Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

The most important question to ask in an interview

Ah, the interview. The one hour or so that compacts years of experience, future years of ambition, and only your best qualities on show while hiding your quirks that the interviewers just aren’t ready for yet. 

It’s a big ask for such a short amount of time. You have one shot for a first impression, one shot to make the right impression, and one chance to articulate your suitability in a concise way that covers all the good bits of your career and personality.

You can understand why some companies opt for the multiple setting interview: half hour phone interview, two hour group activity, one hour hypothetical case study/role play (who to chuck out of a hot air balloon is a fav’), and one hour face to face interview.

Although this draws out the painful experience of an interview, it at least provides more time for you to be able to demonstrate a number of soft- and people-skills while knowing you have another chance or two to really shine.

But what if you only have the traditional format of a one hour interview?

You have a lot to cover in such a short time; how do you know you can cover everything while also begin to understand what the panel think about you?

Before I get to the one question you need to ask at an interview (y’know, just for a bit of suspense), there are the usual pointers that you need to cover throughout the interview:

“I’ve nothing to wear!” – something that fits well and is comfortable but formal. Interviews are worrying enough as they are without having to worry about how your stomach looks in a particular shirt, for example.

Arrival – arrive waaaay too early. It’ll settle your nerves knowing you’ve arrived with ample time.

Intro – just go in for the hand shake, without hesitation; no awkward ‘right hand in, right hand out’ scenario, just be the one to make that decision of shaking hands.

The job spec – learn it inside out and make sure you can answer each of their requirements, even if you don’t meet them 100%. Tell them that and what you can already do to balance this. Keep a copy of this in front of you during the interview.

Your CV – bring this with you and highlight the good bits as prompts.

Your responses (STAR) – that is: what was the Situation you want to talk about that demonstrates your answer; the Tasks you identified to address it; the Action you took; and the Results that followed. Might be worth adding the potential negative consequences had you not reacted in the way you did.

Your questions – lots of questions about the company (using the information you already found out about them online as an opener to a question), about the team you’d be working with, and my favourite, what the interviewers like the most and least about working there.

And of course, THE BIG QUESTION

Capital letters for this one, it’s that important.

Everyone I have shared this question with have fed back to me how well it served them and their interview. And for every time I have used it myself, I have slept better that night.

I thought of this question following a job rejection about 5 or 6 years ago, a devastating blow at the time. The job sounded really interesting and could’ve been the first step to a promising career.

A couple of days after the interview, the interviewer rang me up and told me the bad news – I didn’t get it. She kindly met up with me to provide more detailed feedback:

Interviewer: “You did really, really well…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…you have really good experience…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…and your CV is really well put together…”

Me: “Thanks, I followed this awesome advice!

Interviewer: “…In the end, it was down to you and one other person…”

Me, to myself: REALLY not helping

Interviewer: “…and we decided to go with the other candidate.”

On a personal note – I would like each and every one of you to go out and spread the word so that one day, all interviewers can know that telling rejected candidates that “it was between you and someone else” is the least helpful piece of feedback. Just stop. It comes across as eeny-meanie-miney-mo-esque.

Anyhoo, when I asked the interviewer what made her decide the other person over me, she said that as it was so close she had to look at what one of us could do that the other couldn’t, and as the other candidate knew how to make and use Excel macros, they picked him.

“….but I can do macros”, I said, “you never asked me, nor was it listed in the job spec”.

She apologised profusely but admitted the deed was done, the offer letter was out and that was that.

And it was at that point I promised myself that I would ask the one Big Question at the end of each interview that I want to share with you:

“At this point of the interview, are there any concerns you might have that I can address now?”

It’s as simple as that, but it’s an effective question that provides you the opportunity to iron out any niggles they might have, that could potentially be the make-or-break decision maker.

Had I have asked that question, they would have asked “Yes, as a matter of fact, you haven’t mentioned if you can do macros – can you?”

Of course retrospectively I’m glad I never got the job as I wouldn’t have got to a position I’m in now.

