Whether you’re about to graduate from college and enter the workforce for the first time, you’re in a job you’re not thrilled about, or you were recently let go from a position, you’re probably eying the unemployment rate with concern. Will you be able to find a job? If you do land an interview and get an offer, should you accept it even if you’re not sure it’s a good fit for you?
When it comes to job hunting, there are two types of people: Those who say take the job no matter what and those who say only take the job if it’s something you want to do. While many people do need to work to support themselves, there’s more to a job than a paycheck. You’re likely to spend at least 40 hours per week on the job. It’s important to make sure it’s something you enjoy doing, something that aligns with your values, and something that edifies you.
Even when times are tough and unemployment is high, you don’t have to settle for the first job offer that comes along. If you want to find a job you like in a tough economic climate, you just have to answer some questions.
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What Do You Want to Do?
“What you want to do” isn’t always the same thing as “what you went to school to study.” There are plenty of people who’ve put themselves through medical school or law school only to realize once they had their degrees they had no interest in being a doctor or lawyer. There are also plenty of people who majored in a particular subject because their parents pressured them to do so.
If you’ve spent four-plus years studying something that didn’t thrill you, you aren’t going to find fulfillment in that career field. That’s not to say your degree is a waste or that you can’t use what you learned in college or graduate school in another area.
More likely than not, you developed a set of transferable skills you can put to use in a broad range of careers. If you studied medicine, you might find a job in a research lab doing work with pharmaceuticals. If you studied education, you might find a job as an administrator, career or life coach, or as a writer of textbooks or curricula. English majors have developed a set of skills that will work across multiple career fields. For example, you can teach, work in research, or get into administrative work.
Figuring out what you want to do often involves trusting your instincts and a bit of trial and error. And there are several things you can do to help you determine what you want to do for a living.
Examine Your Values
It’s also worthwhile to make a list of your values or what’s important to you. Could you work for a company that has a history of treating its workers poorly? What about one that has a history of poor environmental practices? Do you see yourself in a job that has a positive impact on people’s lives?
Develop Hobbies & Interests
While you don’t necessarily want to turn your hobby into a career, developing your hobbies can help you see where your interests lie. Your hobbies also give you a clue about what your skills are and what you’re good at doing.
Make a list of things you enjoy doing, such as crafting, studying languages, baking, or traveling. Next, think of jobs that you can do that involve your hobbies. Examples include teaching arts and crafts, teaching language abroad or online through, finding work in a bakery, and giving guided tours.
Volunteering is a way to try before you buy when it comes to a job, and it also lets you give back to the community. Many people think they’re interested in a type of job, but after volunteering, they discover another option is a better fit.
For example, I wanted to build up my tutoring skills, so I volunteered as a tutor with a local after-school writing program for elementary school children. It turns out I’m not really a kid person, but I do enjoy teaching and helping others. The next year, I started volunteering with a program in my area that pairs tutors with adults who are looking to build basic literacy skills. Working with adults was a much better fit for my personality, and I ended up working with a student in the program for several years.
There are lots of organizations that need volunteers, from animal shelters to educational programs and from food banks to museums. You’re sure to find some organization in your area that has a volunteer program that interests you and potentially aligns with your career goals.
Take a Class
Whether you’re in school now or earned your degree years ago, taking an elective course helps you build a skill or determine your level of interest in a particular area. For example, if you love to eat or read about food, you can sign up for a cooking class to see if you have any skills in the kitchen. If you like reading, you can try a writing class to improve your communication skills.
Sometimes, taking a class can send you down a completely unexpected career path. You’ve probably heard plenty of stories of people who signed up for an improv class, wine tasting class, or baking program on a whim only to have it open a whole new set of doors for them.
Learn About Specific Careers
Before you jump in and assume a job that’s in your area of interest is going to be the perfect one for you, it helps to dig deeper into it. There are likely to be some aspects of the job that appeal to you and others that turn you off.
For instance, a line cook does get to make a host of delicious dishes. But they also have to work long or unusual hours. A nurse gets to help people, but a significant part of the job involves cleaning up a variety of bodily fluids. Grade school teachers also get to help people but have to deal with demanding parents, apathetic students, and (depending on the ages they teach) bodily fluids.
If you’d like to learn more about specific jobs and careers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is a fantastic resource. The handbook lists a broad range of careers in a variety of fields. It provides details on how you can get started in particular occupations, the skills you need, the opportunities available, and the median pay.
What Industries Have a High Growth Rate?
Knowing what you want to do is just part of the puzzle when you’re looking for a job. Just because you love basket weaving or acting, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to find a job doing either. When looking for work, it can be helpful to look at the industries expected to have a high growth rate over the next few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly releases information on the sectors and industries that are seeing rapid growth (and rapid decline).
Looking at the industries with positive growth rates, you can ask yourself if there’s an opportunity for you in that particular sector. For example, if you can’t find a job as a basket weaver, you can get your teaching certificate and look for work as an art teacher at an elementary or post-secondary school. Until you land your big break as an actor, you can put your communication skills to good use in hospitality or a professional services job.
What Companies Do You Want to Work For?
Another way to get started finding a job you’ll love is to think about the type of company you want to work for. You can think of specific companies or keep your categories broad, such as working for a mom-and-pop business or a Fortune 500 company. Working for a smaller company often appeals to those who prefer to be more than just a face in the crowd. Smaller companies also tend to be more flexible and less bureaucratic than bigger ones. Large companies probably have more rules than mom-and-pops. But it is also likely to be more well-funded and able to pay larger salaries and offer better benefits.
