How to (Not) Get a Job — Finding a Place to Thrive

I’ve always been taught that the most important thing I can do is have a job. Well — I’ve had many jobs, and what I’ve learned is that being employed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With a giant mountain of graduate school debt and a jaded perspective on corporate America, here are my thoughts on finding that place your call home away from home, i.e. your non-jobby job.

Figure Out How Little Money You Need to Live

My first step to figuring out what I wanted to do was figuring out what I needed to live. I put together a rough overview of my personal “sources and uses” of cash. Yes, I love accounting. Think about what you like to spend money on, and where you’re spending your money now. For me, my primary expenses are:

  • Rent
  • Food — I like to eat a lot of organic vegetables so that gets expensive
  • Going Out — you have to have a little bit of fun, or else the hard work just drains your energy
  • Health and beauty, shopping — I also like to look good, so I make sure to budget enough here
  • A handful of holidays each year including a ski trip and a trip to see my family in Turkey.

I also have student debt that I’ll have to start paying off, so I’ll need to reserve some cash to make that happen. I also needed to cut out some expenses — so knowing what you personally can and can’t live without is a good starting point. After four years of living in rat-infested walk-ups, a clean, well-maintained apartment is a non-negotiable for me. However, manicures and pedicures are something I can absolutely just do at home and save $50 — $100 each month.

Once I knew what my monthly “outflow” would be, I could take steps to reduce my burn rate. I got teaching assistant jobs. I started working part time as a consultant and intern in companies I was interested in so I could learn new skills while supporting myself. I had a pretty good idea of how much money I’d need to make after graduating to survive. I couldn’t work at a boot-strapped startup. I can’t start my own company.

Figure Out What Type of Personality You Have, and What That Means to You.

Thanks to Zoolander for summing it up perfectly

This one is a little tougher, but so important! What do you care about on a personal level? What really irritates you? What do you like? Geoff Smart (of ghSmart) came to speak in a class I help administer and had us do a really interesting exercise. He gave us a list of qualities or attributes and rank what we liked most and least, which then corresponded with a personality and role type. I thought about my future career the same way. I started with what I do like:

  • Direct, honest, and respectful communication
  • Flat structure with little importance attached to hierarchy or roles / titles
  • Fast-paced, dynamic environment with a high degree of ambiguity or uncertainty
  • A culture of continued experimentation where I have the freedom to create and try new things without repercussions

I then thought about what I didn’t like:

  • Overly consensus driven organizations where details and emotion are prioritized over big picture and facts
  • Bureaucratic rules or processes to govern day to day work and interactions — I don’t want to fill out an online form and wait three weeks to download a program I need now
  • Hierarchical organizations where networking and interpersonal politics reign supreme

This helped me very quickly filter out opportunities that didn’t fit with my work style preferences. Two assessments that are useful in this arena:

  • Meyers Briggs Type Test Indicator — a good free one here
  • DISC Assessment — I haven’t found any non-spammy free ones, but you can read about it here

What I’ve learned from knowing my personality likes and dislikes is very valuable. I’m an extrovert, so I probably won’t enjoy sitting behind a computer screen all day. I like moving quickly and making decisions based on facts, so a job that requires me to investigate all possible angles and take a slow, measured approach probably won’t make me happy. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn about yourself and what types of roles you should be looking at based on your personality and what matters to you.

Find What Fascinates You

My notebooks, all of my papers — everything I own and carry with me is covered in scribbles and random thoughts and ideas

I always remember that the best days in my former life as a management consultant were days when I had a really big, challenging problem to dig into that required me to bust out some advanced Excel skills, go out an interview people to understand root causes, and do some internal and external research.

Think about the last time you were absolutely fascinated by something — so much so that it consumed all of your thoughts and your energy. For me, I am OBSESSED with reading and learning — blogs, conferences, books, comment sections, forums — I love it all and I want to read and know as much as I can. I also enjoy organizing and making plans, whether it be a dinner party or a board deck. It’s a constant obsession for me to create new strategies to manage lists, content, ideas, snippets, files, everything. The planning process, the detailed intricacies, the extra touches that make something truly phenomenal- that is actually FUN for me. Lastly, I like math and numbers, and I like to write and draw. A lot. As a math nerd, so I feel most at home when I’m finding new ways to represent and visualize quantitative and qualitative information.

Put some serious thought into what fascinates you on a day to day basis and seems to make the clock stop ticking at work. I realize this sounds slightly sick, but some of my best work memories are those days where I was so consumed by what I was going that I forgot to eat, use the bathroom, or sleep.

Piecing it All Together — Write your Own Job Description

So, I’ve made it pretty far! I know a few things:

  • The financial practicalities of what type of compensation I need to enable me to live a life I find satisfying
  • My personality type and what I like and don’t like
  • What I find interesting and fascinating, and the types of tasks I enjoy — the ones that seem to make time disappear

The last step for me was to bring those three pieces together and finding a role and an organization where I could do just that. Try writing your own dream job description — what would it list as your key responsibilities and goals? What would you want to be accountable for? How would you accomplish it? This gives you a template and a guide as to what you should look for when evaluating opportunities!

That’s all I have for now. At some point, I’ll reflect on the second part of the job search, which is being realistic about your skills and experience, and interviewing companies to find the best fit. I spent four months trying out different roles and different jobs before I understood what I really wanted, so maybe you can shave a few months off your personal experimentation!