Seeking a job change? Be careful what you wish for

Focus on the reality of why you want to leave your current position

I’ve spoken with thousands of people in the job market over the years. Whether they’re in an aggressive search or just casually investigating their options, I find a common thread throughout the conversations. When I ask what they want to do next, I typically get an answer that’s focused on the big picture — a more strategic vision — than a tactical or practical view. I often get answers like:

• I want to work for a company that provides an honorable product or service.

• I would love to serve a great cause.

• I’d like to work for a company that offers the best long-term compensation.

• My next company should offer me a more fast-tracked career path so I can get into management.

• I’d like to work for a startup that offers equity and long-term upside.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all great things to have in mind, and strategic thinking is a highly valuable thought pattern. The point of this article is to direct (at least) some of your attention away from big-picture strategy and help you zero in on some of the tactical things that you enjoy doing, and that you’d like to do more of in your next position.

Let’s say you have the opportunity to land a job with better advancement potential or that serves a greater cause. What would you most enjoy actually doing every day? How would that differ from what you were doing in your last job or in your current role?

When you boil it down, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of mechanical things — tasks — that you could be doing at any given job. Do you enjoy making phone calls? Do you enjoy receiving phone calls? Does time spent at your desk please you or would you rather be up moving around? Do you like solving problems or would you rather be coordinating the efforts of others who are solving problems? Do you enjoy working with customers? Would working more with your hands make for a better role?

When answering these questions, focus on the reality of why you want to leave your current position.

Many of the professionals I speak with who say they want to work for a company that serves a greater cause or one that offers a management fast-track don’t really want to leave for those reasons.

When they take an honest look at why they’re dissatisfied, it’s usually because they can’t stand sitting in a cubicle making phone calls for nine hours a day, or they’re annoyed by the need to create too many “TPS reports.”

Thinking tactically

Taking a two-step approach to your career search can help you move beyond the idea of what you want in a new role and truly understand the reality of what you want.

Step 1: Think tactically. Before thinking about the big-picture mission of your next company, take a moment to think about the little things. What parts of your current day do you find annoying and what would a typical “perfect” day look like to you? Fewer phone calls? More code writing? Less customer interaction? More time on the road?

Take this step seriously and write down all of the things you want to be doing regardless of the company size, mission, etc. Before you get to Step 2 you might realize you just need a vacation and really don’t want to look for a new job.

Step 2: Think strategically. Once you’ve qualified the nitty-gritty stuff that you want to be doing on a daily basis, it’s time to think about the strategic stuff.

Addressing your career search in this order eliminates a lot of the “be careful what you wish for” scenarios. If data entry or sales calls aren’t your thing at your current company, they aren’t going to be much more fun at your next employer, no matter how compelling the company mission or how minimized the path to management is.

Thinking tactically will help you focus on the reality and keep your head out of the clouds in your next job search.

Jason Alexander is managing partner of Bedford-based BANK W Holdings, The Nagler Group, KBW Financial Staffing & Recruiting and Alexander Technology Group.