What does it take to land your dream job? In today’s talent war, you can write your own ticket — if you have the courage to define and pursue it.
Did you know that only 5% of professionally working people in the U.S. are truly happy with all aspects of their careers? Yes, in my experience interviewing with thousands of job candidates over the last 15 years, 95% of the workforce feels dissatisfied with at least one aspect of their jobs.
They’re unhappy with their boss, hours, pay, commute, responsibilities, or growth potential. Some feel indifferent about their industry in general. Others have an enviable title and salary, but harbor a secret desire to work from home part-time, or rise even higher in the organization, or transfer to another department that has nothing to do with their current skillset. But instead of looking for solutions to fix these problems or working towards these secret goals, they fall victim to the status quo and keep working in a career that doesn’t make them truly happy.
If this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. Before joining Slalom — a modern consulting firm dedicated to helping people love their work and their lives — I founded an executive search firm that made the San Francisco Business Times list of The 100 Fastest Growing Companies. As I helped thousands of candidates land new jobs and fix many of the issues mentioned above, one thing became abundantly clear — the overwhelming majority of people are not satisfied with their careers.
This blows my mind. Let me break it down. We’re in one of the biggest talent wars ever, what recruiters call a “candidate’s market”. This means you can write your own ticket. You just need to find the courage to take inventory of where you are, define your career utopia, and create a plan to transform that goal into your reality.
“Career utopia” isn’t an unachievable fantasy. It’s simply a job that makes you really happy. The word “utopia” makes you think bigger and more broadly about what makes you happy in all aspects of work.
Taking inventory of your career
Let’s be honest: we don’t normally stop to reflect on what makes us happy unless something derails our path or throws us off our hamster wheel. Becoming a parent, losing a loved one, confronting an unexpected life event — these things make us stop.
But taking a moment to think about your happiness as it relates to work, the thing that consumes nearly 40% of your day, shouldn’t wait until a major life trauma. If we take the time to reflect, we uncover new ways to expand on our success and happiness.
The checklist below is a simple way to start getting clear about what’s important to you in your job — things that you may have pushed down or shoved out of the way for various reasons. Going through this exercise will help you identify what’s making you happy and what’s leaving you dissatisfied at work
Here are a few important rules to follow as you take inventory:
- Make sure you’re not comparing yourself to anyone else. Remember; think only about how true the statement is compared to what you want, if you could have it your way.
- Ask yourself: Am I 100% sure this statement is true for me based on my own desires? Or am I being influenced by what I know and follow as “the company policy”?
- Don’t confuse a belief that something is not changeable with the belief that it is true. Everything about your career is changeable, once you have the right tools.
Your career reality checklist
Assign each of the following statements a rating of 1 to 10. A rating of 1 means the statement is completely false for you. A rating of 10 means the statement is 100% true — not even a sliver of wiggle room. Be honest with yourself. If you read the statement and feel even the slightest bit of hesitation, don’t rank it a 10. Let’s get started!
- I have the work-life balance I need. Not just free time for myself and enough time with family/friends, but a life with no guilt to do the things I need to do, like pick my kids up from school, take a day to go to the dentist, or hit the gym at a reasonable hour.
- I feel emotionally satisfied in my work. Not just in the sense that I am proud of my results, but I am satisfied at the core in my current position in the company and my responsibilities. The feelings you have about your job when your head hits the pillow at night.
- When I talk to people about my job, I feel proud. Distinct from number 2, this is more about bigger picture thinking. Not just how I feel on my portion of work, as in “I did a project that was recognized!” but about the holistic thinking. For example, “I am a civil rights attorney!” or “I am the 5th generation GM of ABC company!” or “I am part of the clean-tech industry!”
- I chose the job I have today; it is part of my career plan. I didn’t land here accidentally or as part of someone else’s plan. Was I referred into this role or did I proactively seek it out? Did I look at and compare alternatives? The majority of candidates I've worked with have stories that got them their current roles, but are nothing to do with their original desires.
- I feel intellectually challenged/stimulated in my work. Have you settled to getting your mental stimulation from outside work activities? Are you one of the many that think “work is work” and can’t provide you more pleasure than just the monetary benefits, you’ve settled into not expecting to have your passions satisfied by your career?
- I like my boss and feel inspired by him/her. I can see myself feeling that way for the foreseeable future. Does my boss have my best interests in their mind as far as my future goals? Are they looking out for me in helping my career or are they just trying to keep me put? Are they flexible with the traits I’ve identified as my career utopia?
- I have opportunities to advance/grow to the level I want to achieve. Does my current company have a career path available for me in the organization structure? Or have I reached the top of the potential here? Do they have the resources or are they willing to invest in my growth (e.g. pay for a business school, send me to technical trainings)? What’s the realistic timeline for a promotion or change?
- I am happy with my compensation. Am I happy with my salary, bonus potential, benefits, other perks? Am I only thinking in what my company has presented me as the ‘salary range’? Do I know what my skills really warrant in today’s market? Am I aware of all the structures of total compensation? Am I aware that several business objectives can result in actual bonuses as they are met? Am I agreeing to KPIs (key performance indicators)/business results without attaching compensation to them for further incentive?
- I enjoy the organization’s culture. Do I respect the people I work with, their attitudes, the general environment? Do the company values reflect my own? Am I even aware or encouraged to care? Do I like the day to day overall rules (business hours, dress code, time off policy, pet policy, diversity policy, flexibility to work remotely, sabbaticals). Is management willing to change and keep up with more innovative, cutting edge ways to keep employees happy (i.e., sabbaticals, business school opportunities, egg-freezing, free food cafeterias, remote positions, temporary geographical rotations)?
- I am happy with my exit strategy. Do I have a plan to be able to stop working (retirement plan, 401K benefit, opportunity to sell the company, etc.)? Is it realistic and am I satisfied with the time frame?
What’s next for you?
This inventory will help you see if there’s anything missing in your career. You may rank something an 8 or 9 and feel pretty good about it. But there’s something that would make it a 10, right? You should know what that something is, and whether it’s possible to attain.
Early on in my career, I was more willing to accept 7s, 8s, and 9s because I didn’t believe they could be changed, or I wasn’t equipped with the tools to transform them. You might think an 8, 7, or even a 6 is a decent ranking — it’s above average after all. In reality, there’s no reason to settle for anything but 9s and 10s.
If you’ve ranked something 8 or lower, I recommend you give this area more thought. Think about how companies are motivated to act if their Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures customer experience as any less than a 9. Your career deserves the same respect!
Aisha Quaintance is an award-winning entrepreneur and author with a proven track record of achievement driving sales growth and providing sales leadership and business coaching in highly competitive Silicon Valley markets.
Learn more about Slalom, a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology, and business transformation.
Click to find out more about Aisha’s book, Career Smarts: A Guide to Getting Your Career Utopia.