Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Conan O’Brien Made a Smart Career Decision and So Can You

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“In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”—Conan O’Brien

This is not a joke. Despite looking a bit…well unshaven…over the past few months, Conan O’Brien did not oversleep and play the world’s greatest April Fool’s Day prank 12 days too late when he announced he was going to host a late night talk show on basic cable.  It is indeed all true.  Come November, Coco, as he is affectionately called, will become latest addition to TBS, the station whose biggest claim to fame are marathons of Friends, Seinfeld, Family Guy and Office repeats, Tyler Perry shows and a George Lopez late night gab fest.  And while it doesn’t sound it, as Alan Sepinwall said in the Star-Ledger, the decision may have been the smartest career choice O’Brien has ever made.

Many expected Conan O’Brien to jump ship to Fox, the only major network without a late night talk show.  But Fox has never succeeded with previous late night entries (Joan Rivers, Chevy Chase, Magic Johnson) and affiliates were not supportive of the move, believing repeats of Simpsons and Seinfeld were a safer ratings bet.  Like NBC, these affiliates wanted to stick with the familiar, rather than the unsure.  If Fox could get Conan, the affiliates would have probably let up, only to immediately complain if Coco didn’t promptly deliver.  There would be so much pressure for Conan to beat Jay Leno that anything less than immediate success would be viewed as utter failure. A reputation was on the line.

Conan weighed his options.  He looked at his choices and thought about the company culture, the company’s history and the company’s commitment and felt that Fox would be as big a headache as NBC. He looked at TBS and saw a company looking to grow, looking to take risks and already demonstrating a commitment by sticking with George Lopez in his late night talk show.  He looked around and saw college kids watching Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network while cheering Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and realized that’s where his audience was.  He saw no affiliates calling for his head. He saw a subscription based cable system that allowed him to earn more money than Fox could offer.  As one of only a few sources of original material, he saw a network devoted to making him happy.  And because cable ratings are viewed differently from broadcast television ratings, he also saw an opportunity to succeed without having to beat Leno.  In short, Conan did his homework before rushing into making a hasty decision and made the right choice.

These lessons apply to the job search.  Just because you work for the #1 ranked consulting firm doesn’t mean that when you are fired, you have to work for the #2 consulting firm.  There are options.  Pay attention to your choices.  Research companies, create a list of pros and cons and then make an informed decision.  In the end, it’s YOU that needs to be happy with your decision.


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