Clarifying goals is one of the most important steps as students—whether entry-level or professionals who have new skills—begin a job search.

4 questions to frame your job search


Clarifying goals is one of the most important steps as students—whether entry-level or working professionals who have new skills—seek employment

There is an urgency to most job searches. Perhaps you are between positions and feel the lack of schedule—as well as the financial strain. Or, you may be stuck in a job that makes you miserable. Regardless of the circumstances, you are looking for another job because you are ready for a change. That energy can be harnessed for a productive search. Yet if you’re not careful, that restlessness can lead to hasty actions that land you in a job that’s a poor fit. 

Before you begin frantically applying for every job you see, it is imperative that you take a beat to clarify your goals. A seasoned golfer does not start hitting the ball until she first locates the hole, evaluates the conditions, and selects the most effective club. With a clear understanding of what you are aiming for, you can make strategic, informed decisions.

Prior to any application, schedule an interview with yourself. Once you have clarified your goals, you will know if you should apply for this job or focus your attention elsewhere. We have four questions to ask yourself at the outset of any job search.

Why Am I Seeking a Change? 
Self-awareness will empower you to make productive choices. Most people in the job market are motivated by a combination of positive and negative factors. List the things you are hoping to achieve with your next position. You should also identify your discontent. Being frank with yourself will allow you to be more objective. Understanding where frustrations have boiled over can put them into perspective and keep you from knee jerk reactions. In your zeal to avoid a work environment like your current position, you might careen into a whole new set of problems.  

How Have I Changed through My Most Recent Job?
Unlike most of our professional skills, applying and interviewing for jobs is only done sporadically in fits and starts across the course of our career. Because of this, it’s natural to default to the positions you sought and the way you interviewed in your previous job search. However, you have gained additional experience, refined skills, developed new interests, and forged fresh relationships. Spend some time reflecting on what you now bring to the job search that you didn’t years ago in your last job search. This will inform and enliven your applications and interviews.

What Are My Long-Term Goals? 
Once you understand where you are, consider where you are headed. What do you want your career to look like in 20 years? Where should you be in 5 or 10 years to help you get there? As you picture the future, don’t only list titles and positions, but consider collaborators and workplace settings.

The best visionaries bring a blend of imagination and pragmatism. One exercise I encourage clients to use is to shoot for the sky then scaffold down to the ground. Once you’ve done so, evaluate if the structure is sound or if you need to modify your construction. Some individuals are sabotaged by self-doubt, while others have unrealistically grandiose plans. This exercise can bring dreams and methods into balance. 

What Are My Non-Negotiables? 
One key for growth is to be open and explore positions you might not have initially imagined. Fundamental for doing so, is knowing the core criteria you need to function well. This list can include factors as diverse as:

  • Location: Are you willing to move for work?
  • Culture: What kind of workplace do you need to thrive?
  • Work-life balance: Are you ready to pour yourself into work or do you need a job that stays within working hours?
  • Salary: Are you willing to compromise on compensation for the right role or company?
  • Advancement: Where is this position taking you?

Before there is a job offer is the perfect time to honestly evaluate your boundaries. Once there is a tempting offer, you can overlook red flags or rationalize a position that won’t be sustainable in the long term. When you accept a position that is out of sync with your priorities, you are setting yourself up for frustration. 

Practice for Success
A pre-application interview with yourself might seem like an additional step, but it’s a practice that will focus and streamline the rest of your job search. This process of reflection will benefit you once you begin the work of applying—and interviewing—for a job. You will be able to articulate why you are drawn to this job and how your unique skills and experience equip you to be successful.

eSchool Media Contributors