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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Kent


We have all heard the saying that “the riches are in the niches”.

This means that the narrower we define a goal the easier it is to wade through a huge number of options and find the ones that serve us the best.

Constraint in a job search is one of the very first steps to take if you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

I know it is counterintuitive. Most advice we hear is that you should be open to anything, just get your foot in the door, and if you are open to everything you are more likely to find something.

But notice that you don’t use that “open to anything” theory in most other things you do. For example, if you are looking for a house, it would be crazy to look at every available house. Here is what you probably do automatically before you begin to look:

  1. You figure out the features you are looking for. Maybe it is a house in a certain neighborhood, with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, a paved deck, a three car garage, that is within a certain budget.

  2. Then you prioritize. You decide which of those features is most important, least important and everything in between.

  3. Then you look at the sales listings and narrow down all the houses for sale to the few that meet at least your most important criteria.

  4. You look at those first and evaluate how you feel about them.

  5. Then you might reprioritize some of the things you wanted or maybe you feel even more strongly about what you want.

  6. Based on how you feel you look for other houses that have the highest priority features and eliminate the ones that don’t include them.

  7. Rinse and repeat until you find the house you want to buy.

This method is also true of other less important things in our lives, like which restaurant we go to (budget, type of food, distance), or what vacations we take (time, budget, distance, activities, weather) or even what outfit we buy for a special occasion (fancy, long, short, color, flattering cut). We always narrow down our criteria before we look for an option.

Not considering everything is how we allow ourselves to make any decisions without getting stuck feeling overwhelmed, which almost always leads to not making any decision.

So why should the job search be any different?

There are two steps in constraining a job search.

The first is to decide these three things:

1. Task/skills you want to utilize in your next job (coding, project management, operations, data science).

2. Industry that you want to work in (finance, entertainment, education).

3. Mission (animal rights, a political goal, ESG).

Get as specific as you can in each of these areas. For example:

  • If you want to use your HR skills, do you want to do recruiting, benefits or training and professional development?

  • If you want to work in the healthcare field, do you want to work for hospitals, insurance companies, advocacy/political groups, or health and wellness apps?

  • If you want to support sustainability do you want to work toward recycling, clean energy, or research and development of new technologies?

Then rank these three areas in terms of your priorities. This will give you the first level of constraint, in the same way the budget, neighborhood and number of bathrooms/bedrooms did for the house hunters.

Then as you find out more about specific jobs within those parameters you need a way to figure out which jobs will be best suited to your other desires/needs and therefore worth your time and effort.

The second step is to consider these six areas about any job.. Put them in order of priority for you and write a sentence or two defining what about each one is important to you and why. Remember - they might all be important to you, you just need to know their relative importance.

1. Workload - Are you a 9-5 kind of person (maybe a balanced lifestyle is more important to you than what you are doing or how much you are paid)? Do you need to know in advance what your workload will be or do you thrive on the ups and downs of busy periods followed by calm periods?

2. Role Clarity and Autonomy - Do you like to be creative in how you go about your work or would you rather have a clear structure and defined steps? In either case, do you like to have someone to check in with a lot or do you want the onus of asking for feedback to be on you?

3. Supervisor, coworker, direct report relationships - Do you thrive when you feel close to the people you work with, or does that interfere with professional boundaries for you? Do you need lots of interaction with those around you or do you prefer to work alone? How important is collaboration, or team work for you, or do you prefer being assigned (or assigning) specific individual tasks? How well can you handle a “difficult” person?

4. Recognition and Rewards - How important is your title, your salary and/or the benefits that come with your job? Is it more important than who you are working with? Is it how you feel valued and appreciated? Do you need a certain amount of money to live a certain lifestyle? Do you need a larger base salary and not rely on a once a year bonus? Do you need health insurance or do you have it through a partner? Don’t shame yourself on this one. It is usually very important to most of us, but we tend to discount it because we think we should care about the other stuff more.

5. Fairness and Equity within the Organization - How much are you concerned about the way the organization treats different people, both gender/race/religious and different levels in the hierarchy of the company? Remember though - there is a difference between equality and equity. Equality is that everyone gets exactly the same things, whereas equity is that everyone gets what they need so that everyone is on an equal footing. Or do you want to work in a meritocracy, where everything is based only on results?

6. Employee (you) and Organizational Values and Mission Alignment - Are you willing to work for any organization that does anything (legal that is!) as long as you have the other things listed here? Or are you willing to be flexible on other things in order to work for a company that does something you feel passionate about?

This exercise might take some time, but it is worth it. It helps you to define for yourself what you are looking for and why, and will make wading through the job boards much more manageable.

Mostly though, it stops you from doing nothing because you aren’t able to consider everything!

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