Marie Herman puts a plan together to help you determine your ideal job
Recently, I have been having conversations with colleagues and peers about what their ideal job looks like. It surprises me how many people have no idea what their ideal job comprises. If you don’t know what you are working towards, how on earth are you going to know when you get it? How will you be prepared to land that job when the opportunity arises?
Do you not even dare to dream of what your ideal job might look like? Do you feel like you don’t know what your passions are and you have no idea how to figure out what the “perfect” job looks like? Hardly anyone starts out in their dream job as their first job. It takes time and experience to identify what makes you happy and how to fulfill yourself and your potential. But all too often, we coast through life without a real plan for getting to our destination.
Let’s put together a plan for how to determine your ideal job.
1. Evaluate your past skills
The first place to start in identifying your ideal job is to look backward. Take some time to sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and an updated copy of your resume. Yes, I do recommend doing this with paper and pen (or a dry erase marker with lots of colored markers) to tap into your brain better versus typing, though you go right ahead and do it any way you like.
Look at your past jobs and identify what were the things that you most enjoyed and what you didn’t enjoy. Did you love the job that gave you flexibility over your time? Did you hate the job where you had more filing and accounting work than you wanted? Are there responsibilities that you found challenging, but in a good way, in that they stretched your brain and made you feel like you were always growing? What were the best years of your career so far, and why? What elements made those years especially good?
Next, spend some time considering the environment of your past workplaces. Did you most enjoy the startup companies which had a singular focus and drive towards a common goal? Did you prefer the larger more established companies with their consistency and stability? Perhaps you really feel called to work with a nonprofit. Perhaps what matters most to you is the cause that you are supporting. Does it matter if you are working in a larger or smaller company? There are pros and cons to each and one is not necessarily better than another. It simply comes down to which is better for you.
Have you been drawn to certain industries? Perhaps you enjoy working with engineers and scientists. Or, maybe you prefer salespeople or marketing reps. Did you strongly prefer working in the technology sector or did you love the creativity of the advertising market? Maybe you are drawn to the formality of a legal or banking environment.
Do you love to drive, so a longer commute is fine with you? Or perhaps your city has excellent public transportation so you can easily travel great distances? Would you rather be in a job that was close enough to home that you could ride a bike or walk to work? Or maybe your dream is to work from home?
2. Evaluate your past roles
Then, think over your relationships from the past. What types of roles did your friends, family, coworkers put you into? Were you the one who always had the information anyone was looking for? Were you the shoulder that everyone came to cry on? Did you naturally evolve into a teaching role at every company, explaining to others how things worked? Were you the documenter, regularly capturing policies, procedures and process flow into a well-organized set of files that everyone could access and follow?
Look at how you have spent your time. What are the kinds of tasks or hobbies that you would do for free because you love them so much?
Are there certain types of people that you would love to spend more time with – children or the disabled or the elderly or entrepreneurs or some other particular population? Think about the personality of your coworkers from the workplaces where you were most happy. What are the common qualities? Was it their sense of humor? Their warmth? The respect they gave you? The drive they showed in pursuing common goals? Their ability to communicate? The fact that they left you alone to get your job done?
What is your educational background? List all the certifications, classes, degrees, and other training that you have received over the years, even if it is out of date. Think back to which subjects got you most excited and interested in the content.
Think about what other passions you have. Maybe you love animals and would like to find a way to work with them. Maybe cooking or science or gardening or some other area has always appealed.
Just as important, review the negative areas of your past. What kind of people did you particularly dislike working with? What tasks did you dread in the office? Did you hate it when you had to stand up in a meeting and give a report?
Look for patterns in your life. This indicates your natural skillsets and often your natural interests/passions.
3. Recognize what is fantastic in your life right now and what could be improved
Once you have captured all the thoughts you possibly can about your past, it’s time to focus on your present. What does your current job look like? When you compare it to your lists of what you love and what makes you feel motivated and what you are passionate about, does it include any of those qualities?
Now, there is something to be said for the thought process that your day job pays for your passions on the side. This philosophy allows us to work somewhere that we may dislike or be neutral about because of the tradeoffs of being able to pursue our passions.
However, often that is not what happens. A job that is a dead end for our career or that just pays the bills but doesn’t truly appeal can suck the soul out of our lives. It drains mental energy and often is physically exhausting, even if it just involves sitting at a desk all day.
We tolerate it because we haven’t really sat down and identified what would make us most happy and we may feel like what would make us most happy wouldn’t pay the bills.
Psychologist Frederick Herzberg had a theory (Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory) for what motivates employees. Essentially Herzberg suggests that there are two factors that impact employee morale: motivators and hygiene factors.
