How to find a job you love (and not go mad in the process)

I’ve spent the last 6 months searching for a job that I really want to do. It’s an incredibly privileged position to be in but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As another On Purpose cohort prepares to do the same, I thought I’d share some of my reflections.

If you are lucky enough to be able to hunt from an existing job then I’d recommend it; if not then try to make good use of the gap. There simply aren’t enough good jobs out there to hunt 24–7 and if there were you’d go mad! I found that setting aside one lunchtime a week to review new job alerts stopped them dominating my life.

A good use of any free time is to have coffees with as many interesting people as possible. This is unlikely to magic up a job (if only it was that simple) but it will help you to identify roles you like and to build a network of people who care about similar things. It’s amazing how many people will find time for you if you ask them nicely for advice.

See the uncertainty as flexibility. Having worked in government all my life, at first I found it scary and stressful not to know what I’d be doing a month ahead. However, working with my coach — a wonderful perk of the On Purpose programme — I realised that there is great power in being able to start soon, especially with small organisations who often need people as quickly as possible.

Use recruiters rather than letting them use you. I came to see recruiters as being a bit like estate agents — it’s perfectly possible to buy a house without them but the seller decides whether to use them. There is little you can do if they are the gatekeeper to a job you want, but it’s so easy to get drawn into looking at others that really aren’t a good fit. My lowest ebb was when I spent an hour with them crawling through my CV trying to embellish evidence that simply wasn’t there to fit a job description that was entirely unsuitable for me.

See job interviews as a two-way process. A good employer will care as much about the organisation being a good fit for you as they will about you being a good fit for the organisation. Gone are the days of prostrating yourself before an interview panel. If you don’t feel able to be yourself and ask challenging questions at an interview then that’s a bad sign. If their responses make you feel uneasy, then work out why and ask again. Ultimately if you feel that the job is not the right fit for you then don’t feel bad about turning it down.

Put yourself out there and see what happens. My criteria were pretty broad — a positive (climate) impact, a role in shaping the organisation and a salary that paid the bills. I was reinventing myself every few weeks. One week I was being interviewed to set up the UK policy arm of an international marine charity, the next I was pitching to work with investors to help them tackle climate change, then I was applying to lead a new environmental funding strategy for a foundation. I could have been good at any of these jobs but they didn’t come off, so I picked myself up and got excited about the next one.

Every job hunter will have their own unique experience but I hope that the above is interesting food for thought. It might not be the easiest six months ahead but it will be worth it. It has worked out well for me in the end. I’ve just started as the Senior Manager at Three Hands — a challenging, impactful and different role to anything I’ve done before.