Choosing a Job for the Long Haul

Early in a worker's career, he or she normally moves around jobs fairly regularly, picking up new experience and technologies and figuring out what she enjoys doing. Think of this as the "dating" stage, when every job brings exciting new possibilities and challenges and it's always worth looking to see what's over the next hill.

But in the middle of her career, the job-hopping wears wearing and she wants to settle down into a job where she can develop a long, deep relationship and make a significant contribution to the company. To continue the metaphor, she's ready to move from dating to marriage (or at least a long-term relationship). And at this point, some programmers get confused and a little scared. Letely I've been hiring several workers and managers in this phase – they're not worried so much about getting another job, but they do not know how to pick one they can stay with and grow in for a decade or more. The usual question is something like this:

"I've outgrown this job and I'm ready to move on, but I really want a job that will make me happy for a long time, and I do not want to make some of my past mistakes. what to look for, and how will I recognize it when I see it. "

This global, existential question is too big to answer in one go, so we usually break it down into several smaller questions:

  • "What are my core values ​​that have to be reflected in a job for me to be happy?"
  • "When have I been happiest in my working life, and what made me happy?"
  • "When have I been most miserable in my working life, and what caused the misery?"

These are still existential questions, but I've got a standard approach to answering them. First, I ask the programmer to take the "VIA Signature Strengths Survey" question at . This is a short survey that reliably tells you the five personality strengths that you rely on most often – and in my experience your new job should give you opportunity to use all five if you're going to be happy there.

Next, we talk about her working life, and I get her to describe to me in detail the happy and miserable times: what was going on in her life and work, what gave her energy and sapped energy, who did she enjoy working with and who did she hate. I arrange to record the conversations, and ask the programmer to listen to them several times and try to identify and write down common themes. These themes tell us a lot about the kind of job and people that would make her either happy and energized or miserable and drained.

And finally, we go through a visioning exercise. I ask her to get comfortable, and imagine the job of her dreams – the one that would keep her happy for the rest of her life. Then, without thinking about the actual work , I ask her to walk me through a typical day at the job in microscopic detail:

  • What time does she get to work? How does she get there?
  • What does the building look like on the outside – how about the inside?
  • Does she work in cubicle, bullpen, or office? How is it decorated? What's on the desk?
  • What about the people around her – young, old, mixed? Intelligent? Laid-back or Type A?

You get the idea – we're trying to envision the perfect working environment, independent of the work to be done.

Finally, we spend time integrating everything we've learned about her personality, work history, and ideal work environment into a profile of the perfect job – and sometimes this takes a lot of work and rework. But when it's done, she has a shopping list that she can refer to as she goes out job hunting, and can compare each candidate against the list with confidence.

This has gone on long enough – the next installation will talk about how to assess a candidate company to see how well it suits you, and how to know it's good enough.