A few weeks back over pancakes, a friend was telling me about her career switching ambitions. She wanted a job in a different industry and function, but with similar pay, status, prestige, and geography as well as an opportunity for a significant leadership role within 5 years. Already with almost 10 years of work experience in the same industry under her belt, she felt tremendous pressure that her next career move had to be the right one.
That begs the question…does the perfect job exist?
I think the answer rests on the expectations and priorities we set for ourselves. Like a letter to Santa, we may want a huge list of items in our dream job – high visibility, senior exec, direct reports, a trillion-dollar budget, big pay check, high impact, and great work life balance, exciting industry, etc. However, what is truly important?
When I was looking for my next job in business school, I had a long list as well, but what was really helpful was distinguishing the “must have’s” from the “nice to have’s”. This classification, of course, will vary as your interests and life evolves, and I think it is important to revisit these priorities periodically.
In my situation, I wanted a job that gave me the opportunity to learn more about agriculture (an industry I find fascinating), to have a more operational role (as I was in consulting beforehand), and to make an impact to poor communities in the developing world. Other items, such as work hours, travel requirements, and even pay, were more flexible for me.
Are there aspects of my job that I dislike? Of course! I think it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be on clouds all the time. The important questions are: Are there aspects of my job that I love and how important are those to me? Do they outweigh what I dislike about the job? If the answer continues to be “Yes”, then I think I will stay. However, if your priorities shift, then it’s important to identify those and ask the same questions. If the answer is “No”, then perhaps it’s time to move on.
Of course, this is much harder to do than said. I think too many times people either tend to have countless requirements, are indecisive in their priorities, or toss the list out completely.
When this happens, people tend to fall into the swinging pendulum trap, going either in one extreme or the other.
- They end up staying in their current job / situation and find a way of justifying it. (It’s too late for me to switch industries. I guess I am interested in my field. My company is not thaaaat bad. The perfect job doesn’t exist.)
- They end up going for the first thing that catches their eye without fully thinking it through.
If you’re not sure about your priorities, then I think it’s important to have working hypotheses and just test them out in low risk ways. For example, if you think you may have an interest in the mobile payments space, then instead of quitting your job the next day and jumping on to the first hottest thing that comes your way, perhaps try:
- Volunteering your time or freelancing for a mobile payments start-up: Help them write a business case, conduct market research, etc.
- Talk to as many experts as you can in that space to discover more about what companies to watch, what types of skills / talents are valued, new trends / growth prospects, etc. (If talking to these people gets your blood flowing, then you’re probably on the right track.)
- Negotiate an externship with your company: of course this depends on how flexible companies are, but sometimes you’ll never know until you ask
- Find tangential projects in your company: this is especially true of really big companies. For example, your company could have a small project on telecoms or financing. If so, then try to get onto that project team to learn about the topic and of course your interests.
Many people (especially young and type A) see our careers or the next job as the end all be all. We need to think about it more as a learning process, not only when we’re job hunting but also when we’re in a job. With each experience, we should learn about our interests and priorities, which may shift over time, and accept that change is okay!
At the end of the day, nothing is perfect, even our beloved spouses / life partners. However, if a job meets your top 3 priorities on most days, isn’t that perfect enough?