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Why job titles might be wrecking your job search – and what to do about it

Imagine landing your dream ethical job, only to find out weeks or months into it that it wasn’t what you were expecting.

This experience is more common than you might think.

The problem? The way that many jobseekers are searching for jobs.

It probably goes something like this: 

You select a location and probably a classification like Administration or Disability Services Jobs. Then you scroll through the options looking for jobs that match your current job title – or perhaps the job title of your current manager. 

When you find one, you click through, skim the job ad and download the attached position description for more info.

With that basic understanding of the role and the organisation, you click ‘Apply’ and send through your application. You’re excited when you get a call or an email a few weeks later, and after going through a couple of interviews, you’re stoked when you’re offered the job.

But what is missing from this process is a thorough understanding at the beginning of your job search about which roles will be a good fit for for your skills, your experience and your passion.

How do you know if that job that seems to have the ‘right’ title and description is really the job you want to be doing?

Katherine Brooks is the Executive Director of the Career Center at Vanderbilt University, and she suggests a more nuanced two-step process that will help you to better sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to your job search.

Step 1 – Ask yourself the right questions

Before you jump into your job search, start by examining what it is you’re really looking for.

Whether you’re a social worker, a software developer or a sustainability expert, there is a huge variety of different jobs you could do, some of which you’d love, and some you’d hate.

Start by thinking about how you want to spend your days – having a clear idea of what you enjoy doing and where your true passions lie will make it much easier to search through roles and spot the ones that match up with your goals and expectations. 

Here are four questions to frame this process

1. Who?

Who do you want to spend your days with? Think about clients, customers and even colleagues. Who are they? What are their needs and personalities like? What sort of work do they do? What are their values and life experiences?

Examples:

  • I want to help people who have a disability to live a full life
  • I want to work with young people
  • I want to be around people who are excited about changing the world
  • I want to be around more experienced colleagues who I can learn from

2. What?

What activities would you like to do each day? Do you like to care for others? Create new things? Chatting to people on the phone? Would you like to spend your day writing or perhaps analysing research? Or maybe designing or teaching? Are you passionate about working closely with others and making connections or do you enjoy doing more abstract analysis or problem-solving? 

Examples:

  • I want to help people directly through teaching or coaching
  • I want to spend my days talking to clients or donors
  • I want to spend my work days writing amazing emails about an issue I’m passionate about
  • I’d love to work developing insights from data

3. Where?

What kind of setting will make you want to get out of bed in the morning, excited to work for a better world? 

If it’s an office, is it buzzing with energy, collaborative spirit and the thrill of deadlines or is it quiet and calm with space and time to reflect? 

If you’re working in healthcare or allied health, are you in a hospital, an aged care facility, a local family clinic or a clinic in a regional or remote community?

If you’re teaching, do you want to work with children, young people or adults? Do you want to work indoors or outdoors or do you like the idea of meeting people at different locations across your local area or city? 

Do you have a particular location you’d like to work or are you open to adventure? Do you want to work remotely from home or are you open to relocating for the right role or even considering working overseas?

Examples:

  • I want to work in a community centre in my local area supporting teenagers who lack family support 
  • I want to work in a remote aboriginal community
  • I want to be free to do home visits for kids who are struggling
  • I really want to work from home because I hate commuting

4. Why?

Understanding your reasons “why” may be the most important element in finding a job that makes you happy. Purpose is one of the most important things to have in a job or career, because it’s highly correlated with both happiness and success in a role. 

Being clear on your ‘why’ – what you value and what gives your life meaning and purpose – will help find a job that won’t only make a real difference, but will also make you happy doing it too.

Examples:

  • I’m passionate about climate change, so I want a job that will help the world to stop it
  • I want to help other young people to find a job they’ll love
  • I want to see people eating healthier food
  • I think every person deserves the basic right of a place to call home

Step 2 – Refine your search

Armed with this fresh, more nuanced information about what makes you tick professionally, you can now use your answers to guide your job search. Start with these three steps:

1. What do your answers mean?

Review your answers and think about what kind of role they belong to. What are your must-haves and where can you compromise. What’s most important to you – the purpose of your work, the clients you work for, the people you work with, the location, or the actual responsibilities of the job?

Remember that you probably won’t find a job where everything is perfect, but knowing what’s most important to you will increase the chances of a good match – or at least the chances of avoiding a job that sounds good but isn’t what you really want to be doing.

2. Chat to someone who’s living the dream

Who in your circle is doing a similar job? Or who might be able to connect you – even through LinkedIn – with someone relevant. It may be someone you know directly, through a friend or family member or via social media. People are often more than happy to talk with someone who is passionate about their work. Approach them with a personalised request and ask if they have time for a quick phone call or a coffee. 

Be specific about what you’re wanting. For example, you could say, “I’ve noticed you work in (insert organisation or field) and I’m considering working there/doing that type of work. I would love to learn what you love about it and also the challenges. I’d really appreciate any advice you can offer.”

3. Compare opportunities

Once you refine your criteria and you’re ready to start applying, search in the relevant job location on EthicalJobs.com.au, but keep your mind open to different possibilities.

Open up and compare all the jobs that match the who/what/where/why criteria that are most important to you, even if they sound different to your “ideal” job.

You can’t learn everything about a role from a job ad or PD, so if a job seems like even a partial match, why not apply and see what happens? If you’re invited for an interview, you’ll have a chance to ask deeper questions about the role and organisation to better understand if it’s right for you.

No matter what role you choose, there will always be some elements of it that you enjoy less than others. But taking your time to really understand what’s important to you and what you love doing will help you find a role that’s a better fit for your goals and passions. 

And the great thing is, this process doesn’t have to be a once-off. You can revisit it any time you feel ready to grow and develop in your career. 

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