OK, I have two master’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree, and have been in a few different fields since I graduated college. I am only 48 and I am constantly learning more about myself with each job and company I am at. Yes, 48 may seem pretty old to a recent college graduate, but believe me, time goes fast. I am also learning how to better select jobs and what factors create happiness. I am writing this article to hopefully help others find a job and company that is a great fit for them. Ultimately, I want to help others find happiness in their work and personal lives. Honestly, this article could have been titled “Crap I Wish I Had Been Taught in College.”
When looking for a new job or considering staying at the one you are currently at, I have five components that I believe one should focus on: Goals, Stage of Life, People, Company Culture, and Work. Below, I will break down each one and explain the importance of each when considering accepting a new position or staying at your current one.
Goals — Career
When we talk about work, we often think about career goals. “How will this position help me to reach my ultimate career goal or the next step up the ladder?” I think too many people focus on titles and climbing the corporate ladder. In reality, one should ask themselves what they love to do and how can a job help them end up in a place where they love what they do and become an expert in their field. In my career, I have found out that I could care less about managing other people or climbing the corporate ladder. What I love to do is build stuff and help coworkers be successful and happy. So when thinking about that next position, you should ask yourself “What do I love to do, and will this position help me get a job that I love?” The days of working for a single company are over, so you need to build your skills to always be marketable. In today’s world, you are your own company!
Goals — Personal
I think this might be the most important part of a job search, but very few people think about it. What is the most important goal in your life? Is it time with family? Training for a marathon? Travel? When looking at jobs, consider if the job will allow you to live the life you want to live and not prevent you from reaching your personal goals outside of work. For me, I know that spending time with my family is the most important goal. So when I am looking at jobs, if a position and company do not allow for flexibility and reasonable vacation time, I thank them for their time and withdraw my application. I love to work, but I also love and cherish time with my family.
Season of Life
After you graduate from school, you will enter your first season of life in your work career. You are young and most likely will have no kids. You will be able to put more time into your job and friends than the next season of life which is when you have young kids. Kids are awesome and bring so much joy, but they do take a lot of your time and money if you do it right (in my humble opinion). You have to start planning for sick days, not just yours, and times when daycare and schools are closed. Your life becomes about them and time and energy are limited. As your kids get older and more independent, you move into your next phase of life where you may have more personal time and can work longer hours again. They are off with friends, and you are no longer the hero until they are in their thirties. The last season of life, when you are still working, is when your kids are in college or grown adults. Depending on your age, you may decide to start your own company, stay where you are, or look for a new challenge. You will tend to have more time to pursue your work or hobbies.
When thinking about time and energy, you basically have fours buckets: job, family, friends, and individual wellness. As you go through life, the amount that you put into each bucket will change. You have a finite amount of time and energy that you can distribute into each bucket. For this example, say you have one full bucket of water (time and energy) that you need to distribute into the four buckets. In your twenties, you may be able to put 50% into your job, 20% into friends, 10% into family, and 20% as your personal time. Once you have kids, the family bucket demands more of you, and you have to reallocate the percentages of time and energy. Your new ratio may be 40% job, 10% friends, 40% family, and 10% personal time. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed or that I do not have enough personal time, I always remind myself that this precious time with my kids is just a fleeting moment. They are only every age once and you will never get that time back.
When selecting a job, or deciding to stay at your current one, the season of your life will be a factor. When you are younger, you may select jobs that are more demanding and higher risk, than compared to when you have a family to support and a mortgage to pay. Or if you are near retirement, you may be looking for lower risk and greater stability. Your preferences and ability to accept the characteristics of a job such as stability, career growth, stress, flexibility, and time demands will change throughout your career according to the season of life you are in.
In my humble opinion, the people you work with contribute to at least 70% of your happiness at work. There have been times that I have been on amazing teams and worked with great colleagues, but the actual work has not been super engaging. Other times, I have been doing what I love and what I am passionate about, but my colleagues have not been enjoyable to work with. Maybe it is just me, but I can tell you that I will always pick great people over interesting work. Great teammates can make cumbersome and challenging tasks enjoyable, while people who are tough to work with will make fun tasks miserable.
Life is also a roller coaster of highs and lows. Since you probably spend 40 plus hours a week at work, you want people who have your back when the lows come and can celebrate your personal and professional wins. A team of compassionate and supportive coworkers goes a long way when “manure hits the fan” in your personal life. Or, they may help you get to your dream job through coaching and teaching.
When looking for a new job, the company you select will also play an important part in your job happiness and satisfaction. Different companies have different cultures, values, and missions. Are you a person who is motivated by money, or do the company values and mission mean more to you? The company’s culture, values, and mission will also impact the type of people who are attracted to the company. It is not good to have a homogenous culture, but when you are surrounded by people with similar values it does help make your day more enjoyable. Company culture can vary from things like willingness to take risk, focus on health, work-life balance, benefits offered, or concern for the environment just to mention a few. I am not that money motivated and live a pretty simple life, but I can definitely say that I get a lot of reward from woking for a company that has a mission and vision that aligns with my values. Time with my family, a social mission, and the ability to go to most of my family events are very important to me. However, other people are more motivated by money or upward movement. Is one better than the other? In my humble opinion no, but you want to make sure that the company you work for is a fit.
The Work, or simply put “what you do,” can also have a great impact on your job fit and happiness. If you are a creative person, spending hours on a repetitive task may not be for you no matter how well you get paid and how great your coworkers are. A job needs to fit what you enjoy doing and what can do well. Many people try to work their way up the corporate ladder for a higher title and more pay, but soon realize that managing other people, playing company politics, and being responsible for other people’s goals is not a fit for them. I never understood why managers generally get paid more than highly talented individual contributors who impact the success of a company greatly. Does a person who has won industry-wide awards deserve less money or importance than a manager? Personally, I think not. The main takeaway is you need to find a job that you enjoy and can excel at. Chasing titles and more pay does not always bring happiness or success.
Looking for Your Next Job
Before looking for your next job, try to plan ahead and dial in a list using the following questions before searching for a job.
- What is my dream job? Will this position provide me the experience and skills I need to get my dream job?
- What are my personal goals? Do I want more money, to start my own company, or have a work-life balance to pursue other activities outside of work?
- Do I like the person who will be my future manager? Will I fit in with the other members of the team? Do their values, culture, and work style fit with yours?
- Does the company culture, values, and mission match yours?
- Do the benefits match your needs?
If possible, you may want to do a “bench test” before accepting a position. A bench test is when you sit on a bench and see how you feel about the environment and people. You can ask if you can shadow one of your potential coworkers for a day to see the environment and how people interact with each other. I remember going into a future workplace and feeling like I was in a morgue. The office had no life and the people were not friendly. Unfortunately, I did not listen to that feeling in my gut and it was one of my worst work experiences.
While I am no expert in the job search and match field, I wanted to pass on what I have learned through my journey in the workplace. No one ever gave me this advice and I had to learn a lot of these lessons along the way. I hope this helps you to find happiness and your dream job. If you like this article, please let me know your thoughts and follow me for upcoming articles.