IT talent: The 3 C's for job satisfaction

Looking to land a new role? Executive recruiter Ken Ferguson explains the most important job satisfaction factors to consider
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In my 40+ years in IT executive search and technical recruiting, I’ve interviewed over 10,000 candidates. I’ve learned about their skills, experience, career goals, frustrations, and priorities. And I’ve used these factors to assess the fit between their aspirations and available opportunities.

I’ve also observed how candidates evaluate job offers and ultimately make “go” or “no-go” decisions. Their evaluation criteria often differ from what they initially told me they were looking for.

Over time, a pattern has emerged. This has led me to create a construct I call the “6 C’s” to help candidates assess opportunities. It includes two main categories – Job Satisfaction and Lifestyle – with three criteria. Here’s how it breaks down:

Job satisfaction

  • Content
  • Career
  • Culture


  • City
  • Commute
  • Compensation

I share the 6 C’s with every candidate to help them clarify their priorities and make more rational, objective decisions.

Job satisfaction

In this article, I'll focus on the Job Satisfaction category and its three criteria. We’ll discuss the Lifestyle category in an upcoming post.

[ Have you ever wondered how data scientists spend their time? Read Data scientist: A day in the life. ]

Job satisfaction criteria determine how happy and engaged you are at work. These criteria are relatively intangible – you can’t see, touch, or measure corporate culture. Unfortunately, no matter how much interviewing and research you do, you likely won’t have a clear sense of these three C’s until you have been in the role for about six months.


This refers to your actual work – what you spend your days doing. If you don’t enjoy your work, or you don’t find it challenging or satisfying, you will likely be unhappy regardless of how high the other C’s rate.

Presumably, you chose your current career because you enjoy the work and are looking for something similar in your next role. What do you love about your current position? What would you like to be different in the new one?

Do you want to move into a new role or industry? If so, why would someone hire you for that role?  A former boss who knows your potential might consider you for a position you have never held, but hiring managers look for a proven track record in function, industry, and/or technology.

However, you can transition to a different function, industry, or field by using your network of contacts and leveraging your skills into a role that’s closely related to where you ultimately want to be.


Most professionals want to grow and advance, take on new challenges, learn new things, and have greater accountability. Few motivated people want to be doing the same thing they’re doing today in five years. Once they’ve mastered their current role, most people want be provided with new challenges.

Determining your motivations – whether they are based on personal interests, prestige, money, boredom, long-term positioning, cool technology, or industry trends – will enable you to better understand your goals and form the questions you need to ask to ensure that you land the right job. That, and knowing the kind of peer group or manager you are looking for, will help you assess the career potential of an opportunity.

Career may be your primary driver if you say, “I love my job and the company, but I’ve been doing it for quite a while, and I'm ready to move up. However, my boss isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so I’m looking for a company where I can at least have the opportunity to move to the next level.” An advanced degree or a significant project win can also open opportunities for growth.


Companies constantly talk about their “corporate culture,” which is an important factor in job satisfaction. Many factors influence corporate culture: company size, public vs. private, profit vs. non-profit, the industry and state of the industry, ownership, growth rate, organizational structure (for example, W.L. Gore’s employee-owned, no bosses, no titles model), and so on. If you’ve worked in different environments, what are your preferences?   

Corporate cultures can change with new leadership or mergers, so be wary of past reputation. The “feel” of a company is also greatly influenced by how well the company is doing financially – even the most favorable environment can turn sour when profits decline.

No matter what HR, the company website, or Glassdoor says, your lived experience of the culture will be determined by the small group of people you’ll work with every day – and most importantly, your manager.

To help determine the group culture, talk to as many team members as possible. Ask challenging questions and use LinkedIn. Reach out to the person who previously held the role to learn about your prospective new boss, keeping in mind that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

For candidates, Job Satisfaction criteria are intangible and difficult to discern from an interview. But so are key attributes of candidates for hiring managers: integrity, reliability, persistence, problem-solving, etc., are revealed through real-world experience. Given the complexity of all these criteria, the odds may seem stacked against any successful job match – but keep in mind that people are highly adaptable.    

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Ken Ferguson is Senior Partner at Berkshire Recruiting Services - IT Technology Recruiters. As an ​IT Recruiter, Career Counselor, Corporate Adviser, and Life Coach​, Ken has over 25 years of IT industry search experience.