“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” As Eric Schmidt once told Sheryl Sandberg when she debated whether or not to join Google, the decision should be that simple.
Every leader will reach a point when an attractive career opportunity looms on the horizon. When you’re in a comfortable space, your salary is good and you enjoy your work and colleagues, how do you know when it’s the right time to take on a new role? Or whether you’ve found your rocket ship?
I had to ask myself these questions before I made the move to my current position as CEO for the North American division of Klarna, a Swedish e-payments company. I know I made the right decision – and I learned a few important lessons along the way.
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1. Get familiar with your inner leader
What makes you excited for work? It’s time to assess and be honest with yourself about what really makes you tick, and let that be your guide.
I’d worked for very established organizations that, because of their size and stature, typically operated at a slower pace than I was interested in. I was ultimately looking for a fast-paced environment where I had control over the strategy and execution – and I’d have only myself to hold accountable for failures and successes.
2. Network, network, network
Think you don’t need to make as much of an effort as you did in your earlier career days? Think again.
At whatever level you find yourself, it can never be said enough: Finding new opportunities comes down to meeting new people. When I was thinking about leaving my previous position, I contemplated starting my own company. I met with as many people as possible to try to gather and share ideas and information. The Midwest, where I’m based, was booming with business and venture capitalists who were starting to look to the market for new concepts.
A contact who was interested in my perspective on the payments industry introduced me to Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski. We hit it off, sharing a similar vision for our industry and how it could be improved.
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3. Ambiguity is your friend
While there may be a very clear job to be done, the route to get there may be paved with ambiguity.
In many executive positions – particularly at entrepreneurial or growth-stage companies, it’s your job to provide clarity to your role and to define and execute strategy. For instance, when I discovered Klarna, there was an opportunity to help the company figure out how to make sense of the North American market. The job description wasn’t completely defined, but it was a problem I was interested in solving and had the skill set for.
Vagueness can be a good thing – as long as you have the willingness and confidence to drive things forward. It’s an opportunity to bring your talents to the table.
4. Consider the company culture
Culture is important. When you come across a special company and group of people who share a similar work ethic and values, it’s a good indicator that you might have found the right fit.
Klarna was an established company, but it felt like a startup. It had the innovative and fast-paced environment I was seeking. The team is focused, and the organization doesn’t succumb to the whims of its highly competitive industry landscape. The executives are seasoned and at the top of their game. All new hires are given a logic test to determine their problem solving ability.
Klarna also believes strongly in keeping its 1,200-person workforce healthy and happy through its wellness program, extended maternity and paternity leave and more. As the father of two young children, this kind of support was important.
The bottom line: You must get to know yourself and the company you’re considering. Determine what’s most important to you. Asking yourself those key questions will help you get there.