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Employ Thyself: Step 1 – Know Yourself

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On May 23, 2018

When beginning a job search, we all want to skip to the last steps. We fantasize about the job offers we will get or fear that our experiences will never be enough. We imagine success and eagerly search our favorite job board for the right position. But to find a truly satisfying career, we must set aside impulse and take our search one step at a time.

Here I will define the job search as having four steps – (1) self-awareness and self-assessment, (2) exploration of possible options, (3) evaluation of potential employers and narrowing job titles, and (4) application, interview, and negotiate. Each step builds on the last. The first step is the foundation and as such, requires the most time and effort.

Deep down beneath anxiety, fear, and doubt, lies a clear sense of self. Other people’s definitions of success and/or workplace satisfaction might distract you. Make a conscious effort to put aside the opinions of your family members, friends, peers, co-workers, and mentors. Now begin to consider your needs and preferences as you complete the following two exercises.

Exploration and Self-Awareness Exercise

Read through the questions and descriptions. Completing the questions may take a few days, possibly longer. I suggest taking a notebook and a copy of these questions with you for the next few days. When you think of an answer, simply make a note. After a week, return to the questions and start summarizing your answers. Last, arrange your responses into a hierarchy from most to least important factors for your career satisfaction.

Please do not rush over to your favorite search engine to see if your ideal job fits the first three preferences that come to mind. Doing so will most likely lead to feelings of anxiety, confusion, and discouragement.

Geographic location – where do you want to live?

You might want to live in a specific location (for example, San Diego, CA) or you might know that you would like to be a mid-sized city with access to a national airport. Please feel free to include areas or types of places.

Daily functions – what do you want to every day?

Again, feel free to indicate the tasks that you would like to minimize (do less than 5% of the time). Think about whether you would prefer a dynamic environment with a high variation in the types of tasks you will perform or a static environment with low variation in your regular responsibilities.

Environment / Culture / Values – who do you want to work with?

The types of people and the company you work with play a large role in your satisfaction. Consider this question as either (a) what are your core values or (b) what core values do expect from your ideal employer? Some examples of values are the work-life balance, respect, and schedule flexibility. Culture is a bit difficult to examine. A good place to start is the company website but follow this up with questions to employees who are no longer at this company.

Impact – what does a fulfilling year look like for you?

This could be recognized for a job well down, influencing other professionals in your field (with a publication or invited talk), helping clients or customers, or having a broad impact on society.

Compensation – what do you need to get out of this job?

Compensation packages may include base pay, commission, bonuses, health benefits, and more. Are you a risk-taker who can life with the risk of an unstable salary? Examples of unstable salaries are sales position with no base-pay, grant-funded positions, freelance/contract positions, and start-ups. Do you need employee health, dental, or other insurance? That may rule out certain positions.

Drives – What motivates you to get through a difficult task or dreadful days?

In short, what will keep you from quitting this job? The answer may not even lie in your work. Maybe you get through your days knowing you have a weekend to spend with your friends or three weeks of paid vacation? Maybe it is the knowledge that over 95% of your days will end at 5 pm. Work-related examples of drives are the customers you serve or the long-term mission of your employer. Your drives are likely some mixture of personal and professional drivers.

Travel – How much work-related travel would you prefer?

You may see yourself flying from one city to the next, stopping only to sleep at home on rare occasions. Or maybe you see yourself spending less than one week out of the year traveling. Remember, the year has 52 weeks – how many of them would like to spend on the road for your job? Indicate this as a rough percentage from 0% to 100%. You may choose to express this as a range, such as 5-10%.

Growth – do you require professional development opportunities within your job?

Do you consider your professional growth to the responsibility of your employer or of yourself? Some employers provide generous tuition reimbursement benefits that would allow you to continue your education. Others will encourage employees to seek additional training while on the clock. If you feel that your employer should provide opportunities for your professional growth, be prepared to ask about such opportunities. Otherwise, you might view professional development as your own responsibility, a task that you should perform discretely and after-hours. If so, keep in mind the number of hours your potential employer will expect you to work each week. Now ask yourself, will this work schedule allow you to pursue opportunities for your growth?

Writing Exercise 2: Job Description

After you have completed the summary, use those preferences to craft your ideal job description. Include items for location, daily functions, compensation, and travel.

Keep original versions of your notes and two written documents. You will return to these documents for the next three steps of your job search. Unless you experience a major life event over the course of your job search, I highly discourage you from editing these documents. It is okay to consider a job that will not fulfill one or two of your needs but realizes that this will directly impact your job satisfaction.

Last modified: May 24, 2018

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