I used the question in an interview a year or so afterwards, and there was indeed a niggle the interviewer had that they weren’t going to bring up but decided to, seeing as I had given them some sort of permission. Their concern, left unaddressed, was potentially a deal breaker, but from asking this question, I was able to put their mind at rest with some reassurance.

I got the job – perhaps not solely from asking that question but I thought about how different it may have turned out if I didn’t ask that question, and if it would have been a close call between me and one other person.

Side note: it was that very job that introduced me to the world of HR and literally changed my working life. There you have it folks, not just The Big Question, a life changing question!

I thoroughly recommend asking this simple question at the end of the interview. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking it, make a joke out of asking such ‘a cheeky question’.

Asking this will also help you sleep better at night following the interview. It really is a dreadful time between interview and hearing the outcome so although it won’t remove 100% of the worry, it will take the edge off of it.

If you’re looking for more tips on interviews, have a look at the great advice Clear Cut Selection provide on their blog. They also offer one-to-one interview mock and coaching sessions tailored to your needs. Not an affiliate, just pointing readers to awesome content.

Good luck with your interview(s) and don’t forget to ask this question!

 

 

Creating a CV with impact

A friend mine recently asked me to have a look at her CV for an amazing role she had seen, one that could offer them a huge opportunity and better job stability. Having seen hundreds of CVs in my working life, and being part of recruitment campaigns, I was more than happy to give her CV a once-over; changing things, adding things, getting rid of things, making suggestions.

I was thrilled to bits to hear that not only did she get invited to an interview (the biggest hurdle for any job search), she also got the job! I absolutely can’t take any credit for this in any way as she had all the qualities and skills needed for the role but the importance of portraying these skills in a way that has impact to those tediously looking at one CV after another inspired me to share with you how to re-format your CV to get recruiters’ attention.

Before I crack on, just a note on composing your CV in general: the best CVs are put together with a specific role in mind. This can either be your ideal role that you’re focussing all of your efforts on going for but haven’t seen yet and applying for no other type of roles other than this, or, even better, for a specific job in response to an advert you have seen. The extra hard work and effort will increase your odds and will be recognised by the recruiter.

If you’re going for the same sort of roles in specific niches like L&D, recruitment or HR advice, the changes you will have to make each time will be extremely minimal.

Job spec

Before embarking on CV feng shui, you need to have a look at the job spec on the advert. Really get to understand the sort of candidate they’re looking for by the way they compose the priority of skills – the crux of the role will be listed as the first lot of skills, any after that are still essential but just not the things they’re keeping a watchful eye out for.

Don’t forget, if you’re not 100% sure what they’re looking for, get in contact with them and find out. When you are sure what they want, begin to list the key skills, abilities and experience they’re looking for. If the spec is written well, you might find that this is just as useful instead of a hand written list.

Your key skills section

Now you know what they’re looking for, you can start creating a ‘key skills’ section. This is such an underused part of the CV but proves incredibly helpful for arousing intrigue.

Placed at the beginning of the CV, this section acts like a synopsis of you and your career. Like how readers look at the back of the book before going through the book, the key skills section of your CV gives the recruiters a taster of what’s to come, and why they should read on. You don’t need to worry too much about proving or demonstrating your skills as these will all be detailed in the specifics of your CV, like employment history.

For now, you can put together your key skills by ‘responding’ to the advert’s blueprint of the perfect candidate. For example, if they’re looking for someone who has experience in rolling out a new payroll platform, and you have that experience, brag about it as an item in the ‘key skills’ section. Don’t leave it until they get to the nitty-gritty of your employment history that might not even get looked at if you’ve already lost the recruiter’s interest.

And if they need someone to speak to all people at all levels, brag about how you are a strong communicator to all levels, appropriate to various audiences. Use each skill they’re looking for as a question that your skills can answer.

Putting together about eight to ten bullet points should be enough and must ALL be relevant to the job you are applying for. To halve the space this will take up, format this section as a double column.

