IT talent: The 3 C's for life/work balance

Looking to land your dream job? In the second of this two-part series, executive recruiter Ken Ferguson describes the most important lifestyle factors to consider
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Early in my 40-year IT executive search and technical recruiting career, I noticed that when candidates made decisions about which jobs to accept, their evaluation criteria often differed from what they initially told me.

Over time, a pattern emerged, which led me to create a construct I call the “6 C's,” a tool to help candidates clarify their priorities and make more rational, objective decisions. 

The 6 C's has two categories of criteria – Job Satisfaction and Lifestyle – with three criteria each as follows:

Job satisfaction

  • Content
  • Career
  • Culture


  • City
  • Commute
  • Compensation

The Job Satisfaction group of criteria is discussed in a previous post. In this one, we’ll focus on the Lifestyle criteria.


Lifestyle criteria are more tangible than job satisfaction criteria – you can measure the distance of a commute or a percentage of travel, for example, and factor these into your decision to accept a role.

[ Want to know more about a key data science role? Read Data science engineer: A day in the life. ]

I suspect that candidates initially focus on this group because a problem with any of these criteria is easily identifiable and feels like something real they can solve.


The city a role is in was an important criterion as it determines many lifestyle factors – weather, cost of living, cultural activities, educational opportunities, and recreation. 

Are you willing to relocate? Can you relocate? If so, where? Why?

Although relocation vastly increases the market for their skills, in my experience, no matter how attractive an opportunity (hook) in a new city is, most people have at least one of four anchors that ties them to their current location: they love their house, their partner has a great business/position, kids are in high school, and most critically, proximity to family and friends. 

While remote and hybrid work has drastically reduced the need to relocate for a career opportunity, it can still be a requirement or the smart thing to do, especially for high-level executive roles. Many organizations prefer to have C-suite execs physically present to maximize connection and collaboration. From a candidate’s perspective, physical face-time increases their influence, which impacts future career prospects. 


People develop strong community and social bonds within their neighborhoods, schools, etc., and despite the negative health consequences, time, and monetary costs, most will tolerate some degree of commuting. While remote/hybrid work has made commuting less of a factor, it remains a key lifestyle concern in large cities as more people return to the office.  

Depending on where you live and the location of local employers, if your maximum commute limits your options too much, you could consider moving close to the new job. It’s usually easier to find a nice place to live than a position that meets your job satisfaction criteria, so if those are your top priority, this makes sense. You stay in your preferred city and solve the commute problem.  

Alternatively, suppose lifestyle criteria are more important to you at this stage. In that case, you can consider only remote or hybrid roles, accepting that this limitation may have long-term promotion/career implications.

Travel is a significant lifestyle/family issue to clarify in your 6 C's. How many nights are you willing to be away from home each week? This number can be quite high for consultants or high-level executives with far-flung global operations.  

Fortunately, the need to travel has been greatly reduced by virtual meetings, so you’ll need to determine how that works in any company you are considering. 

Also, determine whether travel requirements are “dedicated” (you don’t have a choice of when or where) or “discretionary” (you choose when and where). 


This is a big one. Compensation and benefits are not just lifestyle issues. Although these have virtually nothing to do with how much we enjoy our time at work or how far and fast we advance our careers, they carry a lot of psychological value in our culture because they feed ego and self-esteem. 

Few people who love their job, have great career prospects, work for a wonderful boss, and have a short commute will move simply for the money. Conversely, many are looking to leave high-paying jobs because their boss is a jerk, the commute is too long, or their skills are outdated. 

Many candidates initially cite compensation as their top criterion to make a move. Still, I have yet to meet a candidate who would accept a position sight unseen without knowing specific details of the job’s other C's. Big money or great benefits have never made a bad job good.  

Compensation comes to mind first because it is tangible, measurable, and has psychological power, but underlying its number-one ranking is the assumption that all the other criteria are met. 

Like everything else, compensation and benefits for a specific role are determined by an ever-changing marketplace. Factors include supply/demand for your skills at a given time, the strength of your skills relative to others, the specific location, the industry, company size, and profitability.

“Am I being paid fairly relative to my peers inside and outside the company in the local marketplace with similar skills, experience, and responsibilities?” It is unreasonable to expect more or to accept less. Typically, managers come up with a fair salary for new hires based on two markets.

The first is the external market: What are other companies paying people at the same level with the same skills?

