Hackernoon logoHow To Evaluate New Opportunities by@poornima

How To Evaluate New Opportunities

Poornima Vijayashanker Hacker Noon profile picture

@poornimaPoornima Vijayashanker


At the start of a new year, we might receive a message from somebody via social media, email, referrals, or in everyday meetings peaking our curiosity about a new opportunity.

Whether we’re happy with our current job or looking for a fresh start, there is no harm in exploring other opportunities as they arise.

I know some folks won’t even take a call because they consider it to be a waste of time. But I like to know what’s out there. It also gives me a chance to network with folks, and I timebox such conversations to about an hour late every Friday afternoon.

What we miss out on when we say YES

While a number of opportunities may seem promising, we have to say no in order to focus and have the time and energy to welcome the opportunities we truly want.

For example, recently I took a call with a founder. I took the call because it was a chance to meet someone new, he was highly recommended, and I was genuinely curious to learn about what he was working on to see if I could help in any way.

Half-way through the call, he cut to the chase and said that he was looking to bring me on to lead their engineering team. I thanked him for reaching out and told him that I wasn’t interested because I am very happy running my startup.

I knew the opportunity wasn’t right for me because I know what I want and don’t want.

Start by being clear about what you want to do

At the end of every year, I sit down, take a look at the work I’ve done, what I enjoyed doing, what was successful, what made may have been difficult initially but helped me grow professionally, and what wasn’t worth my time or energy.

As I take stock, I’ll start to see themes emerge.

For me, the intersection is doing the following:

  • Speaking
  • Teaching or Mentoring
  • Writing

Within each of these categories the topics were varied: marketing, recruiting, engineering, product development, company formation, and entrepreneurship. The specifics didn’t matter.

What matters is that I feel fulfilled doing these things.

So if someone comes around and offers me an opportunity where I’d be spending less than 50% of my time doing any of these 3 things, I know that I have to decline it.

Factor in environment, enrichment, and compensation

We’ve been led to believe that each of these criteria is at odds with each other: we find an environment that has a positive culture, cares about enriching our professional growth, but the compensation isn’t great. Or the compensation is amazing but the work is soul-sucking.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the vast majority of opportunities are like this, but the notion that that’s all that exists is false.

Opportunities that do provide all three exist, part of the challenge is taking the time to find them, or to ask for what you need.

Iron out any ambiguity

I know gaining a level of clarity is hard and takes time. If you’re not sure what it is you love to do, that’s OK. Know that you can also do the converse. But, you must at least know what you HATE to do.

Start by finding out exactly what people are looking for you to do, not just the goal or the carrot they’re dangling in front of you.

Have them be as explicit as possible when it comes to the projects you’ll be working, what the role looks like in the long term, what the environment is like, how open they are to career enrichment, how they evaluate compensation, and how much flexibility and freedom one person has.

Ambiguity only leads to mental anguish! If you have even an iota of doubt, iron it out.

Before I say yes to any opportunity, I make sure I understand the specifics and even assess people’s level of professionalism. If they give me the run around on a decision, withhold information, seem to be working off of a script, or are just telling me what I want they think I want to hear, then I thank them for their time and move on.

I also need a lot of freedom and flexibility, so I’ll test the bounds of what they’re willing to provide.

I’ve coached a number of people who initially said yes to an opportunity only to regret their decision weeks, months, or years later. I have them trace their regret back, and what they uncover is usually a point where they didn’t take the time to understand expectations or the nature of the work they’d be doing.

I also discover that their judgment gets clouded when they are overcome with a sense of urgency, either by being put on a tight deadline to make a decision, needing to pay the bills, FOMO, or wanting to settle, thinking that nothing better would come around.

If they had just taken a timeout or slept on it, they would have realized that it wasn’t the right decision for them, or it would have caused them to have doubt and ask some follow-up questions.

While these questions won’t guarantee a positive outcome, they will give you more information, and show others that you have set high standards for what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Too good to be true?

You may be presented with an opportunity that you feel is EXACTLY what you’ve wanted, which is great news!

So why haven’t you taken it?

Well, you’re probably thinking, “It’s just too good to be true!” “I don’t deserve it…” “I might not be able to live up to people’s expectations.”


Someone offers you something and you turn them down?

If you’ve combed the fine print, played hardball with them, and now it’s time to sign on the dotted line, then sign on the freakin’ dotted line!

Too often we trick ourselves out of taking opportunities even after we’ve put in a great amount of time and energy into evaluating them.

I have officially run out of fingers for the number of people I have recommended and referred to amazing companies, only to find out that they backed out in the end because they were “not ready”.

Barring life circumstances that may conflict, take the opportunity!

Yes, there will, of course be other opportunities that come around again and again, but readiness is an illusion and a great excuse for fear.

The reason we’ll never be fully ready is because every opportunity has a level of uncertainty, some setbacks, and provides us with room to grow. So if you know you want it, and you can visualize what success looks like, then go for it!

Remember, it’s OK to be unsure about new opportunities. You might not know exactly what you want, but if you know what you don’t want, that helps. The key is, to be honest with yourself about your needs and to also not stand in the way of your own success if the opportunity truly is something you’ve been wanting.

I’d love to hear about the last time you said yes to an opportunity, how did you evaluate it, and how did it turn out? Let me know in the comments below!

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