Whether you’re just out of school, changing jobs, or reentering the job market, the first thing you need to think about is not only what jobs are available, but what kind of person you are. What are the necessary conditions for you to do your best work? What, about you, should be most highly valued?
What are your objectives? Do you want to earn the most money immediately, or do you want a position with the most opportunities for advancement? Is the work climate important to you? Think about it. Write down the minimum acceptable salary in terms of your lifestyle. Be realistic. Ask yourself how far you want to go. In other words, how high up is the top for you? Do you aspire to be a CEO or would you rather supervise only a few people? Would you prefer to be a member of a work group, or do you work best when you are alone?
Where would you like to work? You may like certain parts of the country, either because it is what’s familiar to you and you already have established friendships and family or because you want to go to a new place. Do you prefer mountains or the seacoast, a warm or cold climate, an urban or rural setting?
Give some thought to the kind of organization you’d like to work for. There are a couple of issues to consider: First, would you prefer working for a large company or a small one? Some of the answers may be found within your own experience. Did you enjoy attending a small school or a large one? Are you more comfortable with anonymity or intimacy? Contrary to expectations, you can find friendships while working in a close-knit unit of a large company. At first glance, it might seem that there will be more opportunities for you in a large company, but it is also possible to get stuck, forever, in the lower rungs. In a small company you are more visible, and, if you do well, you’ll have a chance to move up, unless there is simply no room at the top.
Do you want to work for a manufacturing company or for a service organization? Although there is usually more money to be earned in industry than in service or nonprofit, they also tend to have different corporate cultures.
Think of what kind of work atmosphere you would like. Would you prefer a traditional organization, very formal and structured, such as a bank or insurance company? Or would you feel more comfortable in an innovative organization, such as an advertising agency or a firm on the edge of new electronic technology? In these places, creativity is rewarded but the anxiety level is higher. Decide whether you enjoy the challenge of being a pathfinder or whether you would rather leave those hassles to others and follow an already beaten track. What feels too risky for one person is no risk at all for another.
Another major question you should ask yourself is “What can I do that is marketable?” The other side of that coin is: “Who would hire me?” If you don’t think your liberal arts college degree is enough to land you a job, if you have been out of the workforce for so long that you don’t know where to start, or if you’re dissatisfied with your present work and want to try something else, take heart. You have all kinds of skills that will be valuable to an employer. You just need to figure out exactly what they are and how to present them. You need to translate what you know and what you have done into a list of skills that will make an employer want to hire you. Think in terms of where and when you have felt most appreciated, most skilled, most knowledgeable. What was so satisfying about those times? Were there skills involved that you want to be able to use again or perfect? Perhaps you wish to learn something new and wouldn’t mind starting lower down, taking some time to get up to speed. In these hard economic times with a poor job market, knowing yourself, and knowing what your abilities and preferences are, will make you a more convincing candidate when the time comes to be interviewed.