Monday, September 8, 2008

Do You Know When to Run Like Hell From a Job?

Sometimes it's hard to know what you want. Sometimes it’s easier to know what you don’t want.

I mean, there are a lot of career advice people – myself included – who give pointers on how to get the job you really want. But what if you’re not sure what you want? What if you’re not sure what you should do next?

In that case, you flip it. You look at the other side of the equation – figure out what you hate, and then you’ll know what to avoid at any cost. You’ll end up with a rough road map of where you need to go.

The key is to make sure these are things that you are absolutely, positively don’t want to do ever, ever again. Ever. In your lifetime. They are the deal breakers, the things that make you run like hell if you ever see them again.

Now, let’s put on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and see what we wish we had never done, and what we never want to do again in the future:

1. Location, location, location. People never consider what it will be like to sit eight to 12 hours a day in cubicle in a windowless office until they have done it. Some people hate it so much they would rather be carrying a “will work for food” sign on an interstate interchange. Or, if you have to commute 40 miles one way every day and you’re developing a galloping case of road rage, then you know that working far from home doesn’t make you happy. The lesson: Don’t apply for jobs that will stick you in a cubicle or have you tucking a Louisville Slugger under the front seat of your car.

2. Hours of operation. My dad worked shift work my entire life. He worked Christmas and Halloween and President’s Day and just about every holiday I can think of. One week he worked 4 p.m. to midnight, and the next he would work 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. It seemed like when he was home, he was always asleep. I can still hear my mother telling my sisters and me: “Don’t slam the door! Be quiet! Your Dad is sleeping!” When I went to work in newsrooms, it never bothered me to work Christmas or any other holiday. It didn’t bother me to work until 2 a.m. or be called out on a story on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a big deal to me because odd hours and days seemed normal to me. But it bugged plenty of other people, and they ended up hating the job because of it. If the hours of a job don’t mesh with what you consider “having a life,” then don’t consider it. You’ll be miserable, and there’s no point trying to stay in job when you resent the hours.

3. Flexibility. There are two types of workplaces these days: Those that say they provide flexibility – and do – and those that say they provide flexibility – and don’t. I’ve always been amazed by those “best places to work” lists that report XYZ Corp. is a great place to work because they provide all these really cool benefits: Employees take time off to train for a marathon or attend a kid’s soccer game. Then you dig a little deeper and find out that yeah, that happens, but only for six people in corporate headquarters. The rest of the poor saps get the evil eye from their boss if they request time off for open heart surgery. So, if flexibility is really important to you, then do your homework and find out if flexibility is just lip service. If you hate your job because you feel chained to a desk or workstation and the boss would rather poke out his own eye with a sharp stick than let you work from home, then forget it. Talk to those in industry and professionals groups – even alumni associations – and see if you can get the real story on what happens within a company’s four walls.

4. Benefits. When I was a young worker, I could have cared less about health benefits. They were not a deal breaker for me, as I probably got a cold about twice a year and that was it. That changed as soon as I got married and had my first child. While I know that everyone would like a job with health benefits, it’s probably more critical for parents – especially single parents. If this is one of the reasons you hate your job, then don’t bother seeking positions that won’t offer you health insurance.

5. Travel. I recently interviewed a woman who traveled a lot for her job. I was ready to hear her tales of woe – delayed flights, missed family, uncomfortable hotel rooms – but she couldn’t have been happier. I’m talking happy. She loved traveling for her job, she loved being in different offices and meeting different people. The travel actually made her love her job. Now, I’ve known plenty of people who hated their jobs because of the travel. They thought being out of the office several days a month wouldn’t be so bad. But they ended up hating it, and found the stress unbelievable. If you hate your job because of the travel, then steer clear of a job that requires it.

Every day we have to make choices. Some of them are harder than others. And, when it comes to a career, those choices can become scary and confusing and intimidating. The easiest step, in that case, may be to simply decide what you don’t want. Once you do that, then you will clear away a lot of the clutter that keeps you from getting the job that you do want.

What others deal breakers should people consider when making career decisions?


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