When starting a new job search, it can be tempting to cast a wide net. In practice, though, being open to every possibility that comes your way can be a recipe for overwhelm, indecision and a search that may not give you the result you’re after.
If you are intent on landing the right position—one that meets your current needs, leverages your strengths and interests and positions you for the future—narrowing your options is a better strategy.
A successful job search is about marketing yourself, but it’s also about having a solid vision for your work life. That means getting clear on what you are looking for, why you want that and where you’re most likely to find it. It also means understanding how you will decide on which potential opportunity is right for you now.
Identifying your decision-making criteria before you start your job search helps you to let go of much of the agonizing and decision-making fatigue that can come with a search. When you know what’s most important to you, what is non-negotiable and what you are willing to give a little on, you simplify decision making, from which jobs or companies to pursue to whether to accept, decline or negotiate an offer.
Beginning with clarity also increases your chances of making a solid next move, one that comes from understanding what you truly want and need from your next position (and no, that is not always the salary).
Career decisions can be complex, and there are many factors to explore and understand before you start polishing up that resume and calling on your network. This is the time to consider what truly matters to you at this point in your career and your life, and whether that has changed since your last job search. What do you need? What are you unwilling to accept? What would be a nice-to-have that isn’t mandatory, but would sweeten the deal for you if it were presented?
Here are eight categories to consider when identifying your vision for your next job and your decision-making criteria:
Are you looking for your next step (or title) in the organizational ladder? Do you want to position yourself for a future move by taking a role that helps you to learn the skills you’ll need or offers more access to mentors and management? Maybe what you really want is a bridge job that will pay the bills while you start a side hustle or a job that offers work that is better aligned with your strengths and interests. This is the most important thing to know before you bother with networking or applications. Be honest about what you really want right now.
Everyone wants a job that fits their lifestyle, but finding that requires taking a good hard look at what your lifestyle is (or what you want it to be). A flexible schedule that allows for time with family is an absolute requirement for some job seekers. Others are eager to put in long hours or travel extensively for potential career benefits. Some people work best when there are clear lines separating the areas of their lives, where others work best when those lines are blurred. There are no one-size solutions. Your happiness at work is greatly impacted by understanding how you prefer to balance life and work.
Setting a realistic must-have salary range is a simple way to focus your job search, as well as keep your focus once you start reviewing possibilities. Do your homework upfront to know what you can expect in your industry and geography and set an ideal salary, a “perfectly fine” salary and a “must-have” salary.
Just as with salary, it’s important to understand which benefits are most important to you and which are less so. Is health insurance a driving factor for you? Or maybe you need your next position to include professional development and learning opportunities. Like salary, understanding your needs and wants here can help you easily sort through opportunities, as well as be clear in negotiating any offers you receive.
The environment in which we work is one of the most powerful factors in employee satisfaction and engagement. When we work in environments that are not a good fit for who we are, how we work or what we value, that can be a recipe for career disaster. When you feel engaged and doing your best work, what environmental factors are in place? Are you working independently or in teams, indoors or outdoors, in an open office or behind closed doors?
Aligning yourself with an organizational culture that fits your needs, strengths, work style and personality is important, too. Many job seekers don’t prioritize culture—or worse, try to make a bad fit work. Do this at your peril. The culture of your workplace has impacts on everything from schedule to management style and it can make or break your work experience. Understand what you want and need from your organizational culture and be prepared to research and question your potential employers to ensure a strong fit.
What do you want to be doing all day? How will your next job use your strengths? Do you want a position that is going to build upon the work you’re doing now or will it be a departure from your current role? Do you long to be more hands-on and spend less time managing or vice versa? I often work with my clients to craft their own job description before starting a search. If you’re clear on the job description you want, it will be much easier to recognize it when you see it. And it is much easier to recognize when you’re selling yourself short by taking an opportunity that isn’t really what you wanted.
Most of us work best when we are growing and learning. What types of growth opportunities are important in your next role? It might be to have a manager that can be a mentor and a role model as you build your career or that the company offers an emerging leaders program. Education and training assistance may be important criteria for you. Or perhaps this role will stretch you out of your comfort zone as you lead an important initiative, take on managerial duties, manage bigger projects, travel more, or other responsibilities.
Once you’ve created a focused picture of the result that you want your job search to achieve, sorting through job opportunities and enlisting support from your network becomes much simpler. You’re now also armed with a host of relevant questions for interviews. And you’ve created coherent decision criteria for evaluating any offers you receive, ensuring that you are choosing your next position from a solid foundation of who you are, how you work best and what you really want for your life and work.
Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you find your dream job? Connect with Sally Ann Giedrys, browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!
Sally Anne Carroll is a life / career coach for professionals and entrepreneurs who want to re-tool their work, define success on their own terms and design healthy, balanced lifestyles that match their strengths and priorities. She’s a freedom-focused advocate for helping clients reimagine, redefine and reinvent the status quo to achieve their personal vision of success and fulfillment. Sally splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Christchurch, New Zealand.