Guess I have been hanging around anal Silicon Valley engineering types way too long.

For those living outside tech hubs in California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona, New York, Massachusetts, Muenchen etc., geeks adore their charts, numbers and “data points.” They don’t do “nuance” or “ballpark” estimates; just the facts mam to the exact nanosecond or at least eight digits after the decimal point. That’s good calibration.

Microsoft is naturally populated with gear-heads, in fact thousands of them. They invented Word for documents, PowerPoint for presentations, but more to the point they created Excel spread sheets so we can populate these grids and columns with numbers and data points.

Why can’t senior public relations, media and marketing pros with liberal arts degrees use these same spread-sheet tools to weigh competing paths to determine the best course for our careers? We have all read about the jobless recovery nationwide and worldwide. Some are even suggesting that systemic European-style double-digit unemployment will be the new norm. I am much more optimistic.

In the last decade we experienced a severe labor shortage with a corresponding talent attraction and retention crisis. We should be prepared for a paradigm shift (there’s an oldie, but a goodie) from a Seller’s (employer) market to a Buyer’s (employee) market. Don’t be surprised if the days of multiple offers are right over the horizon.

Humor me. Let’s say that you have two competing offers. Will you simply just compare salaries and benefits and then consider who will be your boss and what will be your responsibilities? That’s not how an engineer would approach it.

The geeky engineer would get out his or her Excel spread sheet and create (at least) three columns: the first for the issue to be assessed, analyzed, probed and scrutinized; the second for prospective employer “A”; and the third for prospective employer “B.”

Filling in the data points on the spread sheet, let’s first compare the competing offers from Employer “A” and Employer “B.” Now factor in benefits (e.g. medical, dental, vision, IRA). Okay, let’s include bonus and related percentage of salary. Is the bonus paid yearly? Twice yearly?

Are both companies, private? If so, what are the chances that either or both will ever go public, and if so, is there an equity incentive for you?

Are both companies publicly traded? Or is one publicly traded and the other is not? What is the stock price and performance of the public company’s shares? What are the analysts saying?

Will you be given the opportunity to participate in ESPP (Employee Stock Purchase Plan) and offered stock options? Does that mean that opting for a publicly traded company is better than working for a privately held company or even a non-profit? Not so fast my friend. Maybe the privately held company will be acquired or opt for its own IPO. Or maybe it will just stand alone?

What will be your cumulative income including salary, benefits, stock compensation, employer IRA contribution etc after two years with Employer A and then Employer B?

What are the internal risks to the two jobs? Are you going to be pressured to drum up new business and reach set quotas? What are the consequences of not succeeding whether or not you have any influence (e.g. massive recession)? What are the external risks associated with the jobs? For example, could Employer A be acquired? Could Employer B come under severe scrutiny by the SEC? Every employer has rumors that go with them. What is being said on the grapevine?

Don’t just read the lines; read in-between the lines.

Now let’s add housing, weather and transportation to the spread sheet. Do you have to move? Will you be offered relocation? What are the living costs in one locale vs. another? What are the differences in culture and climate? Can you (and your family, if applicable) handle extreme heat? Endure bitter cold? Tolerate frequent rain and gloom?

Here’s a big one for many: How long is your commute and are there any alternatives to battling other drivers in a slow parade to-and-from work every day. Let’s say it takes you one hour on the average to commute in the morning and ditto for the afternoon. That translates into two hours each day, 10 hours each week, 40 hours each month and approximately 480 hours each year…you just lost 20 days of your year to commuting…How much is that worth to you in terms of not only wear and tear on your vehicle, but wear and tear on you? Does $20,000 sound right or about $1,000 for each day ($125 per hour) that you are losing to unproductive commuting?

Probably the most important contrast is where are you going to be career-wise with Employer “A” in five years compared to the same amount of time with Employer “B?” Assuming a positive working environment, what can you reasonably expect to be doing in five years with Employer A vs. what is your career path during the same time period with Employer B?

And let’s not forget what is the reputation and brand management history of the two prospective employers? Are you comfortable with the two stories, or one over the other, or neither of them? And do you want to be telling this story and building this brand for the next year, the next two years…

What do you want to be? Where do you want to be? What will be your quality of life? When and if the time comes to make a key employment, career and lifestyle decision, a geeky spread sheet may be the most important item in your tool kit.

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