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The 4 C's of a Career Move

November 1, 2010
by Tim Tolan
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Four Measures Candidates Should Use When Evaluating a Career Move
Tim Tolan
Tim Tolan

If you've ever shopped for a diamond you're probably familiar with the 4 C's, the industry standard of measuring a diamond's value. We all know the 4 C's as cut, color, clarity, and carat. A universal measure, the 4 C's can help determine a diamond's value before making a purchasing decision. Clarity relates to existence and appearance of the internal characteristics of a diamond, while carat refers to the diamond's weight. Cut is all about the angles and proportions of a diamond; color is an attribute that actually refers to the colorless nature of the stone, with each diamond graded on a color scale to determine its value.

Simple enough, right? Maybe not!

Without an informed knowledge of each of these categories, a buyer could make a huge mistake by investing too much money, and later their precious diamond's value may not add up. It's no surprise, then, that the 4 C's have become the most useful tool at the consumer's disposal, and the best way to avoid making a financial blunder when purchasing what should be a superior piece of jewelry.

Last week I had a close friend (not in healthcare IT) ask me for career advice. He's contemplating a career move and asked for my opinion on what he should consider next. I started thinking about how candidates should have a standard to measure the potential value of any new career-a different definition of the 4 C's, but one just as crucial to making an informed decision.

These are the boxes I told him to check before making the plunge:

Culture: This one can be very hard for an outsider to read. I always recommend that new recruits speak with current employees to really get an understanding of the culture of the company. I also suggest that candidates ask the hiring manager a couple of key questions during the interviewing process: What is it like to work for you? What is your management style? The answers-coupled with the intelligence gained from employees-should give you a fairly good read on what it's like to work for a particular company. This is the single most important “C” in my book.

Career Progression: How will this position help you attain your career objectives five or six years from now? Whatever you do, you should make sure you find a role that matches your career goals and puts you closer to reaching your long-term objectives. Making a move for 5 to 8 percent more money is not career progression, and while it may increase your W-2 at the end of the year, it might not give you the chance to move towards your long-term career goals.

Chemistry: How was the interaction between you and the hiring manager? How did it make you feel? Have you had multiple interactions with that person, or just a one-hour interview? You can't always size up a person by meeting with them for an hour. I always like to schedule a post-interview, outside-of-the-office follow-up meeting so candidates can meet the hiring manager for lunch or dinner, or in some other social setting. Missing the mark on chemistry can prove to be a very painful experience, so if you don't have a good feeling about working for this individual, the position is probably not going to work out.

Compensation: I always recommend that candidates check this box last when evaluating a new opportunity. If all the other elements under consideration are positive, then-usually-the ability to make sure the compensation works should be within striking distance. Another point that needs to be driven home is to be sure you're not chasing compensation as the key component of the move. A good offer should increase your base salary and give you sufficient upside on variable compensation if you hit your targets. Money, while clearly important, should not be the end-all. If you choose money over the other elements of your decision, you may find yourself with more money in your pocket at the end of every month, but overwhelmed and in total misery if you don't check the other boxes first.

Remember, diamonds are forever, but making the wrong career decision can be life-changing. Don't make a move without using the 4 C's, or you may end up with far less bang for your buck; you may realize that under a bright light, an opportunity may not have the same brilliance you thought it did.

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2010 November;27(11):56