Lately I’ve been reading a lot of great news for job seekers.
The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 10 years, jobless claims are the lowest they’ve been since the 70s, and we’ve got more jobs going unfilled than ever in the U.S.
Generally speaking, skilled workers who want jobs have them. This leaves employers in a tough spot.
To hire their next great employee they’ve got to lure someone away from a job and win the battle with multiple employers for that rare employee who comes on the market.
If you’re looking for a job, this is the exact kind of job market you want to be in.
I found myself reading this article on jobs hunting recently, and it got me thinking. If you’ve got lots of job opportunities in front of you, how do you decide which to take?
As the article points out, and my own life experience tells me, you can’t just sum up the salary and benefits. There are several factors to think about when you make the decision.
Look for Jobs that Take You Out of Your Comfort Zone
When I look back over my career history, I’d say the best jobs were not the ones that paid the best. They were the ones that taught me the most.
Every job in which I learned a lot left me with skills that naturally led into my next job, and almost always set me up better off than I was before.
I’d start this history with my decision to serve 6 years in the Army National Guard when I finished high school. None of the technical skills I learned in the military ever had much value to me, but I picked up a lot of soft skills that still pay off. The base level of discipline and drive that I needed to become a successful remote worker was laid during those years.
In every case the jobs where I learned a lot were the ones that required me to move out of my comfort zone and take on bigger responsibilities than I’d had before, use my skills in new ways, or learn entirely new skills.
This can always be a little jarring, especially if you’ve stepped out of a job that you’ve gotten comfortable doing.
But in the long run these types of jobs always paid off. Sometimes the payoff has been financial, but just as often it’s been with jobs that have been able to keep up with the ever changing work world.
With the speed that technology is moving at, if you’re not constantly evolving as an employee, you risk becoming obsolete.
Bottom line: look for jobs that require you get outside your comfort zone by mastering new skills and responsibilities.
Now is the Time to Love Your Job
Now when I say you should get out of your comfort zone, I’m speaking specifically about skills and responsibilities.
I’m not talking about taking a job where the culture is awful and makes your life hell.
It’s hard to put a price on company culture, but to me, there is great value in working at a company where there are little politics, people treat each other with respect and it’s not only understood, but expected, that you’ll have a life outside of work.
Of course, most employers have gotten the memo about company culture, and will at least put on a show of being a “cool” place to work.
But bean bag chairs and a bring your dog to work policy do not a cool workplace make.
And, of course, no one’s going to say “we pay well, but we’re going to make your life miserable.”
So how can you figure out the company culture?
One place to look at is benefits. How they stack up on vacation time and sick days is a pretty concrete indicator as to how important work-life balance is to them.
Another thing to try and find out, either by directly asking the employer in an interview or by talking to potential coworkers, is how often people actually use up their vacation and sick days.
Just about everyone, at least in the U.S., has worked at a company that offered decent vacation time, but made you feel absolutely awful for using it.
My experience is that extra money and the opportunity to learn new skills or take on bigger responsibilities is not worth the stress of a terrible work culture.
Because here’s the thing: you’ll never do your best work when you’re stressed out and burnt out. And nothing speaks louder about your value as an employee as the work you put out.
If you spend a few years working at a stressful job, putting out work that’s below what you’re capable of, where does that leave you?
Almost certainly no better off than when you came in.
Bottom line: Look at benefits and talk to potential colleagues about quality of life before signing on to a job.
Good work is the ultimate resume. Look for jobs that give you both the opportunity and the environment to do the best work of your life, and good pay and even more interesting opportunities will follow. Now is the time!