Employment history

Like you did with your key skills, go back to your job spec and respond to it through the experience and skills you picked up with each employer. I would recommend putting these into bullet points which makes it easier to read, and start off with the doozies that will really carry the recruiter’s interest after such an intriguing ‘key skills’ section. Make it look as though this CV and your experience have led you up to this point that will not only meet the needs of the role, but demonstrate you can carry it so much further.

When listing your experience, the usual mechanics are the same:

  • Lots of strong verbs that resolve issues you expect to come across in the advertised role
  • Demonstrate these verbs by explaining the results you were responsible for, as well as the bad consequences that were avoided
  • Key metrics – ‘reduced queries by 40%’, ‘improved productivity by 50%’ etc.
  • Any new skills, development and ways of working you learned while being in the role that you can now bring to this role
  • One or two relevant key achievements per role that you’re personally proud of (…but really to make you look like the bee’s knees to the recruiter)

Qualifications

You might have guessed by now what I’m going to say next. Have a look at the job spec and see what qualifications they are looking for, and if you have these (or currently studying for them) put these at the top if it’s chronologically appropriate. If the key qualifications they’re looking for aren’t the most recent you have earned, you might want to have a small blurb at the beginning of this section about how you are ‘an X-qualified professional’, or the like, before listing all of your qualifications and relevant training.

If you haven’t already, have a look at the post I wrote on undergoing training for which work hasn’t paid. In it, I talk about how you can use seemingly irrelevant qualifications and training to your advantage by listing the skills you learned from it and suggest how these can be transferred over. Just be sensible about this and avoid any far-fetched crossovers just for the sake of including these.

In the same post, I also talk about how good it looks for recruiters who see candidates fund their own training. It shows dedication, initiative and forward-thinking, as well as taking the profession seriously. You have identified where you wanted to be and went ahead and made sure you got there by paying for your own training.

Just think of how omitting this fact is such a wasted opportunity – spell it out on your CV, even with ‘self-funded’ in brackets after the qualification. I paid for most of my professional qualifications and by heck will I brag about it on my CV!

References

Just to touch briefly on the last section of any CV, I wouldn’t worry about adding referees’ details on your CV, unless you need to fill up space. A usual ‘references available upon request’ would be enough, and odds are you will have to provide this information on a separate form again if you’re successful anyway.

What about interests and hobbies?

If you do relevant volunteer work, or do any industry-related extracurricular activities in your own time, this is what you should add in this section, but rename it as ‘Volunteering’ or ‘Additional work of relevance’. This again shows initiative and dedication to working hard in an industry you’re passionate about, and your CV is the perfect opportunity to be proud of these achievements.

I personally never see the relevance or the impact listing your hobbies can have on your CV. Not only do they take up space on your CV, they’re just not necessary. They’re nice to know about a candidate but you honestly can’t expect a recruiter to give you a shot if you lack all the important skills because you so happen to love needle craft too, can you?

More devastatingly, what if you struck all the right chords with the recruiter and you end on a really flat list of your love of ‘puppies, and kittens, and baking, and holidays with my friends’. What positive impact can this provide? What if the recruiter hates all of these things, is there a risk their unconscious bias might hold them back from inviting you to an interview? Personally, I don’t think hobbies and interests end on a professional note and should be kept out, and maybe used as an ice breaker in the interview.

Format

One last thing – save and send your CV in no other format than PDF. I can’t stress how much more of a professional impact this will have on the recruiters. In one of my previous roles, the recruiter had told me that my PDF CV immediately stood me out amongst the other applicants who had sent theirs as a Word document (as well as my general awesomeness, obv’).

Word documents can easily be edited, the formatting can easily be skewed if the recruiter has a different version, and it can potentially suggest that you like to put a lot of effort into a piece of work without doing the final flourish that finishes it off. Just on the safe side though, save a Word version too. Not only is this so that you can edit it later (and then save as a new PDF), but frustratingly some recruiting software doesn’t accept PDF documents.

