As the old saying goes: if you aren't clear about what you want, how can you possibly know when you've got it? Nothing could represent that tried and true statement more than a job search. People typically spend more time planning their vacations, deciding on which car to buy, or even preparing a dinner party than they take to pinpoint the elements of a job that will give them the greatest satisfaction. You may have a general idea of what you like and want but, now that you're looking for a new position, it's time to get specific.
1. Get clear on your values. Decide what you value in a job and which work tasks you truly enjoy. Are elements like teamwork and a sense of belonging important to you? Do you value self-expression, challenge, and contribution? Are you looking for leadership opportunities and high earning potential? Write up a list of your top six values and get crystal clear about what each of them means to you and your sense of fulfillment on the job. That way, when an offer comes up, you will have a benchmark from which you can make an educated choice to accept it or not based upon your values.
2. Set your priorities. Target your job search to meet your top priorities in a practical sense, such as:
- What is your desired salary?
- How far are you willing to commute?
- How much of your time will you devote to travel?
3. Know your preferred work environment and the corporate culture that suits your personality. Are you a people person who thrives on a large amount of social interaction? If so, you'll wither away in a back office with limited people contact. Do you need solitary time to generate ideas and work independently? If that's the case, you will want to be certain you'll have periods throughout your day when you can get off by yourself to reflect and recharge. Are you a structured person who dislikes last-minute changes and constant revisions? Make certain your work environment is fairly structured, too. Otherwise you will feel your sense of order is being threatened and may become irritable and out of sorts.
4. Target your job search. Give yourself a time limit in which you pursue only those positions that meet your top criteria. You can write out your ideal job and call it "Target A." When you reach your time limit (e.g., 15 days), revisit your priorities and readjust them--call this "Target B." For example: Target A--I will commute 20 minutes and only travel 3 days a month. Target B--I will commute 40 minutes and travel 6 days a month. Then set a new time limit (say, another 15 days) and, once that's reached, repeat the process and move on to Target C. That way you're not giving up on Target A (your top criteria), but you're periodically readjusting your priorities and remaining focused and flexible at the same time.
5. Clarity equals confidence. The least effective means of promoting yourself as a viable candidate is by acting like you'll take anything. Presenting yourself as unfocused and desperate is a giant turn-off to potential employers. They're looking for confident problem solvers to resolve issues and complete projects. The clearer you are about your own goals, the more you will appear as smart, self-assured, and professional.
Of course no single job will meet all of your priorities, so remember to be focused and flexible. Most importantly: you don't have to "settle" for less than what you're worth or take a job you don't want. Of course, when you need to accept an interim position solely for the income, do so--but keep looking!
By remaining true to yourself and being clear on your priorities, you will find something that's right for you in due time. It might be more difficult to look for a job while you're working, but many job search experts believe that you'll be perceived as an even more valuable candidate if you're searching while you're already employed. It has to do with the "grass is greener" principle--they will want you because someone else has got you!
Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2014, it's packed with even more critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!