It’s said that you can only live life forward and understand it backward. The exact same thing is true about careers.
While it’s virtually impossible to know where any given job will take you, most jobs send out signals about how right they are for you—or not. No matter what the job, you should look for those signals: You might be right out of school, a middle manager trying to move up or a senior executive looking for a top job—whatever your situation, it’s important to take a close look at job fit.
Everything else about a job can be perfect, but if you do not enjoy working with your colleagues on a day-to-day basis, work can be torture. Look for a job where you share the organization’s overall sensibilities.
By that, I mean a range of values and personality traits and behaviours, from how candid they are about performance to how much they laugh at meetings.
If you join a company where your sensibilities don’t match those of your co-workers, you’ll find yourself putting on a persona just to get along. What a career killer—to fake who you are every day.
The earlier you can find “your people” in your career the better. Even if a job seems ideal in every other way, without the presence of shared sensibilities, it’s not ideal for you.
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Without a doubt, it can be appealing to take a job where you suspect you’ll excel. Surefire success has its rewards, but any job you take should feel somewhat challenging going in. It should make you think, “I can do most of the work, but there are certainly skills and knowledge this job requires that I don’t have yet. I’m going to learn something here.”
Having growth opportunities will energize you and make work even more engaging. And while the possibility of screwing up increases at jobs like these, you should also make sure you join a company where learning is valued, mistakes aren’t always fatal and there are people around who can act as coaches and mentors.
If the opportunity signal is about finding a job that allows you to grow and stretch while you are there, the options signal is about finding a job that helps you if you leave.
Ultimately, your job should provide a credential you can take with you, whether it’s experience at a prestigious company or a managerial position at a small start-up. There is a second part of the options signal. Some companies open—or close—doors for you because of their reputation. Others do that because their industry has a problematic future.
For instance, the airline industry has very tough economics and relatively low pay.
Still, some people just love the romance of air travel. If you’re one of them, of course you should enter these fields; just do so with your eyes open.
Over the course of our careers, we all take jobs to meet the needs or dreams of other people.
That’s not necessarily wrong, unless you don’t realize you’re doing it. Because working to fulfil someone else’s needs or dreams almost always catches up with you. There are countless stories of people who take jobs because their spouses want them to travel less. Then, invariably, the compromising partner loses out on a promotion because of curtailed mobility. Sometimes, blame gets flung everywhere. Other times, it just sits there and simmers.
The hard reality is that there is no foolproof way out of the ownership bind. Especially as you get older, life and relationships can be complicated. There are tuitions to pay and spouses with their own careers.
That is why the only real defence is to be explicit with yourself about why and for whom you are taking a job.
Every job has bad days or rough periods, and, yes, there will be times when you work mainly to make ends meet. But in the very best job scenario, you love at least something about the work. The customers, the travel, the camaraderie at the Tuesday morning sales meeting, whatever—something about the job makes you want to come back day after day.
Sometimes it is the sheer challenge of the job that turns your crank.
Every job has its ups and downs, but if a job doesn’t excite you on some level—don’t settle. And don’t worry that you won’t recognize it when you’ve found a meaningful job.
You’ll feel it.
As you hunt for the right job, keep in mind that this is a process that takes time, experimentation and patience. Choose something you love to do, make sure you’re with people you like and give it your all.
If you do that, you’re sure to have a great job—and you’ll never really work another day in your life.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
©2009/By NYT Syndicate
Adapted from Winning (HarperBusiness Publishers, 2005) by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch.