

  • What is the risk-adjusted financial picture of the role in the timeframe that matters to you?
  • What are the non-financial rewards you may expect — medical benefits, retirement plans, etc.?
  • How has the compensation plan performed in recent history?
  • Is there room for financial growth? How are bonus amounts and equity shares allocated?
  • Have you spoken with the CFO or a finance executive? Have you read analyst reports and understood your expectations for the company’s performance?

If you land closer to freedom, questions you should be asking and characteristics you should focus on include:

  • Will I have autonomy in defining this position? Will I be allowed the freedom to choose how I work and where I work?
  • Do I report to a superior? If so, what is that person’s expectations and role in leading me?
  • Will I be able to keep my commitments that I have outside of work? Or, will I have to sacrifice those if I take this position?
  • Is the role or company focused on how things get done or that they get done? Can I redefine work processes or is consistency critical?

If you land closer to fulfillment, questions you should be asking and characteristics you should focus on include:

  • What do your day-to-day responsibilities look like in this job?
  • What is your manager’s communication style? How do they set objectives, develop/coach employees, deal with stress and make decisions?
  • Ask your future manager (or the board if a CEO role) to walk through a recent, important decision and how the decision was taken. It is often illuminating to understand how you may fit into that.
  • Does the mission of the company excite you? Do you believe you are contributing to a larger cause by taking this position?
  • How does the team or company get work done? Is work driven by committees, councils, task forces or individual contributors?
  • Is it an organization known for perfection or trial and error?

Lastly, if you are considering turning down all the currently available options to be open for other, potentially better opportunities, consider the “arrival rate” of your ideal job. For example, if you want to be a CEO of a large company and don’t want to relocate, determine how many of those jobs exist and the likelihood of turnover over some period of time. Does such an opportunity represent a-once-in-a-lifetime probability absent the willingness to relax a constraint like company size or location? Or, are new opportunities more likely to emerge every six months? Understanding the availability of opportunities will help you consider whether to take the plunge into the known or push off the decision.

No matter what you decide to do next, if you approach these decisions with clear thinking and the ability to articulate what your genuine goals are, you are one step closer to landing the right job. Researchers have found that finding meaning in one’s work, regardless of how you extract meaning, is shown to increase motivation, engagement, empowerment, satisfaction and performance, and to decrease apathy and stress. Having a firm grasp on your core motivations will also help you know when to consider leaving a position or company — either because what matters most to you has shifted and you need to discover a new way to fulfill your aspirations or because the role or company has not met your expectations. If you find yourself in either situation, then it’s time to return to your own career North Star.

Jason Baumgarten helps organizations across industries to find and assess CEOs who drive results and inspire senior leadership teams to perform at the highest levels. He also works with boards on director recruitment, CEO succession and identifying next-generation leadership. Reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn