The job market can be a pretty scary place. It’s tempting to just take what we have and make the most of it – but what if you know you have more to give? What if you know that your strengths could be better used? How do you even start to figure out what your ideal is – and is there any point?
We spend at least 37 hours a week working, often longer when you include the travelling, background thinking, learning and all the other things that come with going to work. This adds up to a huge proportion of our time – so doesn’t it make sense to invest some time, upfront, figuring out what we want to do and getting as close as we can to it.
This post a series of steps that I put together back in 2012, having successfully found myself an amazing new job at the University of York – one which I didn’t know existed until I’d identified my dream. It was amazing that within weeks of writing down my visualisation of my ideal, the job appeared, a job I had no idea existed at the start of the whole process.
I wanted to share what I went through for others to benefit, so here it is!
Step 1: Recognising your Strengths
Knowing your strengths and being able to concisely describe the value they bring to an employer is one way to fundamentally stand out from the crowd when looking for a job. It demonstrates you are mindful that your employer will be paying you to deliver a service – and that this service needs to be valuable to their business.
Gaining awareness of your strengths early on will give you a sound basis you can really build on throughout your job-seeking process. It will help you to reflect on what you can do, identify what you want to do and also boosts your confidence when you realize how much you have to offer.
However, it can take effort to really identify and become comfortable with your strengths – and often the biggest question is where to begin?
What are you proud of?
The best place to start is to think through your working life to date and create a list of things that you’ve done that you are proud of. Try to identify ten items in total. If you’re struggling then try some of these tricks:
- think about situations that you have enjoyed and what it was that you enjoyed about them – this will give you an understanding of your motivation
- reflect more broadly than your working life – what hobbies do you have or where else do you take responsibilities that you are proud of
- ask your friends and family to give you some ideas of what they think you could be proud of.
Once you have your list, develop each of these achievements into a story, summarising:
- the challenge (the business) faced
- the action you took
- the result you achieved (for the business).
The more you can quantify the result, translating it into a positive impact on the business and describing the difference before and after you took action the better.
Next, shorten these stories down to a single sentence describing the challenge the business faced and the results you achieved. These succinct sentences can be used to form the basis of your CV. Plus, when you are asked to expand upon your CV in an the interview you will be able to describe exactly what action you took to achieve the result.
Give yourself plenty of time to work through this process – it is likely that you will need to revisit the statements several times before you are comfortable with them. You could even ask friends or family to review them and help you get them into shape.
Step 2: What is Your Dream Job?
Do you actually know what you’re looking for in your job?
How will you know when you find it?
Most people find it easy to say what they don’t want – and then when asked what they do want they start to realise that they don’t really know.
Identifying Your Ideal
Knowing what you are looking for is one of the most important questions to resolve in the process of job searching. I’m not talking about being able to name a job title – what I mean here is identifying what aspects of a job are most important to you.
First, there are some basic questions which will start to identify the sort of job you are looking for such as:
- Salary – how much do you need to live? What extras do you want to do and how much would you need to be paid to be able to do them?
- Location – is it important to you where you are based? Consider this both geographically (e.g. country, city) and the type of place (e.g. town, countryside).
- Security and stability – are you looking for a stable salary with added benefits such as pensions etc, or are you interested in a more risky role?
- Culture – what sort of culture do you work best in – e.g. friendly and supportive, driven and targeted?
- Control and influence – are you happy doing what people ask you to do or would you prefer to be your own boss? Would you consider running your own business?
When considering your ideals it is important to think about both the answers for now and how these answers may change in the future (e.g. if you want a bigger house will you need to plan to be in a job with potential for a larger pay rise?).
To start with write down your initial responses even if they don’t sound quite right – the act of writing something will help you refine your thinking and get you going.
How does your job fit into your life?
Even with your dream job you are still likely to have other things you want to do in your life. Identify those things that are important for you to have here – for example how do you want the job to fit with you family life? What do you enjoy doing in your social life and hobbies and how do they have an impact on your job?
What are you good at?
What skills and competencies do you have that you want to use? These may have been gained through formal education (school, university, training courses) or be practical hands-on experience. You may be good with people, able to get things done, be good at solving problems – again write them down – create a list.
Use the list of strengths you created in Step 1 to think about what capabilities you needed to be able to do the things you did.
What do you enjoy doing?
Do you know what motivates you? What gives you that “buzz” when things go right? What makes you leap out of bed in the morning?
Review your list of skills and strengths and notice which ones you are more drawn to, look for patterns and see what it tells you. You might find some things come immediately to mind here, but this is also a good area to think about over a period of time – notice what you enjoy doing and write it down.
You should now feel like you are now a bit clearer on what you are looking for. Put what you’ve written somewhere convenient and make a commitment to review them, add to them and edit them every day for the next week. You’ll find that new ideas emerge as you go along and you’ll build a stronger picture of what you want.
Step 3: Align What’s Important
What’s most important to you in your job?
Conflict and dissatisfaction in a job often arise from an individual’s values being misaligned with the culture of the company. Your values define what is important to you and where you may be more willing to compromise. It is therefore extremely important to match what is most important to you in a job against the type of place in which you want to work and to consider how you can check whether the culture of that place might support you.
How do you know what your values are?
It’s fairly simple to identify your values in your job – ask yourself the question “What’s important to me about my job?” The answers may include:
Select 5 of the words above that stand out to you when you think about your dream job. Where possible go with your intuition and try not to think too hard about it.
Now take each value in turn, write it down and ask “What does that give me?” or “what is important about this?” Try to write down at least two additional words for each value. You might find that the answers are some of the other words above or that new words emerge for you. You might also find that some values come up multiple times.
Look at the words you have written down and put them in order of priority for you. The top 5 or 6 in this list are your core values in your job – the ones you are less likely to compromise on and hence the ones you need to pay most attention to when looking for companies to work for.
For each of your core values consider how they might play out in any job you do – how do you know when this value is being fulfilled? For example, how do you know when someone is giving you respect? How do you want the company/ job to be flexible to suit you?
What questions could you ask someone working in a company to find out whether that value is something which is important in that company? Write these down – you can use these to start doing some research!
Step 4: Building the bigger picture
Combine the information on how you know your core values are recognised in a company with what you learnt from the first two steps. Read through everything you have written down about your strengths, the practical things you need in a job, how it fits with your life and your motivations and finally what you have created here about what is important to you.
Close your eyes and visualise how this would play out in your job on a day to day basis in as much detail as you can. What will it look like, how will you feel when you’re doing it, what will people be saying to you? Make a note of anything new that comes up.
You might find it useful to work through this exercise on visualising your ideal day to really get a deeper understanding of your ideal.
Spend 10 minutes a day for the next week reading through what you have written and repeating this visualisation, updating and filling in any detail that’s missing.
At the end of the week take a clean sheet of paper and write out a detailed description of your ideal job based on this visualisation. What would you like to do on a day to day basis, how does it fit with your life, how will you feel as you do it?
Step 5: Get networking and do your research
Now its time to get out there and find this ideal job. Where do you start?
The easiest way to find a job is through someone you know, so you need to start growing your network and increasing the number of people you know. However, the last thing you want to do is approach someone asking if they have a job for you. This is where your research comes in.
You can combine two tasks here:
- find out about jobs that you think might be close to your ideal
- grow your network by getting to know people and helping them get to know you
How does this work? By approaching people in your network (this includes family and friends) and asking them to share with you more about what they do you open up a conversation. This allows you to both find out whether their job is anywhere near their ideal and explain what you’re interested in and what your strengths are.
At the end of the conversation ask them if they can put you in touch with anyone else with a similar or more relevant role who might be willing to have a chat with you. This grows your network.
In the process of these conversations, there is a strong chance that you will come across someone who is looking for someone just like you, or who knows of a role going that’s relevant for you.
Each time you have a conversation reflect and update your ideal.
You can find more tips here on how to grow your network.
It takes time but it’s worth it!
These steps can feel like a long process and it takes time, but it is time worth spending so that you can leap out of bed every day ready to do something you really love.
It took me just over a year to make this transition, but my move was the length of the company into a completely new area. At the time I wished it could be quicker, but once it had happened I realised that the groundwork I’d done put me in a perfect place.
If you get stuck at any point then I offer coaching sessions around this topic. Having someone to talk things through with can make all the difference. Please get in touch for more info.