If they pay too little, people will leave; paying too much unnecessarily reduces profits. Plenty of information is available online regarding the current “market value” of any skill or position, making it easy for companies to stay on top of the external market. That also means that an engineer at Company A probably earns a similar salary to an engineer at Company B.

Also, keep in mind that bigger companies can usually afford to offer more generous compensation/benefit plans than smaller companies. On the other hand, smaller companies have the potential to grow more quickly, which can lead to more career opportunities. Both scenarios are worth considering.

The second market managers consider is the internal market: How do the new hire’s skills compare to those of the existing employees?

The goal is to ensure that each person on the team is paid fairly relative to other team members. Managers should assume that their team members will learn about each other’s salaries (some companies even publish all employee salaries, and some governments require it). In management roles, there is a floor and a ceiling: You will earn less than your boss and more than your reports.

The late Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, commissioned a study on happiness, which showed that, above a certain level, money didn’t make people any happier. However, monetary inequities that they perceived as unjustified made people unhappy. Think of the MVP superstar athlete, for example, who wants to renegotiate their $20M contract or be traded when the #3 player signs for $25M. This is the kind of situation managers try to avoid.

If companies use this external/internal market approach to determining salaries, you might think there is little room for negotiation. However, candidates who can demonstrate their skills and expertise in a compelling way that suggests that they are coming in at a higher level than others on the team may be able to justify a higher starting salary.

Benefits are a different matter: Typically, a standard set of options are offered to all employees. Exceptions might include hybrid/remote work and other team-specific arrangements.

Applying the 6 C's

How can you apply the 6 C’s to a job offer decision? With a spreadsheet, of course!

Start by listing the key criteria, or the 6 C’s, in the rows. Place higher-priority items higher on the list to receive a greater weight on the decision.

Then establish three columns, each one a different version of the criteria:

  • Column 1: Your current role
  • Column 2: Your ideal (the unicorn job that may or may not exist)
  • Column 3: A PMP, or Positive Minimum Plan – not ideal, perhaps, but enough better than your current role that you would resign for it

Next, compare your offer to your PMP. (This can be difficult because, as discussed, the Job Satisfaction criteria are intangible, and you can’t accurately evaluate them until you are months into a new role.)

There is never a perfect match for your PMP, so be prepared to compromise on the less-important criteria.

The company's perspective

Company leaders, just like candidates, apply sets of criteria to make hiring decisions. Their criteria have minimum acceptable standards and priority rankings. They also try to assess intangibles, and they compromise on the lower-ranking criteria.

It is good for companies to compromise because if a candidate matches their criteria perfectly, that suggests that the candidate is already doing the same job at the same level in a similar company. That suggests they are not making a significant career move and have limited room to grow their skills. The upshot? The new hire will quickly get bored, move on, and need to be replaced.

Smart managers hire to a 70 percent match level. This provides immediate productivity, yet the new hire still has enough to learn to stay challenged.

For this reason, companies often overpay new employees in the beginning (or perhaps “prepay” is a better term). They do this because new hires don’t necessarily have more skills than before they started, but the assumption is that they will rise to the new job level quickly.


In our society, it is common to comparison-shop to make sure we are getting the best available deal. While this may be easy to do when, say, you’re choosing a new shirt, job offers are different – we need to make thoughtful decisions based strictly on the merits of each one.

This is where the 6 C’s spreadsheet can help. It provides two clear perspectives: your current position and how it lines up with your 6C’s, and the new job and how it lines up with your PMP 6C’s.

MBA programs teach this decision methodology to help companies make acquisition decisions: Set the criteria and buy the first one that matches. Don’t worry about what might or might not become available after you’ve achieved your established goal.


In the real world, neither perfect candidates nor perfect positions exist, so compromise is inevitable. 

Consider that each candidate has 6 C’s they are trying to match. They also have certain skills, education, experience, and personality attributes to offer. At the same time, the company has its set of criteria, and the role offers its own requirements and opportunities. That’s a lot of variables. The odds are slim that all these criteria will align precisely.

Ultimately, both sides do their best to ascertain the tangibles and make a leap of faith on the intangibles. Because people are adaptable, things usually work out just fine.

In my experience, those who get the most satisfaction from career moves can make objective, rational decisions based on prior planning, focus on learning and growing, and assume the best rather than fearing the worst. And if things don’t work out, it’s not a failure but a new experience.

[ 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.