Discover which job suits you, not the other way around
Have you ever found yourself wondering whether you should search for a new job? Maybe they pay you well but you still feel unfulfilled? Is it really worth dragging yourself out of bed for another day of mundane work and boring co-workers? Why should I risk losing a comfortable job that pays well to try something that might make me happier? Or maybe you find yourself at the beginning in your career wondering what to do.
I’ve have experienced all of these situations and through trial and error found out what makes me a happy worker. In this article I share my experiences and hope to give the tools to find a satisfying job that suits you best.
1. What do I want?
Imagine two people, Amy and Bob, having the same job at CompanyA. They’re both programmers. Compare their two motivations below and see which one you like most.
- Amy: “I really like to work at CompanyA because I like to work with ProgrammingLanguageX, I have nice colleagues and it pays well.”
- Bob: ”I really like to work at CompanyA because I believe in the value of data when making decisions. At CompanyA I can create all kinds of solutions that help clients to make the best decisions. I do this by creating programs in ProgrammingLanguageX.”
Notice anything? Seems like Bob knows what he’s looking for. The difference between Amy and Bob is in their motivations. Amy’s talks about what she wants: nice colleagues, programming in a certain language and a good pay. Bob talks about why he works at CompanyA; he and the company share the same values. Bob is a guy that’s deeply passionate about programming and so is the company he’s working at. This is the key; what drives you to work somewhere?
Especially when looking for your first job, having zero working-experience, it’s very hard to find your drive. Most of these people say they are looking for something along the lines of “a fun job with nice coworkers that pays well”. When they think a bit longer they might add “.. and where I can develop some skills”. Then they settle for a boring, unfulfilling job at a hip, cool company with a airhockey table and a few beanbags. Finding out your drive can certainly help you finding a company that better suits you. Once you’ve figured this out we get the additional bonus of clearly communicating why you’re the perfect candidate via a letter or job interview. We’ll get into that later.
Discovering what drives you
Don’t get me wrong: discovering your drive is very difficult but also very worthwhile in the long run. For me the best way was to literally ask myself why continuously. An example:
Why do I work here? Because I like working with data. Why do I like working with data? Because I can visualize it in a very pretty way. Why do I like visualizing data in a pretty way? Because I like to summarize a lot of information in a single image. Why do I like the summarization? Because I like to communicate my message clearly and I’d rather show a graph than let people read a whole bunch of text. Why? Because I like to communicate clearly and concisely.
That’s it! By continuously badgering myself with the same question I’ve found out that I really like to communicate in a clear an concise way Knowing this about myself I realize I don’t have to apply for a job that focusses on producing thick, elaborate rapports for example. Lets do another one:
Why do I like working here? Because like create helpful tools. Why? Because I like help my colleagues save time by automating mundane tasks. Why? Because I hate unnecessarily wasting my or other people’s time.
Bingo, another one. Apparently I appreciate efficiency! I know I wont be happy in companies that work in a very bureaucratic way.
Understand that this process can take a lot of thinking about what motivates you and where your passions lie. Why in the world do I like creating elaborate Excel models? In my case it took me quite some time to figure it all out. This is not because I’m such a deep and complex person but mostly because I just didn’t think about these things. Once you know what drives you, i.e. what your core qualities are, you can start for people, places or companies that share those qualities.
“Name some of your negative qualities”
It’s finally time to have an honest answer to this dreaded question, and you can find that answer using your drive and the Quadrant model.
It’s very easy. It works like this:
- You have a quality, for example being very determined
- Your quality isn’t good all the time; there is a risk. This is called the pitfall. If you are too determined, you run the risk of being pushy.
- To prevent/reduce the pushiness you could use a little patience: the opposite of pushiness. It is your challenge to be a little more patient. Usually you work well with people who are a little patient.
- If if you exaggerate your challenge it leads you to a quality that’s in your allergy: too much patience leads to passivity.. which is the opposite of step 1 again. These are also the people you usually don’t work well with.
Plug each of your drives into this model and try to find out what your pitfalls, challenges and allergies are. In the example above you’ve discovered that you probably don’t like to work in a company where you wait around for tasks to be given to you. Look for companies with a culture that suit you. In addition to discovering more about what you like and dislike, you answer the “negative qualities question” like a champ:
“I am a very determined person so I tend to get a little pushy. I am trying to work on that issue by trying to be more patient with clients and coworkers”.
2. What about the money?
If you once asked yourself why “why do I work here?” and the only answer was “money” then I’ve got bad news for you. The paycheck comes once a month, the job lasts all day.
Of course what you earn isn’t unimportant; we all have to eat. Daniel H. Pink wrote a book on what motivates people in a working environment. According to him people won’t be motivated if they don’t get paid enough; the issue of money should be taken off the table. He also writes that higher pay and bonusses can result in higher motivation and better performance but only if the tasks consisted of basic, mechanical skills with a defined set of steps and a single answer. If the tasks involve cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity, or higher-order thinking, higher pay resulted in lower performance.
To motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks, Pink argues that supporting employees in the following three areas will result in increased performance and satisfaction:
- Mastery — “I can get better at what I do”
- Autonomy — “I am self directed”
- Purpose — “What I do has meaning”
Remember the main character from Fight Club? The poor guy sits there in his cubicle pushing paper and doing whatever his boss asks of him. His work has no meaning to him, there is nothing to get better at and he has no autonomy at all. Also notice that he has enough money to buy all the Ikea furniture he likes but that this isn’t keeping him from eventually blowing up his apartment, including his precious Ikea furniture.
So what’s important? Depends. Some people are very independent; they value autonomy more than others. Other people are more idealistic and will value purpose more. Think about your drive, evaluate what you find important and look for signs of mastery, autonomy and purpose when examining you current job or a new one.
3. Applying and job interviews
Once you’ve evaluated all three of these methods it’s super-easy to write an application letter and/or have a job interview. You know what you’re searching for, what is important to you and where your challenges lie. You know what to look out for in vacancies. Only thing left is to actually apply.
Try to think about the person on the other side of the table. Hiring someone to work at your company is a big risk. You trust a part of your precious company to a complete stranger based on a one-page letter and an interview or two so you have to show you’ve thought about why he should hire you. Luckily you and the company owner have the same goal: you’re both trying to figure out if you are a good match. How do you know you’re a good match? You share the same values. It’s the same thing that drives you.
Most people try to convince the other party by communicating their skills. The fact is that skills are learned on the job; you just have to convince them that you have the right qualities and drives. It doesn’t matter that you’re not an Excel master if you have a deep passion for financial analysis; you’re intrinsically motivated to learn it.
Find the match
In your letter clearly communicate what drives you in life and why working at the company would be an addition to that. When the company thinks you fit their values they invite you for an interview. Here you can inquire about thing like studies (mastery) and working from home (your level of autonomy) for example. You can discuss your core values, pitfalls and find out about your and their allergies. Also check out if you can work on your challenges. The idea is to put yourself out there, show them what you stand for and communicate it as clearly as possible. Remember this is not lying or exaggerating, just clear communication. It’s in both your and the company’s best interest to communicate clearly about what you offer and expect. In the end there has to be a match from both sides.
Almost nobody retires at their first job and not every job is going to be as perfect as you expect. In the end it’s all about making the best decision at that given time. For more information about switching careers:
I really hope my experiences help you find your perfect match.
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