I know what you’re thinking. I’m too young and too early in my career to be able to give credible career advice (hasn’t stopped me, though, from giving recruiting advice). But, because of the New Year and the rough economy, I’ve been giving the same spiel several times, and, at least to my untrained ear, the following four criteria for career happiness are probably helpful guides for any new graduates or young “careerists” out there who are wondering what to look for in a job:
- Work with people that you actually like and want to be like. Even if you only work 9-to-5, you are still spending ~50% of your waking life at your job. If you can’t look around and find people that you like and admire, you need to get out, or you’ll wind up either upset about the job all the time, stuck in a rut, or both because 50% of your day is spent with people you either hate, can’t learn from, or worse, both. That doesn’t bode well for your emotional happiness, your performance review, or your career progression.
- Do something that interests or motivates you. Like I said, you are likely to spend at least 50% of your waking life at your job. If it’s not something that interests you or motivates you, that’s 50% of your life spent not developing. To be clear, you don’t have to be passionately in love with what you’re working on to be happy in your career, but if you can’t even say you’re “kinda” interested in what you do, that lack of interest will eventually show when you don’t go the extra mile for a promotion/raise or when you apply with a lackluster resume for a new job.
- Be in a field that’s growing, not shrinking. A rising tide lifts all boats. In this case, a field that’s growing is not likely to be downsized and much more likely to have plenty of promotions, raises, and growth opportunities, even for people who wouldn’t make the bar at a less rapidly growing field. Conversely, a field that’s shrinking, no matter how profitable, will eventually find itself firing more people than it hires, cutting back on salary more than giving raises, and killing projects rather than providing workers with new opportunities. Try to get on a boat that’s in a rising tide.
- Do something where you can set yourself apart. Almost all of business strategy is motivated to respond to or shape one thing: “commoditization.” In the same way that tissue paper is a commodity and hence very cheap, job skills can also rapidly become commodities. And when that happens, the person with those skills will find their salary and prospects disappear. Someone with skills which set them apart from the flock will find plenty of prospects and plenty of salary.
Any person who has a job which fulfills all 4 criteria above will be in a good position career-wise, regardless of starting salary or sector. Many people I’ve spoken with focus on just one or two of these, oftentimes ignoring #4, or they focus only on things like the reputation of a company or the starting salary. The danger of that is that you may find yourself in a job where you are not valued or not developing or just plain unhappy with what you do on a daily basis, and regardless of the short-term benefits of that course of action, it leaves you in a bad position longer-term.