Secrets to Success, Job Seekers Edition: Know What You Want

Apr 10, 2009 by

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

As I discussed in my last post in this series, you should always know what your professional goals are for the short- and long-term. But we all know that just because we know where we want to be, doesn’t mean we know how to get there.

I myself have faced this issue, especially in the last few years as I have moved up ‘the ladder’ toward my ideal job of managing the organizing department of a major national nonprofit. Figuring out how to get there can be daunting. What skills do I need to work on? What type of position can help me both utilize the skills I have and develop more?

Some people suggest that you sit down and list all the things you want out of your new job including responsibilities, pay and benefits. I’m not opposed to that and I think that may be helpful, especially if you’re younger or at the beginning of a career shift. That doesn’t quite work for me though. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of skills I want to utilize and what I need in terms of pay and benefits. Plus, I find that listing out those items (and potentially boiling them down into job search terms) can be a bit limiting. What if you miss a great but unusual opportunity by being too narrowly-focused?

So here’s what I do: I have subscriptions to several job lists including Idealist, the New Organizing Institute, the Feminist Jobs Digest and JobsthatareLEFT. Plus, I put out the call for leads to all of my friends, colleagues and contacts (more on that in a later post). I take a look at any job that has a remotely interesting or relevant sounding title. If the description has a few of the elements I’m looking for, I print it out and put it aside. Putting it aside is an important part of my process. I never apply to a job immediately upon seeing the description.

(Yes, it is true that I had the luxury of already having a job during my latest search. But even if you’ve been laid off and you really need a job, it is far more useful for you to take the time before you apply to determine if you’ll be a good fit – again, more on this in my next post.)

What ends up happening is that at the end of a week, I have a folder with several interesting sounding jobs in it. I then go through them one at a time, carefully rereading them, highlighting the key responsibilities, requirements and application instructions. Most of the time, I end up recycling (i.e., not applying to) the great majority of the job descriptions I originally printed out. Upon second reading, it usually becomes clear that most of them are jobs I don’t really want for a variety of reasons.

That brings us back to the subject of this post: knowing what you want. My contention is that you don’t have to know exactly what that is with 100% certainty at the beginning or even the middle of a job search. Over time, as you apply to those jobs that sound the most intriguing, you’ll figure it out. And when you get called in for an interview, you’ll come across as someone who is dedicated, passionate and knows what she wants.

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