by Nina Cheng
The Great Recession. For those who were working or looking for work during those years, you’ll remember what a dark, trying time it was.
Thousands of people were getting laid off on every rung of the ladder, For Rent signs hung on rows of empty storefronts, newspapers seemed to announce an infinite number of bankruptcies. Back then, if you were lucky enough to find a job that was somewhat in the ballpark to what you wanted to do, you took it and you were grateful, no matter how many hours you had to work or how oppressive your boss was. The main motivator was fear.
But those years are over. We’re no longer immersed in that anxiety-filled, scarcity-based mindset. If the goal then was to grin and bear it, the goal now is to find a company that views people as more than just mere labor—one that considers and actively nurtures its employees and the company culture they inhabit. The overwhelming feeling is that finding happiness—without the artificial barrier of “at work” and “in life”—is palpable and within your reach. Hating your job is a vestige of the Recession, a state-of-being rendered obsolete by better times and redefined expectations spearheaded by millennials, now comprising a majority of the workforce.
Sadly, the results from a Gallup poll showed that a whopping 70 percent of Americans are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” at work. The Greek philosopher Socrates once said: “He is not only idle who does nothing, but he is idle who might be better employed.” This article was written in the hopes that it can urge readers to expect more from their jobs. We’ve been suffering for too long—happiness is now akin to holiness. It’s high time to find a job you love.
Acknowledge and reassess your individual priorities
Priorities change over time. Especially for anyone who graduated during the recession—when a paying job itself was a godsend and your friends were still living with their parents two years out—it’s a good idea to revisit your priorities and preferences for jobs frequently. The emphasis for many of my peers when I graduated in 2008 was all about prestige and salary and priding yourself on your lack of a life outside of work. The movement now is toward a greater focus on flexibility, work-life harmony, and having a purpose. Ask yourself what your “must-haves” are versus your “nice-to-haves,” as well as your dealbreakers, and evaluate companies and roles with these factors in mind. Make sure whatever jobs you’re exploring are a reflection of your values and preferences now, and not an out-of-date version of who you were years ago.
Don’t be afraid to explore other options
Even if you don’t hate your job. Conditions at my first job were considerably less than ideal, enough to drive both of the junior people on the team out within three months. But this was my first job and I was so grateful to this company for hiring me that I was blind to the fact that within my group, the culture was a poor fit, junior employees were treated poorly, and there were no learning or mentoring opportunities available. But when friends or recruiters approached me about new opportunities, I was extremely hesitant to consider them for moral reasons, tied down by a combination of loyalty and gratitude. But sometimes we have too much of both—a wise mentor advised me that there was no need to stay at a job I disliked out of loyalty: the reality was that companies fire employees left and right without any regard to loyalty, so why should individuals behave differently? This mentor further advised that I should always be open to exploring opportunities and testing out the market—I did, and found a much more rewarding job with a company that offered many of the elements that were missing from my last job, including mentors and continuing education workshops.
Leverage your advocates
A good word can go a long way. Identify the people that respect and look up to you the most and let them know what opportunities you’re seeking—LinkedIn is a good place to start if you need to refresh your memory. Don’t forget about those who may have worked under you, including from non-work settings such as college clubs or organizations. If you were a good leader or mentor, they may even be more eager to want to help you out.
Develop a habit of thinking of others while you job search
If you come across opportunities that would be a good fit for a friend, send it over. Not only is this a kind practice to adopt, but they’ll likely think of you the next time they come across an ideal opportunity for you, helping you to cast a wider net.
Widen your geographical search
We often get fixated on finding work in a particular city or country, but it pays to be flexible about location. One of my happiest friends took a risk by leaving his native city of Paris, where it would have been much easier for him to find work, to take on a job in Singapore, where his quality of life was and continues to be incredible—he’s been at the same company for almost five years, an almost unheard-of tenure for a millennial in his industry elsewhere. In the past few months, many of my friends have left their cities to relocate elsewhere. Especially if you’re young, there isn’t a better time than now when you have fewer obligations or restrictions (such as family or health) to work abroad and travel, and people I’ve spoken to have never regretted this. On a similar note, also try looking for opportunities a few miles outside of where you’d normally look. A short commute might be worth it (I actually enjoy the quiet time a train gives you to read the newspaper or a book) and the role might also be less competitive.
Once you’ve started interviewing…
Ask to meet everyone
Be on the lookout for signs of incivility or an oppressive, hostile work environment. Ask other employees about retention history in the group and reasons why people left. If you’re more junior, ask to meet people around your level if possible and get a sense of what work expectations are in the group or any ‘false advertising’ from the job posting or from expectations laid out to you. You should expect to be treated with dignity at work—dignity is not negotiable. If you care about your health and happiness, don’t expect anything less.
Scope out the office or area you would be working in
Make sure you have a decent idea of the environment you’ll be spending most of your waking hours in. If you’re someone who needs peace and quiet to concentrate, an open floor layout with a lot of noise and distraction might not be the most suitable environment for you. Similarly, if you thrive in a bustling open-floor environment, you might not want to be wiling your days away in an enclosed space. Consider also the amount of sunlight you’ll be getting in this workspace, especially if you’re going to be experiencing long winters.
Push for more flexibility during the negotiation process
You have the most leverage when you’ve received an offer and haven’t accepted and the company wants to seal the deal. Employers are increasingly open to increased flexibility, especially small to medium-sized firms. If this is important to you and if the nature of your job allows it, you can try to negotiate maximum hours, a four-day work week, working from home on Fridays or past a certain hour, or working in a satellite office—especially if you’re willing to take a slight pay cut.
Find out about all the perks and policies
Perks are sometimes dismissed as trivial, but they can make a huge difference in terms of offering convenience, accessibility, and quality of life (think gyms on-site, organic meals, dental insurance). I remember how grateful I was a few years ago to find out that my employer had a nap room, especially on days when I was extremely sleep deprived. Perks and policies can also help you develop over the long-term. There are companies out there that are willing to pay for post-graduate education or months-long sabbaticals, and these perks get a big vote in my book.
If you’re a commitment-phobe, date your next job
Offering to freelance or consult can be the perfect way to try out a company without leaving a permanent mark on your employment history—freelancing gives both parties a chance to test out the waters, commitment-free. Personally, I’ve noticed employers are much more willing to pull the trigger and have you start working sooner if you offer to start as a freelancer or consultant—for them, it’s less liability and also less paperwork. If your goal is to eventually transition to a full-time role, however, make sure you agree on a deadline of when that decision will be made (one or three months in, for example).
Find disruptive business models in your industry or startups that could utilize your experience. Companies like these will allow you to utilize your existing skills and work experience while eliminating some of the worst traits of that industry and often providing a better quality of life. Doctors on the brink of leaving medicine may want to check out One Medical Group, while those loathing their jobs at fashion houses or glossies may want to consider online platforms like Stylight.
In rare cases, it’s not about the job you love, but the time you get to pursue other things you love. If this is true for you, look for the most flexible part-time work options out there, where you’ll be able to pursue your other projects or passions while still making enough to pay the bills. Maybe a job won’t give you everything you need, but if they give you the flexibility to pursue things outside of work, you’ll love your job because you’ll be able to love your life.