Find your dream job and boost your wellbeing with John Lees' new book How To Get A Job You'll Love
Dreading Mondays and living for the weekends could both be sure signs that you're in the wrong job. Employment and career expert John Lees gives his advice on how to take a different path
Work consumes a huge amount of our lives - about 16 years in total if you work full-time and live until you're 70 - and yet growing numbers of us struggle through our days, moaning and generally feeling dissatisfied with our lot.
Studies on work satisfaction show that over the past 20 years we have become increasingly unhappy for a variety of reasons, including long working hours, job uncertainty in the current climate and, for younger people, a higher expectation of what work should provide.
"We put a huge amount of energy - around 80% - into work and rely on it for a large chunk of self-esteem, so it can have a significant effect on our wellbeing and sense of fulfilment if we're not doing the right job or feel dissatisfied with a career choice," says John Lees, author of How To Get A Job You'll Love.
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"There are more varieties of jobs out there than ever before, but we still generally let our careers be shaped by accident, or accept second or third best because it's easier to stand still than move forward.
One fundamental mistake, he says, is to take a job just for the sake of it, because it will rarely satisfy you and that random decision will have to be explained on a CV later down the line.
But he adds: "You don't have to wait for the 'perfect' job to come along - it's all about making better compromises. Evaluate what you're looking for in your working life and what your employer wants from you.
"People can usually be perfectly happy with enjoying three-and-a-half days at work and coping with the other day-and-a-half of aggravation, boring meetings or paperwork.
"When it gets below that ratio, it can lead them to be demotivated and de-energised, which can have long-term effects on their own morale, and also negatively affect the way they're perceived at work, which could result in a bad situation becoming worse."
If you want to make things different, you have to make small steps towards change, he advises, such as exploring other avenues, looking at different roles, talking to people about the jobs they do and getting an idea about whether they might suit you and your skills.
He cautions: "It's all too easy to believe that the only solution to dissatisfaction at work is job change. Often, all that work dissatisfaction can show you is that there's a mismatch between who you are and what you're doing.
"But the real answer is career growth - moving towards a closer match between yourself and the work that you do."
Above all, he says, you don't have to make a big change initially, but you need to try to do something.
"Sometimes we can't seem to get round to doing what we know will make life better. If it's a direction you know you want to take, then what's stopping you is probably fear of failure, which can include fear of rejection.
"Currently, people will say, 'What's the point of looking during a recession?' But although it's tougher to look for a job that's right, it's not impossible.
"Every day people are making small changes and even big steps and every day people leave jobs, retire and new roles are created.
"To counter negative thoughts, imagine you were being paid to look for a job for someone else. Then you would keep exploring, looking for other angles, finding people to talk to and asking questions, and looking at unconventional ways into a new field.
"But there's nothing to stop you doing that for yourself and exploring ways to find a new job, or looking at constructive ways to make a current job more enjoyable."
Lees gives his top tips on making a job work for you and finding a better career.
TRANSFORM THAT JOB: SEVEN TOP TIPS
WHAT'S WRONG? Work out why you're discontented in your job, advises Lees.
"If the job hasn't turned out as you'd hoped, maybe you didn't ask the right questions before accepting it, or the company or your post has changed?
"Look back over your career history before you make a hasty move, so you avoid repeating mistakes of the past."
Research data shows that people leave managers, not organisations. "Ask yourself, 'Is it the job, the organisation, or the manager you don't like?' You may find it's possible to change your job or transfer to a new department," he says.
ANALYSE: Look at your current job objectively so you can work out what you can really change.
Review your progress every three months, making a personal portfolio of work you've done, problems you've overcome, value you've added to the company and how you've made a difference.
This will give you a basis for knowing your true worth and marketability and you'll also be able to assess your skills, development needs and how you can open yourself to future opportunities.
LEARN: Learn new skills so that you're adding to your knowledge base and your contacts inside and outside the company. You'll be able to improve your input within your current role and will be better placed if you do eventually decide to move.
