If I told you that in order to develop a useful career plan or job search strategy, you would have to do some research, what picture might show up in your mind’s eye? A visit to several databases, a trip to the bookstore or library, a day with a search engine? Research is how you get answers to your questions, so you need the questions first. Your questions might be big and fact-oriented (What is the size of ABC’s primary market?), or simple and relationship-based (Would I like working at XYZ?). Either way, asking questions and finding out the answers keeps you from misleading yourself by making wrong assumptions.
You can research from at least two directions: 1.) What are characteristics of/facts about the company I’m considering, and 2.) What are characteristics of/facts about me that would affect my job or career there?
Questions about the company to which you might want answers:
What business is the company in? Looks simple and straightforward, but isn’t. I once worked for a medical device company, but not that many of the folks I interviewed for jobs there knew a.) what that was, and b.) why it was important. Do you? Many industries are regulated, and that limits their choices about marketing, sales, and accounting, among other things. Your interview performance may depend on knowing why this company does things the way it does.
Is the company a division or subsidiary of a larger company? If so, where are the headquarters and what is the operating strategy? Your day to day life is heavily influenced by this piece of info. If you were the top accounting dog at your last company and this looks like that job but at the division level, you might check into that. Matrix structures. . . .reporting relationships. . . . all give new meaning to who really provides your performance feedback, if any. And, your interviewer will be looking to see how your past reporting relationships will fit into their structure.
What constitutes financial health for this company? I keep hearing, for example, that many new entrants into the unemployed or soon to be unemployed ranks declare that they are ready to “give back” and put their for-profit skills to work in the nonprofit arena. I can assure you that nonprofit companies are complex, under-resourced, and on most days, competitive places to work. “No margin, no mission” is both overused and underapplied. And, a lot of nonprofits are government contractors in disguise, with important regulatory obligations, thin contract margins, and a scary amount of direct responsibility for human lives. How your target company earns its organizational living, in detail, is not a small matter. Who pays for the product or service is material to the organization’s well-being.
What is it like to work there? This is one that I should have asked, more than once. And, it’s the one I always told the candidates the truth about (especially those about to plunge into a difficult or crisis situation). If you get different answers from different sources, find out why. If universally, your sources say exactly the same thing, check the web site for the source of the Kool-Aid they drank, or the spin. If there is spontaneity and joy in the source, press for the reasons.
Those are questions about the company. What about you? What do you need to know–not just affirm–about yourself?
Who are you? Just like a company has a brand, a leader, and a plan to deliver a product or service, so should you. Know your value and be specific about what you really want in return for your efforts. What is important to you will come through your interactions and priorities every day; plan for a good fit, not a forced march.
What do you want to do each and every day? Jobs have to give something back at regular intervals, not once every few months or so. The hours you spend on the job have to provide you with some kind of satisfaction. It’s one thing to be a teacher, another to actually get to teach every day. If you don’t like negotiating, don’t go into human resources. It’s all those folks really do (IMHO, sorry, friends, it’s just the way I see it). If airports, cars and hotels aren’t your favorite hangout, don’t ignore the fact that the job is 75% travel–that’s three full weeks a month.
How much feedback do you need and want? Do you want other people to like and admire you or are you more about results. . . and do you realize that the two might be mutually exclusive? If you are hungry for recognition, you might be more short term oriented, as an example of the importance of the question. Do not fool yourself into thinking that this is not material. Your expectations around rewards and recognition are powerful forces in your work life.
What makes you happy? For some people, this might be as simple as summers off with the kids not in school. For others, it’s as complex as saving a corner of the world, a life, or a million dollars to spend on a cool retirement. Whatever it is for you, be sure that whatever you do is going to get you there–if not now, then somewhere along the line.
Research–like everything else–can’t live just in your head. Document your questions, and add the answers or working hypotheses as you come upon them. You won’t be tempted to gloss over a truth just because you wish it weren’t true, if you pursue the answers to your questions in an objective way. Building a plan for a good career or getting a good job is not a matter of luck; it’s a process of learning, growing, and strengthening your value.
Next time: Research Methods