Why You’re Wasting Your Time Searching for the Perfect Job

Apr 14, 2014 - Joe Matar

You’re simply not going to get the perfect job. That’s right. It’s not gonna happen.

Now, before you go burying your misery in a pint of mint chocolate chip, rest assured this seemingly depressing dose of reality isn’t a reflection on you. You may very well be the cream of the crop when it comes to talent and charm, but the big issue is this: The “perfect” job doesn’t exist. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

The good news is, there are some really great jobs. And the key to finding those opportunities lies in some solid self-reflection and the acknowledgment of the tradeoffs inherent to any career decision.

As Seth Godin says, “A decision without tradeoffs isn’t a decision.” So, how can you approach your job search in the smartest way and find that place where less-than-perfect is still pretty damn good?

Get clear on your non-negotiables

You most likely have a couple requirements that simply can’t budge. Maybe you have to stay within a 100-mile radius of your hometown for family reasons. Or you have to at least earn enough money to make a dent in your student loans. Identify those deal-breakers, and be discriminating. The longer your list, the more limited your possibilities, so try to keep it short — three or four factors, tops.

Struggling to narrow it down? You’re probably making assumptions that don’t really hold water if you’re open to some give-and-take.

Do you really need be a manager, or would you consider a different title if it meant you could learn new skills or have an off-the-charts great boss as a mentor? Do you really have to add a big-name brand company to your resume, or could you forgo that wish if you knew you’d have more responsibility and schedule flexibility?

In all likelihood, there are a bunch of factors that aren’t really “must haves,” but are ”nice to haves.” And that’s where your great possibilities exist.

Define what a great day of work would be like

Once you’ve named your non-negotiables, make a list of other factors that might play into your career decision. They can be quantitative, like salary and commute, and qualitative, like culture and opportunity for growth. What matters is that they’re specific to you.

Ask yourself what a great day at work would look like. Start with the following questions:

  • How do you want to spend your time?
  • What do you want from your coworker relationships?
  • What kind of work environment is most energizing for you?
  • What do you want in a boss?
  • How do you want your job to fit into your life?

This is the time to be honest with yourself -- just get it out of your head and onto paper. You aren’t obligated to share your list at the next family dinner or at happy hour with your friends.

Think about the tradeoffs you’re willing to make

Your list of variables may feel lengthy and make your head spin. Break it down into smaller, bite-sized chunks to frame your thinking and maintain your sanity.

Start by picking two key tradeoffs. Think about your sensitivity to changes in each of them, particularly relative to one another. What do you value more: a flexible work schedule or a 10 percent bump in pay? The chance to work with an icon in your field or a 20 percent shorter commute?

As you play around with different scenarios and notice your gut reactions, don’t fall prey to false choices or exaggerated outcomes. If you prefer the shorter commute, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work for a jerk. Your boss might be a great match for you, but is an up-and-comer rather than a high-profile industry leader.

Every variable has a range of personally acceptable values. Figure out that range for yourself and consider your willingness to move within it.

Get going!

Once you’ve practiced thinking in tradeoff terms, you’ll be more certain of your personal preferences. Now put that awareness to good use -- use it to focus your job search, guide your networking conversations, compose enlightening interview questions and, ultimately, negotiate an offer.

With another hat tip to Seth Godin: “The art of good decision making is looking forward to and celebrating the tradeoffs, not pretending they don't exist.” The elusiveness of that perfect job doesn’t have to keep you stuck. If you know what you're willing to give up to get the things that matter most, you can keep moving forward to some pretty great possibilities.

Besides, perfect is overrated.

Laura Garrett is a certified career coach and partner at Ondecision, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping individuals uncover their personal preferences in the name of more authentic career planning. Stay connected to Laura’s work on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.