How you put together the components in your CV, and how they’re laid out is up to you, only I thoroughly recommend using the ‘key skills’ section at the very beginning. I’ve included a very basic infographic at the end of this post as an example of a simple layout, and is quite similar to my own. No need to complicate the structure with graphics or clever design.

As mentioned, structuring your skills and experience in response to specific roles can seem tedious but it dramatically increases your chances for invites to interviews. Odds are the changes are very minimal if you know what sort of roles you’re going for.

Good luck with your job hunting!

 

CV format

6 signs of toxic and healthy work cultures

A work culture can be crudely defined as ‘the way things are done around here’. It can be considered as an entity of its own, the collective subsequence of the workforce, policies, practice and management. Despite best efforts, it’s something that cannot be tamed or controlled, but organisations can certainly focus their energy on the individual elements that direct it. It’s also an important part of working life and has a very direct influence on job satisfaction.

For example, you could have the best job in the world but if the culture is toxic, the job itself isn’t enough to keep you there, or at least happy. Often companies neglect the significance and impact a culture has on their staff and scratch their heads at their appalling attrition rates.

Being aware of this, and beginning to identify the sort of work culture you can flourish in, will add to your efforts to reaching job satisfaction. When it comes to this particular element of job satisfaction, it’s important to consider the consequences of a work culture to your life outside of work, for example, a culture that encourages late nighters and regular weekend work might not work well with keeping a family, working on a side hustle, or studying a course.

As I touched on in this post about the secret behind ‘the perfect career’, the work culture is a particularly important element for those who find job satisfaction by fitting in with their lifestyle and contentment rather than the actual role itself.

Or for those who consider themselves as ‘multipotentialites’ (which I talked about in this post), a work culture that encourages entre/intrapreneurialship and has a strong focus on training and learning new skills will play a strong contribution to job satisfaction.

So with this in mind, below I list 6 signs each of toxic and healthy work cultures.

  1. Recruitment

Toxic – From the beginning of the process, the job description is ambiguous, over-generalised and rife with spelling mistakes. Communication during the interview and onboarding processes is flaky and unprofessional. Rocking up to work on your first day, you’re given a desk, a computer and told to get on with it; no induction, no introductions, no first day training. These signs suggest that the culture isn’t professional, and it likes to cut corners at the cost of quality. The lack of communication suggests that they don’t invest in the employee experience before they’ve even started the role and could come across that they just don’t care. This can also be a sign that the company has experienced high attrition rates as the process is one that doesn’t have a long impact on new starters as they’ll soon be out of the door any way!

Healthy – From the beginning of the process, the job description details everything about the job and what is expected of the successful candidate. The pay respectfully reflects the nature and level of the role, as well as the qualifications needed for it. Communication is led with consistently, constantly and with integrity. A formal induction program is ready for you on day one (if not before) and you’re introduced to everyone in the office. You’re walked through the upcoming training and all of your new starter objectives. This culture is one of professionalism and respect and shows that they value their workforce.

  1. HR Policies

Toxic – HR policies and procedures are either very short or excessively long. They also focus only on how management should use them and to control staff. Heavy policies that deal with attendance, disciplinary and grievance matters are rigid, strict, unreasonable, and restricts or altogether forbids professional flexibility or judgement. Or very little measures are in place to protect staff from bullying and harassment, manage poor performance before disciplinary action is instigated or to assist staff who are experiencing physical or mental health problems.

Healthy – HR policies and procedures provide enough information that is transparent for employees and their managers that have equal and proportionate weight in terms of assisting employees and managers. All policies provide a clear structure for managers to align their professional judgement to individual circumstances, while providing appropriate flexibility. They also have the right sort of measures in place to ensure staff are protected, assisted and supported while giving managers a guide to work alongside when implementing remedial action.

