The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself When Job Hunting

If you're looking for a job, there are probably a lot of things you're hoping for... Higher salary. Future earning potential. A flexible schedule. Great health insurance. Creative or intellectual freedom. Telecommuting. Opportunity to travel. An amazing job title. Affiliation with a well-known company. Working for/with your mentor.

The list goes on. But the reality is that depending on your professional stature and personal obligations, certain aspects of a job are going to be more appealing than others. How will you narrow in on what's most important to you in a new gig?

You can do this by asking yourself one question.

job hunting
job hunting

What is my number one priority right now?

Notice I didn't say priorities. Nope, I'm using the singular form. I want to know what is MOST important to you at this point in your career.

The very essence of priorities is that you can't do them all at once. At different points in your life these will change, but it's important to acknowledge them each time you're looking for something new.

Look at the list above and write down your priorities in a list ranging from most important to least important.

Now keep this list close.

Why is it important to list them out?

You're probably qualified for a number of jobs. That's the benefit to a young career - you can choose from so many options because you aren't yet specialized. Sometimes though, that in itself can make it harder to pinpoint the job that's right for right now.

Once you make it into the interview phase, the prospect of an offer can give us shiny object syndrome. This is when the excitement at hand distracts from what we want most out of a job. Let me share an example.

During my last job search I was frustrated. I was trying to break out as a specialist. I had the option to take my skills to any type of organization. There was the allure of an agency position with its high pay and creative opportunities. I met with a manager for an informational interview and she told me point blank that over the last week she had been at the office for multiple nights until midnight. Even though I had a baby and was used to working from home with no commute, I told myself it would be easy to give that all up in exchange for six figures.

A few months later my interests took a 180. Maybe I didn't have to care as much about what I was doing for work, as long as I had stability. A federal government position offered that.

When I was really honest with myself though, as scary as it was, the most important thing to me at that point was pursuing work that allowed me to be in control - in control of my schedule, of my outputs, and my earning potential. That's what led me to where I am now.

How else can I use this list?

Writing down your priorities will also force you to differentiate between jobs that are shiny objects and those that are a really good fit.

You can communicate this alignment in your personal pitch, cover letters, and interviews. By doing so you'll be able to approach the job search as a two-way street; one in which you are both gaining and giving.

Now that you've made your list, what made it to the top and why?