"Job hunting can be fun - enjoy the challenge."
If this inspirational affirmation sends you into a fit of hysterical laughter, you probably see job hunting as an impossible, overwhelming task that should be avoided at all costs. Who can see the "fun" in scanning want ads, filling out applications, and suffering the humiliation of repeated rejection? Indeed, a job hunt can take a toll on anyone's self-esteem.
But consider the cost of not accepting the challenge to find better work. You may stay in a job you've been in for years, comfortable with the convenience, but utterly bored. Or you might be so unhappy with your work that you can hardly drag yourself out of bed each morning. Some employees go on for so long in this state of limbo that they become psychologically and even physiologically affected. Stress, chronic tension, repetitive motion injuries, frequent illnesses, and even nervous breakdowns can ensue. Ironically, it's not uncommon for a burned-out worker to up and quit his job on the spur of the moment, suddenly finding himself in the very situation he toiled so miserably to avoid - a job hunt.
So perhaps the question comes down to whether you'd rather be in a frantic job hunt under the hourglass of diminishing savings, or learn to take charge of your career and aggressively look for new opportunities to enhance your skills and further your professional development. In most cases, what makes a job search so difficult is not the process itself, but rather our resistance to it.
Finding Work That You Love
It's easy to get caught up in the belief that a job - any job - would be better than the situation you are in now. This rings especially true if that situation is called, "Unemployment." But long after the thrill of a new job has worn off and the increase in salary has been absorbed in your household budget, you still want to feel happy about going to work each day. That quiet sense of contentment comes from knowing that your job satisfies many parts of your life - financial security being the obvious - but also personal growth, a feeling of accomplishment, and intellectual stimulation. These attributes are all necessary for a satisfying career position.
The difference between a job and a career position can mean the difference between feeling like just another rank-and-file employee or having a sense of purpose - and passion - about what you do. You don't have to be a doctor, a teacher or a social worker to achieve this sense of purpose and contribution. Some people get tremendous satisfaction from operating machinery, helping customers with their shopping, or driving a school bus. As long as you feel you're providing an important service, you'll be able to take pride in what you do.
If you're overwhelmed by the mere thought of choosing a career, you're not alone. Just go to any bookstore and witness the volumes of books, tapes, tests, and videos available on the subject. Why has so much been written about career decision-making? Because there's a lot at stake in choosing one's work - money, job security and most of all, happiness. If you're not satisfied with your work, your discontent will spill over into other areas of your life. It can affect your energy, your relationships, your family, and even the way you sleep at night.
"Finding a job I love instead of hate - what a great idea!" you're sarcastically mumbling to yourself about now. "But how do I find this oh-so-satisfying job?" The answer lies within. Your individual accomplishments, skills, talents, history, goals and dreams are major components of who you are and what you can become. The best way to start your search is by clearly identifying as many of those elements as you can, putting them down in black and white.
Narrowing Your Focus
Writing down where you've been and where you would like to go will help you visualize the direction your job-search plan should take and the types of work you should target. Creating a potential path to your career goals also helps separate reality from wishful thinking.
First, consider the primary reason you're seeking new employment. If money is an urgent issue, then the most immediate action you can take may be to find a job similar to the one you've done most recently. If you're able and willing to continue working in the same field, you're probably better prepared than you think to find another position in fairly short order - by networking with colleagues, clients, and even former employers to let them know you're available.
But what if you're unable to continue in the same career? Perhaps you've been injured, or the job is becoming obsolete, or you're just going to scream if you ever have to walk back into that work environment again. Then you'll need to do some skills assessment and explore new horizons. (There's always a new horizon, however difficult it may be to see through the haze of job-loss anxiety and impending financial difficulties.)
Make a list of the skills you know you possess. If it's difficult to think of specific skills, start by listing things you've done. Use your resume as a reference, if you have one. Detail duties and responsibilities you've handled in previous jobs - even if they seem mundane and unimportant, and even if they were not part of your official job title.
Did you supervise staff when managers were off site? Did you introduce a new filing system that helped organize a disheveled office? Did you suggest an idea for a successful sales promotion? Try to recall everything you did in each position.
As you remember jobs you've held, think about the things you learned in those positions - tasks or computer systems you were trained in, business strategies or decision-making you were mentored in. Whether you're recounting five or 25 years of work, you will start to see how much you've learned and how much stronger you've become in certain skills.
Add to your list those activities you did outside your work assignments. Include volunteer work, community involvement, internships, training or apprenticeship programs, academic projects, home improvement and repair projects, and even hobbies. Did you ever assist with organizing staff meetings or social events for a company? Have you handled some of the bookkeeping for your local church? Were you involved in fundraising for your child's school? Have you helped your neighbor build a patio and deck? Believe it or not, all these activities are important, because each represents a unique set of skills.
Next, try to cite at least one accomplishment (small or large, it doesn't matter) in each activity. Maybe your double chocolate-chip cookies at the school's fundraising event helped bring in a record amount of money.
As you develop a comprehensive list of your skills and accomplishments, make some notes about which of those activities you really enjoyed, and why. See if you notice any common themes. Did you love baking for that school fundraiser, but hate manning the sales booth? Or did you find that you were miserable in the kitchen, but had a great time talking to people while watching your cookie sales skyrocket?
You will begin to see a pattern developing, a broad-brush portrait of who you are. Your ideal job should allow you to blend as many elements of this picture as possible into meaningful work. Within these elements are a set of skills that can be used in that ideal job - whether it is very similar to your most recent role or something in a totally different field. Career counselors call these "transferable skills." Knowing your transferable skills will help you when writing your resume, and later when convincing an interviewer why you are the best candidate for a job.
Think about what you want to achieve from this job change. It may be another position similar to the one you just had, or a complete career change. Setting and prioritizing your goals is essential to executing a successful job search that takes advantage of your transferable skills and interests.
In doing so, keep in mind that your next job may have to be a stepping stone to the perfect position. Be realistic in this process. Ask yourself: Do you already have some of the qualifications and skills that would be relevant to that type of work? For example, if most of your recent experience is in telemarketing, it would be unrealistic to expect to be hired as a healthcare professional (unless you already have the appropriate credentials or training). It's more likely you could make a successful transition to such careers as retail sales, claims processing, or office administration.
Once you have a clear picture of your career goal, you'll be ready to embark on your job search.
Don't underestimate the value of this self-assessment process. When you can envision the characteristics you'd like your next job to have, you can target your job search accordingly. Remember the words of a wise career advisor: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else."
Excerpted from a new job-search guide to be published later this year by California Job Journal. Receive an e-mail notification when the book becomes available by sending your request to email@example.com.
Career Assistance Online
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CareerWeb.com - How good is your inventory of skills?
CoolJobs.com - A list of unusual occupations.
emode.com - Fun-filled, free site offers dozens of personality tests, from serious to silly.
Keirsey.com - Determine if you are an Artisan, Guardian, Idealist or Rational - and find a career to match.
mbTypeGuide.com/type/ - A guide to Myers-Briggs personality profiles.
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Money.com - Money magazine test helps identify your strengths.
PersonalityTypes.com - Tests and information related to different personalities.
Queendom.com - This free career testing site is better than its name.
Review.com/career - A useful career section of The Princeton Review's website.
RileyGuide.com - provides career search insights and links to other Internet career guides.
Works.state.mo.us - US Employment Service's 74-page guide to the job search.