  1. Work-life Balance

Toxic – Leaving on time is discouraged as putting in extra unpaid hours is expected of you; sometimes you’re expected to be able to take calls or step in at a minute’s notice on your days off. Flexible working applications are refused as standard without assessing each case appropriately. The process of applying for annual leave is tedious and doesn’t feel like an entitlement but a privilege; some leave might also be denied for multiple months, showing extremely poor workforce planning. Leaving work unexpectedly for emergencies to do with dependants is either not allowed or something begrudgingly granted with a consequence of being made to feel guilty upon your return.

Healthy – Managers practically push you out the door if they suspect you working longer than they should and respect your time outside of work. Flexible working is dealt with sensibly, compassionately and pragmatically, and arrangements are reviewed regularly to make sure it’s still fit for purpose for the individual. Annual leave is worked out fairly amongst the team and within sensible time frames. Emergencies are dealt with realistically as there is a strong working family culture and understand unforeseen things do actually happen in real life. When you return to work after the emergency, your manager and colleagues are genuinely concerned. Temporary working patterns are offered to accommodate any further disruptions.

  1. Learning and Development

Toxic – Professional development and learning is an afterthought and is considered an add-on rather than something that needs investment or strategic planning. Even with little learning and development opportunities offered by the organisation, self-directed learning is scoffed at and you’re reminded by management that it won’t get you anywhere within the company. Skill gap analysis isn’t conducted leading to a severe skill shortfall, and self-assessment and learning objective setting are alien concepts.

Healthy – There is investment and strategic forethought in learning and development, on both an individual and company-wide basis. There is an intrapreneurial spirit that encourages everyone to fully utilise the full spectrum of their skills and interests. Self-directed learning is encouraged and taking time out to study can be a form of a flexible working arrangement. Skills are regularly assessed and very rarely are skill shortfalls detrimental to business-as-usual activities.

  1. Staff Engagement

Toxic – Company values are forced upon staff without exemplary behaviour demonstrated by management. Feedback is rarely asked for, but when it is, any constructive feedback from staff is considered negative and therefore dismissed. Employees have very little influence on policies, procedures or processes even when they have ideas on improving costs and efficiency. Team and individual meetings are tick-box exercises with little or no value to either the manager or individual. There is a strong focus on penalising those who get things wrong but little or no emphasis on lessons learned or celebrating successes.

Healthy – Core values are demonstrated by managers and senior managers throughout the whole organisation and every action from the organisation is evidently aligned to these core values. Internal communications are for the benefit of staff to provide useable information and requesting thoughts and feedback. Employees have a strong influence on how policies, procedures and processes are shaped and can be involved in projects or stretch assignments that implement these changes. Team and individual meetings are very useful and benefit everyone involved. They’re used as a safe opportunity to share views, concerns and successes, and any failures are used as an opportunity to learn lessons.

  1. Management

Toxic – Management favour organisational inertia over progress because ‘this is how it’s always been done’. Efforts are focussed in fire-fighting and keeping business-as-usual items ticking over without any focus on the future or putting in developmental plans. Line managers use their position to shirk responsibility, duties and to exert their power. As a line manager they also feel they can do no wrong and don’t require any training as they know everything already. Management lack any forward thinking in terms of succession and workforce planning which has an overall negative impact on organisational performance, attendance and staff morale. Hostile and toxic environments are left to fester.

Healthy – Management pay attention to what’s on the horizon and make sure their efforts on current activity are future proof and may lead to future opportunities. Line managers use their position to coach and mentor their teams and actively keep involved in their team’s work. Line managers have management-specific objectives and keep their training up to date. Succession and workforce planning is an integral part of business-as-usual and is a need-to-have, not a like-to-have. Early intervention is a key part in nipping any hostility in the bud and management actively play a part in promoting and supporting a healthy work culture.

These are just a few signs to look out for in toxic and healthy work cultures, the effects of which are detrimental to your work life and job satisfaction. During your search for a career or job that provide job satisfaction, you might find it hard to judge the work culture in organisations or sectors you know very little about. Even if you were to read up on the legal sector, you might hear stories of late nights, micro-management, heavy workloads and tedious hourly rate calculations, which might be completely untrue for a number of firms.