Motivators are the things that make us truly satisfied with our work. That’s where personal growth, doing meaningful things, being respected and appreciated come in. Not having these elements causes us to become unhappy enough to look elsewhere for employment.
Hygiene Factors are those things that on the surface seem like they would motivate us (salary, benefits, vacations, work conditions), but in reality don’t. We’re unhappy if we DON’T have them, but their presence doesn’t really motivate us to enjoy our jobs.
I believe that hygiene factors are the baseline of what we expect in a job. They are sort of our minimum expectations. But what really makes a job fantastic and appealing is rarely the fact that it gave us heat or air conditioning in the office.
So, take a little time to think about your job right now and what your personal motivators are.
Are you getting them in this job?
4. Envision what your future ideal job and life would look like
Now, I’d like you to take some time to think about what your ideal job would look like. If you could put together an ideal day for yourself (feel free to think about this in the context of your entire life as well, not just the job part), what would it look like? I’m not talking about those fantasy ideal days of “I’d like to live on a beach, eating bonbons whilst being fanned by a cabana boy.” I’m talking about the realistic ideal job, the one you could easily work at for years and be happy and fulfilled. What would it look like? Get a really good picture of it. What would a typical day or week look like? Get as specific as you can.
I wrote an article for the January 2018 issue of Executive Secretary Magazine called “Make This Year Your Best Year Ever”. In it, I detailed the process I went through where I evaluated my own life and decided what I wanted to do going forward (in my case, starting my own business). I explained in that article what factors I considered in envisioning my ideal life. Today, I am pleased to say that almost every day fulfills it:
“I want to be the boss of my own company, working from home. My business is financially successful. My work is flexible so that I could be location independent if I desired. I also have control over where and when I work. I am able to care for my aging mother-in-law and have a balanced life with the ability to incorporate travel as desired.
My perfect day involves getting up early, perhaps working for an hour or so before my husband gets up, visiting with my husband for an hour or two in the morning before he leaves for work, packing him a lunch (cause that’s how I show my love to him), eating a leisurely breakfast, doing a quick bit of housecleaning (ha – ok I’m not always good about this one LOL), perhaps watching a movie. Then I go upstairs to my home office where my three cats can visit me throughout the day and where I have a lovely view of the seasons as I look out my window.
I get down to work, usually working from about 8 to 11:30 in the morning. Then I often take a leisurely 2-hour lunch, regularly making time to meet with friends or fellow entrepreneurs for networking. I work the afternoon from roughly 2 to 5. I have dinner with my husband, then return upstairs (no more than 2-3 times a week) to lead an evening study group. My work involves writing articles (like this one), creating presentations for seminars and webinars, occasionally travelling to exotic places (like Australia and New Zealand) but not traveling so often that it becomes a burden and a disruption to my home life.”
That life may sound idyllic (and for me, it truly is), but for you it may not be. Some people are not suited to working from home. The hours can be long and too quiet. It requires discipline to work for yourself, including doing things that you may not enjoy like being your own accounting and marketing department. Some people will miss having the interaction of coworkers and the opportunity for being part of a larger team at work. Only you know yourself well enough to identify the right lifestyle for yourself, and sometimes we don’t know until we try it that we’ve made a mistake. It requires a high level of honesty with ourselves as to what truly makes us happy (and an ability to ignore how the world defines happy).
I encourage you to think about your future in a larger context as well. What does the future hold for our profession (hello automation!), for your industry, for the world at large? How will you fit into what is coming in the future? What skills do you need to get? What education?
5. Analyze what it would take to get to that future life
Once you have identified what your ideal day actually looks like think about what kind of job would fit into that lifestyle. Is it working full time for someone in a particular industry like legal or a type of company like a nonprofit or university? Is it working with people or animals or antique cars or some other special niche?
How can you bring together all these diverse threads into what the Japanese call ‘“Ikigai”, your reason for being’? Imagine a Venn Diagram of the overlap of what you do well, what you love to do, what the world needs, and what the world will pay you to do.
The sweet spot of your ideal life lies in the center of these circles.
6. Make it happen
Taking the time to identify all the components that make up your circle can create a life that you have only dreamed about and help it to become a reality. Obviously, you need to take focused intentional action towards making this dream become reality, but by knowing exactly what you are working towards, you will be able to clarify any choices that you face and know immediately whether or not they support your long-term vision.
This allows you to decide where to spend your time and how to focus your energy. It also allows you to create a very clear path to how to get to your ultimate destination. After all, if you are working to become a CEO’s assistant in a Fortune 500 company, you can eliminate hundreds if not thousands of other jobs that don’t put you on that path. You could review the job descriptions of those positions to identify the qualities, experience, and education needed and then ensure that you acquire those so that when a position becomes available, you will be qualified to step up to fill it.