Career Nav #30: How to Know if a Job is Right for You
Christine Liu, Senior Innovation Editor at Harvard Business Publishing, shares her talk, “How to Know if a Job is Right for You.” She discusses some important questions when deciding on your next career move. She talks about trusting your gut, how to get a realistic picture of company culture, and the value of asking for what you need.
I've been through a lot of job transitions in my life and career. I worked at a startup. I worked in publishing, retail, and graphic design. I've learned a lot along the way. Every time, you have to say, "Okay, am I in the right place? Is this job working for me? What am I looking for? What's my next move?" I had to focus on that when I was laid off. I said, "Okay, this is scary, but I will take the time to figure this out."
I've worked at Harvard Business Publishing, basically Harvard Business Review, for the last two years. The pandemic shifted many people's priorities regarding what they want in their careers and what they want in their life. There's been a lot of reckoning and accountability regarding employers and social justice. It's a buyer's market. As a job seeker, you have leverage. You can ask for what you want. This is an exciting time to be looking at transitioning or at least considering your next step.
I think of looking for a job as kind of like dating. Some people might be looking for a short-term fling or even a rebound. Some people might be looking for a more long-term commitment. First, focus on yourself. You have to know what you want and what your values are. Take a gut check. What is your goal and priority? Once you figure that out, then you have a bevy of eligible employers out there. How will you evaluate them if they're a good fit? Maybe they're a good fit for someone else, but are they a good fit for you? There are a lot of questions that you can ask. What's the romantic sunset, the happy ending? What does that look like? Why is it worth the time?
Knowing your purpose and what you value before you start searching everywhere helps anchor where you're going. Five questions in this framework might help you gain some clarity on yourself. The first one is very much that instinctual, subconscious emotion. Listen to your gut, and bring out those feelings and emotions. What are those feelings? Why may they be coming up? Explore that a little bit. The second one is a little more conscious. What are your values? Identifying them, naming them, and then outlining them. These are the things that help you make decisions about why you would go one way or the other. Explore yourself. Personal values can change over time. Knowing your values is super important, as well as your relationships, family, friendships, and everything outside of work. What do they value? What will matter to them? Outline people who will be affected by the decisions you make and consider their feelings.
There's clean data, and then there's the murky stuff. We tell ourselves stories all the time. Like, our coworkers don't listen to me. My company doesn't trust me. Those things could be true. But what if you assumed wrong? What if you made a huge life decision where the data wasn't clean? Write down in objective terms, don't interpret it, don't judge. Write facts. Talk to someone about it. Is what you're thinking true? Or maybe there's a different story that could be told.
You have all these notes everywhere, fitting them together because there might be some trade-offs you have to make. Maybe there are some conflicts. Hopefully, there's some alignment between everything. This is all-knowing yourself. This is going to take time.
Think about all the job postings, and you're looking at employers. There's a lot of information out there. Cultural fit is a huge reason why people stay or leave their jobs. It's a huge reason why people feel safe or they can trust and build relationships with the people they work with. It helps with the purpose and mission. Is this going to work? There is sort of a myth of work-life balance. It's more the perspective of, does the employer trust me to do my work. Do I feel comfortable outlining what I need? Maybe that's a flexible work-from-home schedule. Maybe it's different hours. Being able to communicate those needs because life goes on outside of work. One good rule of thumb is to look at the leadership. Is it a female-founded company? Are there females in senior leadership? This leads to generally more flexible and humane policies. To hammer that in, a global study found that employees at women-led companies enjoy more autonomy and are specifically more satisfied with work-from-home policies when compared to male-led companies.
You're going to be working with your manager a lot. It's pretty much the most important relationship. It can define your role, how you advance in the company, and any personnel matters. If there are red flags, pay attention. It's not just avoiding a bad boss, which is enormous, but you also don't want to pass up an opportunity to work for an excellent boss, a boss who will sponsor you and support you and help your career grow or mentor you. Are they honest? Is the job sustainable? Do you have a unique contribution and role? Do you trust them with the difficult stuff? If you have a problem, could you confide in them? Be mindful of how you're treated during the hiring or recruitment process because that will tell a lot about how they might act on the job.
Company culture, as I said, is a huge thing. You could go into the interview and ask, “Can you describe your company culture for me?” They'll say, "Yeah, it's great. Everyone's collaborative. We're like a family," It's not giving you much information. Instead, set up some scenarios. This will paint a more realistic picture of what might happen. How are problems solved? How would you address the idea of inclusivity? Does everyone feel like their ideas can be heard? Is there a sense of community? If you set up more of these realistic scenarios, maybe you'll get a more realistic answer about company culture. Psychological safety is the number one thing you're looking for because you can trust your co-workers. You can trust that you can say stuff. You won't withhold information or anyone else. You can feel like you can bring your authentic self. You don't have to be crazy. But you don't feel uncomfortable speaking up or speaking out. How can you assess if psychological safety is a core value? Without psychological safety, I think all bets are off.
When you fit and feel like you belong, you can bring your authentic self, or at least are invited to, which is enormous. You can build those meaningful relationships in your role. You can just be you, your 100% human self. It's fantastic to be in a place where you feel like you can belong. You can listen to others, help others, and vice versa. Having that free exchange of ideas goes so far. Lastly, you need to set boundaries when working from home or wherever you work. You are going on vacation. You need to spend time with your family. You want to dance down the block, whatever, being able to say, "Hey, I'm checking out for the day," communicate what you need, and then be restored so you can be a sustainable contributor.