You’re graduating and either beginning a new job or seeking one. You’ve reflected on your interests, strengths and experience, and hope you will discover the truth of Confucius’ adage, “choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
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Unfortunately, finding that dream job early on can be elusive. Rare is the individual who hits the bulls-eye on the first attempt. Take it from someone ahead of you on the path: it takes time and experience to understand what you like about work as well as under what conditions you do your best work.
Here are three perspectives to consider as you embark on this journey.
1. Be patient and have a longer-term perspective.
In his masterpiece Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer describes the Quaker philosophy called “Way Forward.” The idea is that we learn from each experience, even when it is unpleasant. So true. Experience gives us insights to factor into our next career move.
Working as a comptroller at Texas Instruments taught me that day-to-day I didn’t enjoy an accounting job and a company that had an engineering culture wasn’t the best fit for me. I eventually made my way to Wall Street and found I enjoyed the work because it was both intellectually challenging and highly relational.
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It’s unlikely that you will find the perfect job right away so if you are offered a job that seems like a reasonable fit with your interests, strengths and values, take it. Learn all you can and begin developing a network as you look toward what the next step might be. If this first job turns out to be intolerable, consider moving to another position within the same organization. This way you get broader experience but are less likely to be viewed as a job hopper. At the first company I worked for after college, I began as a product marketing engineer then moved to the finance side and worked as a cost accountant and a controller over the course of five years. I learned so much that helped me build a base of knowledge to advance in my career.
2. Realize that who you work with is as important as what you do.
During the interviewing process, it’s ideal if you are able to meet the people you will work with day-to-day. Research shows that having strong relationships with people at work is the key to feeling engaged in your job. When you feel connected to your colleagues, you are more energized, motivated and satisfied. Who you work with matters.
Not convinced? Consider this: according to Gallup Research, 30 percent of employees have a best friend at work. These employees are seven times more likely to be engaged than the average employee, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work and have higher levels of well-being. People who don’t have a best friend at work have just a one in 12 chance of being engaged.
That doesn’t mean that you have to work where your friends work, but it does mean that who you work with is important because the people around you will have an effect on your enjoyment and your performance. As you consider the company and the position, be sure to also consider whether you can see yourself becoming friends with these potential co-workers.
3. Clarify your values along the journey
Peter Drucker worked in finance in London during the Depression. He discovered that he had no interest in being the wealthiest man in the graveyard. Rather than money, it was people he was interested in so he quit his job and began a new career path as arguably the first management consultant. He found that he liked helping leaders and the people they were responsible for leading. Drucker went on to have a spectacular career. His ideas -- including decentralization, management by objectives, and privatization -- had a profound impact on leaders and leadership thinking.
Life is a journey, and that includes your time spent working. Yes, there will be periods where you sprint but you need to prepare for a marathon. If you are patient and have a longer-term perspective, work with people who become friends, clarify your values as you gain experience and move to work that is aligned with your values, your career will become more satisfying and you will eventually find yourself in a job you love and plan to do the rest of your life.
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