Friday, 7 December 2012

Finding a fabulous job (Part 2): Clarifying your desires

There’s a cartoon that did the rounds in my office recently.  It parodies women at what is presumably a feminist rally with the following wording:

Rally Leader: “Who are we?”
Crowd: “Women!”
Rally Leader: “What do we want?”
Crowd: “We don’t know!”
Rally Leader: “When do we want it?”
Crowd: “Now!"

(You will find it here)

Too scared to ask

While this cartoon plays on a sexist stereotype, like many stereotypes there is a grain of truth to it.  Women often do fail to articulate what we want. However, I think this is not so much because we don’t know what we want, but because we are afraid to ask for it. “What will ‘they’ think if I ask for flexible work arrangements/more money/a better laptop?” 

Too often we accept less than our due also because of a misplaced sense of modesty. We hope that someone will notice our contribution and reward it without our needing to point it out. We are so busy being “good girls” that we end up resentfully holding up the short end of the stick.

Unfortunately the “good girl” approach to finding a fabulous job is not going to get you very far. If you are serious about improving your work life, you are going to need to get clear about what it is you want, and be willing to tolerate the minor discomfort that comes with refusing to “settle”.

Use your imagination

The first step in articulating your desires is to understand what they are.  Set aside some undisturbed time – perhaps an hour or so – and brainstorm a list of what your ideal job would look like.  Give yourself permission to ask for the impossible.  Forget about job-titles, qualifications and even industries.  Most especially, drop any ideas that contain even a sniff of what you think you “should” want. 

Focus on how you’d spend your work day, who you’d spend it with, what kinds of things you’d be doing and where you’d be doing them. Think about the kinds of activities and environments that bring out your best self.  Give your imagination free rein - nothing is too trivial to include.

The purpose of this list is to clarify your value system rather than your career aspirations - it is a “quality of work-life” check-list rather than a set of goals.  Also, feel free to review and revise this list as you go along – it’s quite possible that your ideas will change with time and based on your job-hunting experience. 

Absolutes and Compromises

The next step in clarifying your values is to identify which items are “Absolute Yesses”, which represent “Absolute No’s” and which items you would compromise on. 

An “Absolute Yes” is a criterion (or collection of criteria) that if met, means that you will take the job immediately.  An “Absolute No” is a criterion that will make you reject the job out of hand. Compromises are items on which you’re a bit more flexible.  

My most recent list looked something like this:

Absolute Yes
Absolute No
Flexible work arrangements (tele-comummuting or flexi-time, or 6-hour work day)

Close to home (not farther than 35km)

Will consider further afield if salary is more than “Y” and company offers flexible work arrangements.
Creative Autonomy 

Working with interesting, clever people

Attractive office environment


A laptop rather than a desktop computer


Female boss


No extended long distance travel


Salary below “X”


Will pay for MBA


The Recognition Factor

One of the key benefits of clarifying your desires and putting them down on paper is that when you find your ideal job, you will recognize it immediately.  This is important because your ideal job might not come wrapped in the “package” that you’re expecting.  For instance, you might think you need to find a position in the corporate world because that’s what you seem qualified to do, but your perfect job could be hidden away in a tiny start-up or non-profit. This is exactly what happened to me, and that particular job turned out to be one of the most interesting, rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.

Resisting Temptation

The other benefit of compiling an Absolutes & Compromises list, is that it helps you resist the temptation to compromise on the things that are really important to you in the face of an offer that is tempting, but will ultimately not work for you.  For instance, I have three children and two of them have special needs, so I have had to turn down opportunities with wonderful companies offering generous salary packages, but that are simply too far from home.   Having my needs and desires clear in my mind before-hand has made this much this easier to do. 

It’s a bit like the difference between deciding on the day of your wedding that you will be faithful to your husband rather than trying make this decision in the moment when Brad Pitt is offering you a night of passion after you’ve had a few glasses of wine!

Enlisting “The Universe”

Finally, at the risk of sounding a bit “woo-woo”, I’d like to add that having an “Absolutes & Compromises” list has really helped me to speed up the job-hunting process.  Both times I have done this, it has taken me less than a month to find the right job. 

I’m not sure whether it’s because this approach provides focus and direction, whether it’s a matter of the “recognition factor”, or whether I am enlisting the co-operation of a Greater Power than myself.  Quite possibly it’s all three, and to be honest, I don’t really care.  All I know is that it works.

So, go on, make your list and let me know how it works for you...

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