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The Key to a Great Job? Know Thyself


On the surface, hunting for a job is a task for extroverts. You’re told to attend meetups, go to job fairs, and constantly network while you reach out to complete strangers over job boards and website applications. But the work you do to understand your inner self is at least as important as your external efforts. It’s asking yourself what kind of role you enjoy, and the sort of company you respect. It’s the direction you want to go in your professional life, and the goals you ultimately want to achieve. It’s about an answer to the question: what do you really want?

That answer will vary at different times in your career. But getting as clear as possible will not only help you land a job in the short term, it will also increase the likelihood of job satisfaction over the long haul. Here are a few specific themes to contemplate:

Your motivation. Sometimes it’s as simple as “a paycheck.” But you negate your power as a candidate if you are overly motivated by fears of financial deprivation. Sure, everyone needs money. But what you do with your labor matters. How do you do your best work? To what kind of mission do you want to contribute your efforts? Are you a person who enjoys collaboration, or are you more efficient operating independently? Do you want a role that involves communication and engagement with an ongoing goal, or an opportunity to lead? How much control do you want? How important is feedback? And OK, money is probably a factor as well. So how much do you need to be happy, and what kind of job should you look for to attain that level of wealth while balancing other concerns?

Your future. How would you define “career growth”? To understand your motivation, you need to think about where you want to ultimately go. A common exercise: consider where you’d like to be in 5 years, and then also in 10 years. Would you like to be an executive? Own a business? Chances are, you’ll need a strategy to acquire or grow certain skills in order to get there. So what kind of role might eventually map to that strategy? You don’t even necessarily need the job to do this work for you. Maybe the best plan is to find a role that gives you time outside the actual job to attend trainings or classes (some companies will even pay your way) and learn new skills. The more clear you can be, the more you can feel like your job search efforts are leading somewhere positive, even if you need to take something that isn’t perfect in the short term.

Your company. With all the above in mind, you can drill down on what kind of company best suits you. A startup, for instance, might align with the goal of growing a broad variety of skills, as those companies tend to need employee contributions across a variety of tasks and roles. But then you will also have to work longer hours (probably), so maybe a larger company with a more established culture of work/life balance makes more sense. And while you might not get the same breadth of responsibilities, a larger company may potentially enable you to dig in and be more of a specialist. Speaking of work/life balance, the culture of the company is also crucial to think about. Would you like to work somewhere with a creative vibe, or in a more formalized, structured environment? Read more about different cultures and decide what kind of place suits you best.

Once you do land an interview, the work you’ve done to answer these questions will become a major asset. You are interviewing your possible future employer as much as they are interviewing you, after all, and the ability to convey your wants and needs will make that process easier. Companies want to hire someone who is a good fit, and if you know what you want out of your work life, you can tell the story of how you will be an asset in a way that feels considered and true. Or maybe you will decide the fit isn’t there, in which case you can efficiently move on to other options.

“Know thyself” has endured as a piece of advice from the days of Socrates for a reason. Be aware of what motivates and inspires you, and you’ll gain more power to find a job in the short term. More importantly, you’ll have better tools to uncover your path to success in general.