When researching companies, keep the values that matter to you at the front of your mind. Check to see what each company’s track record is when it comes to the environment or employee treatment. Read up on the company’s mission to see if it aligns with your values and is something you support.
For example, perhaps you’re interested in working with a company that reflects your values, such as a nonprofit organization that supports a cause you’re passionate about. Or maybe you want to work with an organization that’s a certified B corporation if you believe making money is only part of the reason businesses should exist.
Knowing the type of company you want to work for can help you avoid applying for jobs at businesses that don’t interest you or that don’t align with your values. Working for a company that values the things you do is just as important as finding a job that interests you.
Who Do You Know?
The U.S. Department of Labor says it best: “Networking is your most important job search strategy.” When it comes to getting a job that interests you and is a good fit for what you want from your life, who you know is more important than what’s on your resume.
How do you get out there and start networking? You have a few options, from attending in-person events to making connections online.
Networking in Person
Depending on your personality, networking in person might seem like a nightmare waiting to happen. Don’t worry, though. Even introverts can successfully network in person. You don’t have to attend a so-called networking event and spend several hours collecting business cards from people you might never hear from again.
The best and most effective way to network is to do things that naturally interest you. That can mean joining a local book club or knitting circle or attending a convention or conference on a topic you find intriguing. Focusing on an activity you like takes some of the pressure off networking. The focus shifts to meeting people and forming relationships with them based on a shared interest rather than landing a job.
After making the initial contact with a person at an event or group activity, make sure you follow up. Send an email or call them. When you make contact, focus on them, not yourself. It can come across as weird and somewhat desperate if the first thing you do is send your resume to a person you just met or if you spend the entire phone call talking about yourself.
Connect With People You Already Know
While you don’t necessarily want to throw yourself and your need for a job at a new contact, at least not immediately, the rules are different for people who are already in your close circle. When you’re actively looking for a job, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a quick message to friends and family describing your situation and asking for any leads or suggestions.
Social media can also help you find a job. LinkedIn is an obvious place to start when you’re job hunting, but Facebook can also be useful, especially if you are active on the site and have a lot of friends and followers. Creating a post that explains you’re job hunting and what you’re looking for can result in leads.
If you are going to network online, remember that your social profiles could be the first thing employers see about you. Keep your conduct professional and personable at all times, even on social media sites that you don’t associate with job hunting and networking, such as Twitter or Instagram. Remember that a potential employer or contact can quickly look you up and might be turned off by any offensive content.
A good rule to follow when it comes to posting on social media is if you’re not sure if it’s a good idea to post something, it probably isn’t.
Set up Informational Interviews
One way to use your networks is to make connections with people at the companies or in the industries you’re interested in. For example, perhaps your cousin knows someone who works at Company ABC, which happens to be the company at the top of your list.
You can use the connection you have with your cousin to reach out to the person at Company ABC and ask if they’re willing to set up an informational interview with you.
An informational interview allows you to learn more about a particular position and company. It’s not the same as a job interview, as you most likely will not walk away from the experience with a job offer. What you will leave with is knowledge about the role and, ideally, a new connection at your dream company.
During the interview, ask the person about the job, including what the typical day looks like, what the progression path for the role is, and what people usually do to get into the field. You can also ask about specific skills or education required for the position and about the culture of the company.
Remember to be respectful of the person who’s agreed to do the interview. Don’t take up too much of their time. Aim to have the interview take no more than 30 minutes and remember to thank the interviewer at the end of the interview and to send a follow-up thank-you message after you’ve left.
An informational interview gives you a chance to make a positive first impression on someone in the field you’re interested in. Depending on how you act during the interview and how you handle the follow-up, it can lead to future leads or even future job offers.
Should You “Settle” for a Job?
You’ve been looking for a job for months, and although you’ve had some strong leads and interviews, you haven’t yet gotten an offer.
Your unemployment is about to run out, or you’re reaching the end of your savings. You need to find a way to earn income — fast.
Suddenly, an offer lands in your lap. The thing is, it’s for a job you weren’t particularly excited about. The salary isn’t what you hoped for, or the company culture doesn’t feel like a good fit. Should you still take the job?
There are a lot of things to consider when in this situation, including your finances and prospects. If you’ve been looking for months and this is the first job offer you’ve had, and you need money, it might be best to take it. You can continue your job search after you start the new position.
But if you’ve only been looking for a short while and you have enough financial reserves to support yourself for a while longer, it’s sometimes best to pass on the job and keep searching.
One caveat to this is if you are receiving unemployment. Usually, you need to accept a job offer if you’re on unemployment and the offer is for “suitable employment,” meaning it’s in your field and for a salary that is in line with what you previously earned. The length of time you’ve been collecting unemployment can also influence whether or not you need to accept a suitable job offer or risk losing your benefits. Check with your state’s unemployment office before you turn down an offer to make sure you understand the rules.
Some people say, “a job’s a job.” But a job is also where you’re going to spend about one-quarter of your life if you work 40 hours per week. Do you really want to be doing something that conflicts with your values or that you find incredibly boring 25% of the time?
Finding a job you love involves learning about yourself and your interests, then finding ways to translate your interests into a viable career path. It requires an upfront investment of time and effort on your part, but the long-term benefits of landing a job you’re excited about are well worth it. You know what they say. “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Are you looking for work? What strategies have you used when searching or applying for jobs?