August 7, 2010

On finding a great job

August 7, 2010 - Categories: career, life, passion, work

Cate Huston blogged:

I have put this huge stress on myself because I really want to have a job lined up for January by the end of September, preferably by the end of August. And I don’t want it to be just any job, I want it to be a greatjob. And this is a problem because my ideas of what I want to do are somewhat vagueI want to make things! I want them to be pretty! I want to make the world a better place! Programmers can do that, I know it!

Ah. Time for me to put my mentor hat on and braindump a few things I’ve stumbled across. =)

Great jobs

The second-best job description is the one that’s been written for you. It speaks to your strengths. It pushes the right buttons. It gets you excited about working on cool things and making a difference.

How do you get it? Well, you convince a manager to take a risk on you. A big risk, actually, because hiring is expensive and turnover is even more so.

What’s better than that, and easier to get into?

The best job description is the one you write for yourself. Even if you start with a generic job role, if you’ve resolved to be a star in that role, you probably will be one. If you’re good, people often want to help you make the most of your strengths.

Yes, there will be things that drive you a little crazy. I didn’t like dealing with finicky cross-browser CSS. But I did it, got things done, and demonstrated to the team that it would be even better if someone else did that part and I did, say, the fiddly system administration tasks that other people didn’t like. Flexibility. If you’ve got a good manager, he or she will tweak your role to take advantage of your strengths and trade your weaknesses.

Don’t worry about finding the best possible project or job description. Find a good manager and a good team.  That’s what your side of the interview is about: figuring out if it will be a good fit. Good managers and good teams can help you navigate the system and get things done.

Pick a job that doesn’t make you die inside. Throw yourself into it and figure out what you can love about it. Make things happen. Rewrite your role. Pack as much awesomeness into it as you can. Create your next role, or evolve it out of what you’re already doing.

You might be certain that you would totally rock if all the stars lined up, but it can be surprisingly fun—and a great deal more practical and confidence-building—to take almost anything and rock it.

Besides, awesome job posts are rare. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to anticipate someone’s awesomeness without the risk of overly narrowing the applicant pool, and so it’s nearly impossible to anticipate what kind of role can make the most of their skills.

For example, a job description to find a exact replacement for me in my current role would involve: strong communication and facilitation skills; some graphic design skills; deep Lotus Connections experience; programming in LotusScript, Java, and Microsoft Excel VBA; wide personal networks; automation; speed-reading (seriously, this comes in quite handy); fast typing; a passion for both consulting and development…

Right. If we ever want me to be able to move on from this role, we need to settle for someone who’s a quick learner. =) Maybe they’ll be awesome in entirely different ways, and they’ll take the role in entirely new directions. (Which would be awesome!)

Also: what I’m passionate about might not be the same as what you’re passionate about. Which is cool. Some job descriptions will emphasize your role in making a difference and changing the world. Some job descriptions (implement and maintain widget X in dashboard Y) may sound boring. But it really all comes down to how good someone is at coming up with and communicating a vision, because even implementing a widget in a dashboard can be pretty awesome if you know why it matters.

Here’s the surprising thing: you can come up with that vision,  that reason why this work matters, even if your company doesn’t tell you.

Business books love sharing those stories. The cleaner at a nursing home? Might hate the drudge work, or might be passionate about it because it makes residents happier to be in a neat place.

Meaning is something you can put into your own work.

It means, though, that job posts for awesome positions sometimes don’t look like they are. On the flip side, job posts that look awesome (a hodgepodge of “cool” technologies! hipster language!) sometimes aren’t.

Figure out if you can deal with the core responsibilities, if you like the team, and if you can grow. Take responsibility for finding meaning.

On not knowing

You don’t need to figure out everything in the beginning. Find something that looks something like what you might like. Use it to learn what you really like and what you really don’t like. Experiment. Improve. Let life teach and surprise you.