Your perfect work culture

Using the first point above on recruitment will be evident from the point of reading the job description, as well as any proactive phone enquiries. But in the meantime, you can use these signs to begin to think about the work culture you want to work in. In the absence of knowing what career you want to do, you can start thinking about what culture you want to be in, the one that allows you to work with the least stress, the most flexibility or the emphasis on continuous career progression.

This is the third of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about professional motivation and how it can help you towards job satisfaction.

 

A secret to finding your perfect career

Are you frustrated with the unending struggle of figuring out what you should be doing with your career? Too many interests, too many options and no idea where to begin? Or you just don’t feel strongly enough about any particular field, subject or type of vocation that you feel like you’re moments away from going eeny meeny miny mo? 

Is there a way to finding out your perfect career?

No.

But is there at least a perfect career for each person!?

No.

….Does this give you relief? ‘At last the struggle is over!’ Or does this make you even more frustrated because time and time again you’ve been promised the contrary?

Allow me to expand a bit on this. By all means this is not a negative view on the hot topic of discovering what you should be doing with your career, on which there are thousands of books, blogs and so forth. I have read a large number of these but I did not discover my ‘true calling’ by doing so.

This is my own perspective on the topic and should hopefully bring a little relief that there is no one way for finding out what is your perfect career – you no longer have to frantically search for an answer as the answer does not exist. Indeed the question is superfluous.

Analogy time!

An analogy, if you will, for food for thought (pun intended…you’ll see in a bit). Imagine if you’re looking for the perfect weekend dinner (see). You want a go-to dish that you want to cook every Saturday that will need to meet a number of criteria:

  • It must be tasty (in job terms, it needs to scratch a vocational itch)
  • It must be easy to cook, or at least easy to learn how to cook (it uses previous experience. ‘Easy’ is relative to the amount of interest you have in it, for example a someone with a natural flare to be a doctor won’t necessarily find the medical exams easy, but it’s easy for them to be determined to study for them)
  • It needs to involve the utensils you have (the skills you have)
  • It shouldn’t take a long time to cook (not compromise your free time)
  • It mustn’t be too uninspiring so you won’t get bored of it (be stimulating over time)

Now, to discover this perfect dish, do you think a personality test will give you the one correct answer? Or if you spoke to a professional chef with 5 Michelin stars, they will give you the one correct answer? Or if you read dozens of recipe books to learn about all the dishes available and the first dish you choose, after careful and lengthy assessment, would without doubt the best dish for you? Or by choosing all of your favourite ingredients, combining these with your experience and utensils, you will reach a culinary ‘ikigai’, the centre of a perfect Venn diagram?

Is this really achievable? Hypothetically, lets humour that the answer is ‘yes’ and the perfect dish for you came out as chorizo, olive and mushroom pizza. You might think to yourself you’ve hit the jackpot and you have finally, yes finally, found your perfect Saturday dish. Nothing can beat this.

Until you travel to Italy and try their pizzas and it’s better than your perfect Saturday dish. What did all that time mean when you’ve researched, did the homework, spoke to the professionals – all the things you were told to do to find the best Saturday dish – only to have all the effort gone awry with this new Italian spanner in the works.

Would you apply this logic to find the perfect job? Personality tests, experts, books and assessments? Yet there’s so much out there saying this way is the only way to find the perfect job. In times of desperation, it’s easy and convenient to believe them. It’s a reflection of our avid doer spirit; it’s a problem that we want to solve and we’re more than willing to use as many methods and techniques to get the answer. But it feels that bit more frustrating when an answer is promised but not reached.

Personally, I found it satisfying knowing that there isn’t a perfect career for me.

But I love my job. I find it interesting, uses my experience and skills, with plenty of room for development and progression fueled by my own professional motivation. I feel I’m making a difference and scratches my vocational itch. The people I work with are the best and the working culture suits me and my personality. On paper, this is the perfect career for me. So why isn’t this the perfect career for me?

