How to answer the question “What kind of job are you looking for?”

***DISCLAIMER: The following dialogue is a dramatization, and in no way reflects how much whining my boyfriend did in the early stages of his job search.***

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“Arrrrrrrrrgh!  I don’t know.  Why do you keep asking me that?”

My boyfriend, now employed, told me that getting him to answer that question was the single most helpful thing I did during the months I coached him through his search for a full-time job.

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.  I just want to find a job.”

Well, babe, it’s kinda hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.  More importantly, it’s especially hard for someone to help you find something when you can’t define what it is you want to find.  For example, take the recent college grad who emailed me a few months ago.  He had been unsuccessful in his search, even after reaching out to his network for help.

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“I don’t know.  I’m willing to take anything.”

Wrong answer.  If he’s truly willing to take anything, that means that everything could be a potential fit with his skills and interests (which, in fact, is definitely not the case).  Even though I would like to help him, I’m not going to forward him every job lead I come across, because that would be too much work for me.  I am also not going to guess which job leads would actually be good for him, because that is also too much work for me.  So what do I end up sending his way?  Nothing.

Defining the kind of job you want doesn’t have to be difficult.  You don’t need to spout a list of job titles; I actually recommend that you don’t.  You don’t even need to name a function or an industry, unless you done your research and have some in mind.  All you need to do is think about your preferences in 3 key areas: contribution, people, and organization.

1. What are the characteristics of the individual contribution you want to make?  What do you want your daily work to look like?  Is it physical, intellectual, emotional, technical?  Is it consistent, or does it change every day?  What skills do you want to use in your job?  What skills do you want to learn?  In what setting do you want to spend your working hours?

2. What kind of people do you want to work with? Are they similar to or different from you?  How many do you want to work with regularly?  How do you want them to treat you?  How do you want to interact with them?  Do you want to be surrounded by experts or do you want to be the expert?

3. What kind of organization do you want to work for?  What kind of culture should it have?  How do you want it to treat its employees?  Is it big or small?  Start-up or mature?  Consumer-facing, or business-to-business?

What’s great about framing your search around preferences, is that you can engage others in brainstorming what may be a good fit for you.  Turn it into a topic of conversation.  Use those conversations to refine your preferences.

Also consider how the three areas rank in order of importance.  What matters most and is non-negotiable?  What matters least and can be let go of (if need be)?  For my boyfriend, the type of organization mattered more than anything else: he wanted to be at an organization that made a positive impact on the world, preferably in the lives of youth.  And that is exactly where he is now.

So, what kind of job are you looking for?  Express your preferences, and let folks know where you can be flexible.  You’ll get a lot further than if you gave them nothing to go on.

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Update: If you liked this post, check out my Quickstart Guide to Figuring Out What’s Next, which includes exercises designed to help you define what you want in the next phase of your career!

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