Over the past couple of years, I had two moments of great clarity when it comes to work and what matters to me at a job. Before I get to those though, I should give a little bit of context as to why this post matters.
There have been several think pieces written over the past decade about this very concept or ideas adjacent to it. Often times, people are stuck at jobs they hate but they don’t realize why they hate them. It could be because the job is truly bad. It could be because you have bad work habits. It could be because you have a bad boss or a company that doesn’t do the right thing. You could be stuck there even though you have a way out because you need the money. One of my favorite business bloggers, Kaytie at Optimistic Millennial, did an entire piece on this very concept.
The problem, both in my own personal experience as well as the experiences of those I’ve watched go through this, is that often times we stop too quickly when asking why we don’t like a job. Sure, we may be able to say ‘I hate this job because I don’t like the boss I have’. But when we truly despise a job, we often leave it at just that. I hate this single, vague aspect, and nothing more. While this is a great way to have hate that you can direct at something or someone, it does very little to help you make change to improve upon your situation — as well as to avoid repeating the same problems that makes you hate your job yet again.
Last year, I talked about how I left my long time employer for various reasons. The job had, as I shared in that post, felt at times like the worst job I’d ever had. What I didn’t realize — despite writing it in that very post — was that it was also, at times, the best job I ever had. I didn’t stop to think what made it that way. I was so focused on the fact that I was burnt out and bitter about the way things ended that I couldn’t recognize the fact that there were several good qualities about that job that I truly enjoyed and that mattered to me.
Mind you, I’m not talking about things like salary or benefits. Those things clearly matter. If your job’s salary and benefits don’t allow you to meet your basic needs, you’ll constantly be worried about where money is coming from. It will make you paranoid about your job stability even when you have a completely secure job. I witnessed this with several employees around me over the better part of 2018, feeling it myself at times as well. That said, that’s probably commentary on a specific type of job is treated in the USA versus how it’s treated in other countries and is better left for another post1I eagerly await the day when American companies put the same level of care to hiring, training, pay, and candidate selection for call center employees that Philippine companies do..
Let’s say that your salary and benefits are good enough that you’re not worried too much, if at all, about them. What do you need in a company at that point? That’s when the self-reflective side of each of us comes into play. You need to go beyond the thought of ‘I hate my job’ and ask yourself why that is. Not just once, but several times. Such a process may look like this:
I hate my job.
I hate my boss.
They micromanage me.
I don’t know.
Is there anything I can change in my behavior to help improve myself so they don’t need to do that?
K. Cool. And have you discussed this behavior with your boss.
No. They don’t take feedback well.
Granted, the above mental conversation could go on much longer than I’m letting it and could discuss several more problems than what I’m listing. But I think the larger point is made. Learning what you love in a job is not just about knowing what you dislike in a current role. It’s about understanding why you dislike it AND how having a different environment around you will help you to be a more productive employee.
The second epiphany about what mattered to me was an extension of the first one in some ways. I had realized that I there were parts to that old job I loved. I had also realized that my (then) new employer wasn’t the right fit for me and that I needed out. The great moment of clarity came when I recognized that in order for things to improve and to find a company that fit what I truly wanted in a company, I needed to flip the interview process on its head.
I love interviewing. I know that sounds weird, but the interview process is fascinating to me, regardless of which side of the table I’m on. The problem was (and likely still is to a certain extent) that I’m much better at being an interviewer than being an interviewee. I’ve worked at multiple companies now where I would get pulled into interviews to help get a better read on prospective candidates that came in looking for a job — even if that candidate wouldn’t report directly to me or my department. After thinking about it for a while, I came to realize why this happens.
As I was learning to be an interviewer, I learned a technique called behavioral job interviewing2Also sometimes referred to as behavioral-based interviewing.. The basic premise to this concept is to get your interviewee answering whatever questions you have with examples of how they handled a situation in the past with their previous work or school experience3The behavioral job interview, in my opinion, is one of the few interview types that doesn’t inherently put recent college graduates or people looking to change careers at a disadvantage in the interviewing process. This is because the interviewer will, if they’re conducting the interview properly, be looking for behaviors in how situations were handled just as much as direct job experience. Although it’s a style that is not necessarily an end-all be-all for interviewing, particularly when a job requires some level of experience or a specific prior skill set to do safely, I view the behavioral job interview as a critical component of most any interviewing process.. I tried taking this tactic one step further, often times drilling down on a specific scenario or question to determine not only what behaviors the interviewee exhibited from the event we discussed, but also what they learned from that experience.
I have, for as long as I could remember, subscribed to the spray-and-pray method of job hunting. If you get in front of as many people as you can for interviews, not only are you bound to get more job offers, you’re also sure to eventually find a company that you’ll like. It was the entire premise of my 2017-2018 job search that resulted in countless form rejection emails. And considering the rotten luck I’d had with friends trying to refer me in to wherever they worked — I had never gotten a job as a result of a friend/colleague’s referral prior to my new job — I thought this was the best way to handle my job search.
I do think this method can still work. That said, in utilizing this method, what I wasn’t doing was researching the companies before I applied to them. Or, if there were concerns about the company that surfaced in my online search, I wasn’t trying to dig in and address those concerns in the interview process. Nor was I asking about the things I cared about in a job aside from benefits, salary, and schedule. Essentially, I was doing everything I encouraged those who asked me for advice NOT to do.
It wasn’t until I started treating the interview like I was the one interviewing the company that I started to notice a change in results. I cared a lot more about things that were deeper company culture factors that I had in the past. Though this turned off some interviewers, other times it led to deeper philosophical conversations about business culture and direction during the interview. Even if I didn’t get the job at a specific place I interviewed, I had a better idea whether or not the job was going to be a good fit for me — and not just from a salary standpoint — coming out of the interview process.
If nothing else, this experience showed me why it matters to understand what I’m really looking for in a job. There’s no guarantee I’ll be 100% happy with everything in my new job. After all, there’s always something that gets on your nerves, even in jobs you like. That said, I feel informed and comfortable for the first time going into a job. I don’t think I would have been able to do that without learning what mattered to me in my work.