Because perfection is time-sensitive and specific to my current life circumstances right now which include the extra things I do in my free time, for example addressing my other interests in my leisure time (like blogging!) that my job doesn’t meet. I’m not saying that in time I will go off the job. But who’s to say a couple of years down the line I’m offered a promotion I hadn’t thought about, and that is way better than the job I’m in now but is in a slightly different direction or niche? That therefore doesn’t make my current role perfect as I would have found something better.

Do you have a preference to loving your job or having the best career specific for you? Does either one provide more satisfaction than the other?

In my opinion, I don’t think so, but the former is a lot more achievable, realistic and tangible than the latter. That’s why I think the question shouldn’t be ‘what is my perfect career?’ but should be ‘how can I love my job?’

So what do you do?

There are four types of people who get their job satisfaction right:

  1. They’ve known all along and literally made it their mission to be what they want based on their personal interests eg a musician might have picked up a guitar at the age of 5 and couldn’t put it down. Those who say they would love to play an instrument but have never given it a go are not musicians. They would have had an involuntary compulsion to pick up that instrument long ago.
  2. They’ve stumbled into their career by accident eg those who find themselves in less sexy roles than we’ve not normally been exposed to, or have eventually found it by a few attempts of trial and error
  3. Their job fits their lifestyle and therefore gives them satisfaction – this is not the actual role, or the nature of it per se, but it provides enough happiness and contentment for the life they want to live
  4. They encapsulate these three points into one whole, contented life that meets the needs of their interests, job satisfaction and lifestyle.

You see, focusing your efforts into finding the best job for you is, I believe, just one element to finding job satisfaction, or satisfaction in general. Would you be less satisfied with your work life if you could still pass the time with your interests when you’re not at work in the form of hobbies, or if you incorporate elements of your interests in your role, giving it your own unique angle? Would you be less satisfied if your job meant you couldn’t get home earlier than most people so you can spend more time with your family? Would you be less satisfied if the itches that aren’t scratched by a good job could be scratched by ways of a side hustle, either paid or for leisure?

You might put blame on a job that didn’t cater to your interests, for example, if you didn’t take the time to fulfill these interests outside of work.

As multi-faceted beings, we have many interests, and the concept that one career can satisfy multiple dimensions of a personality is inaccurate and unnecessarily leads to inevitable dissatisfaction.

In time I believe more and more job roles will take this concept into more consideration, allowing people’s unique set of skills and experience to ‘meat-out’ the role, bringing a competitive edge to the organisation, a workforce that isn’t identified by their job roles or by the job adverts to which they applied. Indeed, the concept of ‘intrapreneur’ is becoming a thing now, where organisations are harnessing employee’s entrepreneurial spirit by giving them free rein on certain aspects of projects and tasks, and reaping the benefits while providing more job satisfaction.

So it questions: is there is a need to find the perfect career if more organisations will adopt this spirit of intrapreneurship meaning that careers aren’t being shaped by a cookie cutter, but by the employee themselves?

In the meantime, I hope that if you agree with my perspective on achieving ‘the perfect career’ it hasn’t left you disheartened – instead I hope it has lessened the weight of the burden in trying to find the perfect career.

This is the first of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about what to do if you have too many interests to decide on a career.

Job title or duties: which is more important?

I am at a crossroads. In one direction, I’ve been offered a job that I know I can do and looks to be interesting, and although it’s in a new tangent to my chosen career that I’m happy to explore, the title of the role is quite generic and sounds entry-level. In the other direction, I can stick in my current role that really isn’t interesting at all, but it’s in my chosen career with an associated and profession-specific title that could help me progress later up the ladder, but it’s not guaranteed. I’m not sure what I should do.”

All is not lost. By stepping back and weighing up your options in a deeper level than you have described, you can make an informed decision that you won’t later regret. Although you can more than likely recover from a potential wrong decision, this causes delays in your career which nobody likes.