SUCCESS SPEAK: Make your achievements known, explain how you achieved them, and give three ways you could work more effectively to create new opportunities for your employer.
Understand what's expected from you and be aware that if the company or boss changes, expectations will change too, and you need to work with that.
NEGOTIATE: "Putting forward a plan to your boss or HR department to adapt your job - perhaps building on what you're already doing, and negotiating a package so you do more of the things which energise you - could not only improve your working life but also feel more in control," says Lees.
"There's no point relying on an employer to solve your career problem. Rather it's about you giving a boss 'win-win' solutions and making positive suggestions rather than simply saying, 'I'm not happy'.
WHY BOTHER? It's much easier, generally, to improve the job you're in rather than looking for another post, particularly in the current difficult job market, says Lees.
"Bear in mind that you need to have a fairly good reason for moving on from a company - you'll have to explain at interviews for a new job, and also in the years ahead whenever an employer views your CV.
"Companies will be looking for a coherent career story where moves have been made to learn new skills, to face new challenges and responsibilities - a sense of growth in work - rather than a message that says, 'I just didn't like a particular job'. That looks directionless and won't encourage a new employer to invest in you."
TIME TO GO? If you're still dissatisfied and you've made at least one attempt to fix the job you're in, and the attraction of something new on offer is greater than the repulsion of the old, it could be time to leave, Lees says.
"If you have good positive reasons for going somewhere else, maybe you have outgrown a job, then it's no bad thing to move on when you feel you've achieved as much as you can. Just avoid the panic actions taken on the basis of, 'I just want to get out of here'," he says.
GET A DREAM JOB: SEVEN TOP TIPS
CAREER OVERVIEW: Work out what happened to your career, how you got your current role and what's preventing you from getting a job you'll love. How much of your career is about regret or missed opportunity? Once you've evaluated those things, you've taken the first step to change.
SKILL SET: Analyse what you do well and review your skills, especially those acquired outside work. "Identify which skills always feel natural, they might be anything from practical skills to mediation or organisational skills," says Lees. "What skills do you look forward to using in your workplace? Make a list of your current skills development and any voluntary activities."
WISH LIST: List 10 ingredients you are looking for in an ideal job, he advises, and think about key elements such as the kind of people you enjoy working with, the results you'd like to achieve and the organisation's working style. "Then throw your values into the mix - what products and services matter to you? Look for jobs which match at least six out of the 10 criteria," he says.
DISCOUNT TITLE: Focus on the ingredients of a job, not the title. "When talking to people about what you're looking for, tell them what you want a job to involve - the skills, knowledge called for and the working style," he says. "That way they're encouraged to make creative suggestions rather than just responding to your stated job title which could pigeon-hole you. By being open-minded, you may find another more fulfilling role or a post that could be created for you."
MAKE CONTACTS: Get under the skin of the job you aspire to by asking people working in it what they do, how their job might match your interests, and why they love it. Bear in mind, around 50% of jobs never appear on websites or in adverts - they're filled through word-of-mouth recommendations or found by people who make contacts with people in a relevant industry. Talking to as many people as you can, attending conferences run by companies, and using social media will make it more likely to hear about a post and make connections with people who can help.
ON MESSAGE: When you get closer to deciding what your ideal job is, learn how to present what you are and what you do in short, focused statements, Lees advises. "Be ready to summarise your skills and know-how quickly, and say how you can help an organisation. Decide in advance which are the most important things on an employer's shopping list and prepare engaging stories to match them.
DO IT: You've done the homework, researched the market, spoken to people who do the job you crave, and honed your message and CV, now it's time to ask for the opportunity, says Lees. "Ask if you can shadow someone in that post for a day, call them to see if they know of any opportunities, and discover the 'hidden' job market, where vacancies are discovered and filled by using contacts and personal recommendations rather than advertising. Finally, don't let setbacks put you off!"
How To Get A Job You'll Love (2013-2014 edition) by John Lees is published by McGraw-Hill, priced £14.99. Available now.
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