Knowing what you’re looking for in a job makes it much easier to find what you want and where that is. You deserve to devote the first part of your job search to clarifying focus on jobs that you can get excited about – those that you find enjoyable, challenging and interesting. So, what are you looking for, anyway? What’s your “dream” job?
Not all are fortunate to know this without some roll-up-the-sleeves work. Sometimes it’s greener-grass syndrome. Some jobs don’t even exist anymore. There’s not much call for a telephone operator or a bowling pin setter these days. Even if the job does exist, is it within the scope of your talents or capabilities? If you want to be a first-time-ballerina at age 45 or a 150-pound professional football player, you may want to rethink your options.
If your dream job is real and you are qualified to fill it, there may still be potential barriers – those that require major changes in your life. If you are used to $90,000 a year covering your expenses, can you afford to take a job that pays $40,000? If you have elderly parents you’re caring for, can you take a job that requires you to be an air warrior with 75% travel?
My point is that the goals you set for yourself in your job search need to hit a useful balance between what you would ideally like to have and what you have a reasonable chance of being hired for, given the big picture.
This is important. You are probably not going to complete this process in a few hours or even a few days. Finding a balance between what you would truly love to do and what you must do to earn a living is a lifetime challenge. I’ve also found with clients (and myself), that priorities shift over time. What you want in your twenties probably won’t be the same in your fifties. Don’t be afraid to reach high, particularly early in your job search. You can always adjust as you continue your exploration. Remember too, that the more excited you are about the job targets you set, the more enthusiasm and energy you’re going to pour into your search. It’s a contagious domino effect.
How do you find what you’re looking for?
Remember when you were a kid, folks asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As an adult, the question becomes, “What exactly do you want your day-to-day job experience to be like?” So, if you could choose your ideal job, what would you actually be doing on a day-to-day basis and under what conditions would you be doing it? Ignore for now, your qualifications or any potential barriers. Would you be working in a small, mid-size or large company? As an entrepreneur? Working as part of team? Doing something noble with the environment, people, animals or a cause? Making big money and as quickly as possible?
Try the following exercise to get you started on exploring what you’d like to be doing in your next job.
1. Inventory Activities
Write down as many activities as you can think of (job-related and otherwise) that you have actually engaged in over the past few years – even the last 20 or more. Try to be as specific as possible. Write down the specific tasks you had to perform. Instead of writing “Assistant Store Manager,” break it down.
- Recruited, hired and supervised new retail associates.
- Led virtual and in-class training classes.
- Set and managed department budgets.
- Mentored staff in merchandising and product trends.
For now, don’t worry about whether you liked the activity. You can make that judgment later. And if you’ve had limited professional experience – returning parent to the workforce or new graduate, for example – write down volunteer or leisure experiences.
- Raised $8,000 for fundraising efforts via silent auction.
- Managed youth hockey team events and practices.
- Provided companionship to assisted living residents.
- Collected and restored antique cars.
Write down as many of these tasks as you can think of, from as far back as possible forward. The more activities in which you have first-hand experience, the better this exercise works.
2. Assess your likes and dislikes.
When you have your activities listed, give each item on the list a satisfaction rating. Don’t overthink it – this is not the time for analysis paralysis. Simply ask yourself the following question: “How much personal satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) did this activity bring me?”
Use a scale of -10 to +10. If you enjoyed the activity very much, give it a 9 or 10. If you hated it, it might rate a -9 or -10.
3. Dissect your list.
This step is a bit tougher, but important. Now isolate those activities that come out of the high side of the satisfaction scale (7 or above), as well as those that come out on the high end of the dissatisfaction scale (-7 to -10). Transfer the items in each category onto a separate page if you like. After you’re done, think about each item and ask yourself, “What about this activity did I enjoy or dislike?”
4. Look for patterns.
This one’s even tougher, but essential. Review and analyze your answers to the preceding questions. Try to unearth particular patterns and common denominators.
For example, if you find that people connection was a common thread in the activities that brought you enjoyment, you probably won’t be happy in an isolated cubby hole diagramming a better appliance, with minimal human contact. If a pattern shows helping people, your inclinations are obviously service-oriented. Dig deeper. Narrow the “people” pattern down. Do you like working with people? Training them? Mentoring them?
And continue deep diving. Do the activities you find satisfying (or vice versa) require problem-solving skills? Creativity? Skilled communication? Crisis management? Linear logic? Strategy? Tactical execution? Is there a collaborative or competitive nature to the tasks?
This is important. Do not judge yourself here. Do not think in terms of whether you should or shouldn’t find an activity satisfying. That’s not the gist. You are looking for some insight. Period. You are looking for affirmation of what you may already know, but have never taken time to think about. If you list enough activities – 35 is not excessive to work with – you should be able to find some patterns. Please, please do not rush this step. The more insights you gain from this stage of job targeting, the easier it will be for you to move on to further exploration that yields some ah-hahs.
In my next post, I’ll give you some ways to move into exploring what you’re good at; and then into narrowing your focus. Till then, list, inventory and analyze away!