At face value, it’s easy to conclude that what you do on a day-to-day basis at work is crucial to your health and wellbeing. As such, it’s correct to assume that by choosing a job that looks really interesting means you’re less likely to go into work dreading each day. Being unhappy at work really does take a toll in one way or another, so wherever there’s an opportunity to be happy, take it. You would need to make sure though that you’re not jumping ship purely to get out of this job, or that you’re viewing this seemingly interesting job through rose-tinted glasses. This could potentially only solve your problem short-term where after a while you find the job does nothing for you and you’re back to where you started.

Your ‘chosen’ career

I can’t help but notice, however, that you say that you are in your ‘chosen’ career. I can understand why this then throws a spanner in the works and can cloud your judgement. By being in your career of choice suggests you have made it through the gory steps of deciding what you want to do with your work life and/or have some sort of vocational or higher educational qualifications to match. This might have all been for nothing if you choose the first option, where you are exploring a new profession.

Or will it? You would have probably explored the new profession in terms of the job satisfaction it offers, is there a clear route for progression, does the money meet your desired income etc. but have you brought these findings back to your chosen career? By this I mean are there any skills you will learn and develop by taking this new tangent that you can then, at a later date, bring back to your chosen career?

These are termed as transferable skills, and I’m all for them. Taking a side step – or even a back step if needs be and you can afford to do so – into a new tangent means you get the chance to build up experience and new skills that you might have otherwise missed out on, especially if they are skills that aren’t expected of you in your chosen career. These skills, however, can be the very thing that separates you from the rest out there. Not only can you consider yourself still a ‘member’ of your chosen profession while you take that side step (carry on with keeping on top of your industry news, professional membership, qualifications), and therefore keep you in that professional frame of mind, you can bring so much more to the table from taking that bold move when you return to it.

And don’t be afraid to explain why you took this bold move to new potential employers during your interview, or as part of your career bio. They should admire you for recognising the skills that you needed to develop outside of your profession but still transfer them back to it when you were ready to progress. The generic title shouldn’t factor into their decision-making if they understand what they require from a candidate. They’re after what you can do, not your job title.

A brand new direction?

There is also the possibility that this could be a serendipity moment where you discover this new role becomes your new chosen career. By experiencing the new role first hand, you might really enjoy it and wish to progress in this field instead. When asking people how they got into their chosen career, you’d be surprised at how many of them say that they stumbled into it after making an unexpected or unintentional career change. I’m one of them! You will just need to make sure you won’t miss the things that attracted you to your current career in the first place, or find ways of incorporating these attractive qualities into the new tangent.

If the new tangent is so far off-piste that it seems you can’t transfer any skills back (you always can by the way which I will write about in another article, but for now let’s pretend you can’t) and you feel you need to stick it out in your current role, don’t do it solely for the title. They mean a lot less than you’re giving them credit for, especially in the age of made up titles. Do it because you believe this is a stepping stone to the place you really want to be and that the slog between now and then will be worth it.

If you decide to stay, you need to consider how long you intend to stay there and when the next progression opportunity is likely to happen. This should give you your ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so you can focus on riding it out and getting through it with a target date in sight. Then while working through this time, look for ways that you can make it count by working on extra qualifications, extra research, develop new and existing skills, or even just clocking up the career miles – anything that keeps you occupied and helps you through it.

Moving on

If you think the time is too long to manage, or there is little proof to suggest there’s scope for progression any time soon, then you might have to use the situation as a wake-up call to start looking for somewhere else. As you will know, job searching can be stressful, ditto for moving into the great unknown, so don’t take this option too lightly. But you need to figure out if job searching is much less stressful than your current role because no one should stay put in a role that makes them unhappy. You should also determine if the problem will remain with your employer, and that it’s not the role itself, as doing what you do but elsewhere might put you back into the position you’re in now.

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s for the right reasons, that they have a long-term positive effect and that you look beyond what a recruiting manager decided to call the collection of things you do at work. You need to really think what would be the best direction to take that will really help your career in the future so that you don’t regret anything later for the sake of a quick fix.