So, there I was, I’d made a leap to a new career path, ready to start working at the job of my dreams. But once I actually started, I began to feel I'd made the move a bit too quickly. I hadn't fully considered other key elements about the job, and I didn’t really gel with the company I’d chosen.
I’d spent so much time trying to prove how perfectly I fit that I failed to think about what I wanted out of the actual company. And I know I’m not alone in making this mistake. It’s so easy to think: “This job sounds perfect!” and not dig into whether staff is expected to work 12-hour days. But, I know now from personal experience how important it is to take time to research what life at a company is really like before signing on the dotted line.
Before I go any further, I’ll say this: No one’s 100% happy, 100% of the time—that’s unrealistic. Even if you love your job, it’ll still be hard and you’ll have highs and lows in any career. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a career and work environment that consistently brings you joy.
Nearly six months into my first big girl career—in a job that was great in many ways—I was ready to call it quits. The original responsibilities I was hired for had changed, and my work-life balance had dwindled. In a nutshell, it wasn’t working for me anymore; but I still felt shame. Was it my fault this dream job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be?
It didn’t help that people around me were saying “That’s so unrealistic!” “No job is perfect!” and “Be grateful you have a job!” Believe me: I had those same thoughts, but they were outweighed by the idea that I deserved to be in a job that fulfilled me.
So I began the job search all over again. But this time around, I did it differently: Instead of just looking for a great position, I focused more on company culture and finding a place I’d be proud and excited to work at.
How I Actually Did It
Not only did I research the ins and outs of the openings I was applying for, but I made it a priority to also research each company thoroughly. While it can be tough to assess company values and culture in a job description, you can often sense these things via Glassdoor reviews, the company’s social media presence, employees’ engagement with the company’s social channels (It’s really hard to fake genuine positive employee engagement!), and questions you ask the interviewer.
But having clarity on the organization isn’t enough. You need to know what matters to you. I identified five core values for myself:
- Opportunity for growth
- Community involvement
- Work-life balance
So when I was looking online and asking questions, I made sure to hit each of these points. And no matter how great a job sounded, I passed if it didn’t include these five elements. Yes, it was hard to skip over opportunities that looked really cool and met some of my qualifications, but it was worth it because I knew the end result would be an (almost) perfect position.
For example, I really wanted to make sure I was giving back in my new role—hence community involvement. So on my interviews, I would simply ask if the company had an initiative along those lines. And I’m glad I did—because in my time at my current company, I’ve helped serve food at a clothing drive for refugees, assisted with vision screening tests at a local elementary school, and planted over 1,000 trees alongside my co-workers.
Some people pick flexibility as a value—I did—but then don’t know the right way to ask if it’s something the company values. Asking to work from home exactly every other Wednesday and getting it approved sounds like flexibility. But I’ve learned that a truly flexible work environment has options.
Case in point: When interviewing, my current company told me that it allows employees to occasionally work remotely (I get to stay home on super snowy days). That clued me in that they were willing to work around employees’ needs. So when I was offered the opportunity to teach an afternoon college course this fall, my employer was unsurprisingly up for working around my teaching schedule.
I went through the same process with all my other core values listed above. The final result of all this research is that I found a job and company I really love. I’m so happy when I go to work each day, that even on days when things aren’t going my way, I know all the work I put into the process was worth it.
So when you start your job hunt, make sure to keep your core values in mind. One: It will quickly help you narrow down how many positions you need to apply to. And two: You’re going to find a company that gives as much to you as you give to it.