Day 3: Get to know the job market. This post is part of Forbes’ Career Challenge: Get Job-Search Ready In 15 Days.
In 1987, Sallie Krawcheck secured a coveted job in investment banking on Wall Street. Shortly after she started, the 1987 crash followed. She found herself in a job she hated, in a cut-throat work culture she hated and in a time of crisis that exacerbated the problem. “I knew I didn’t like investment banking. I didn’t get it. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t love the work,” she said in an interview with Business Insider. In 1990, realizing this wasn’t the career she wanted, she started at Columbia Business School. Her goal in business school was to get out of financial services and switch to the media industry.
According to plan, she landed a summer internship at Time, Inc. She was thrilled and excited at the prospect of working there full-time once the internship converted into a job. At the end of the summer, though, she learned didn’t get the offer though. Devastated, she re-entered the job search. Eventually, she landed an even better job: working for Disney in Los Angeles. As misfortune would have it, though, her husband at the time was committed to New York. And, committed to her husband, she turned the job down.
Upon graduating in 1992, she ended up right back where she started. She was back in banking in a job she hated, and adding insult to injury, had split from her husband. She was shattered, “throwing up between orientation sessions because my marriage had fallen apart and I was in a job I didn’t want, and I made the move to business school to switch,” she said.
Soon after, Krawcheck took time out from the workforce to be a full-time mom. Unexpectedly, that helped her to recalibrate. She took the time to think about what she wanted to do and why. What had she loved about her internship in media? What did she want in a job? She soon realized she loved to build earnings models and she loved to write. Could she find such a job on Wall Street?
She zeroed in on equity research. When she re-entered the workforce, she quickly landed an equity research job at Sanford Bernstein. Success came quickly. She rose the ranks quickly, eventually heading up the equity research department at Sanford Bernstein. Her ascent continued, eventually taking on the subsequent roles of CEO of Sanford Bernstein, CEO of Smith Barney, CEO of Citi Wealth Management and then CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and US Trust. Unsurprisingly, she has frequently been referred to as the most powerful woman on Wall Street.
Her rapid rise wasn’t without bumps along the way. She was unexpectedly fired more than once. And despite all her successes, when she decided to start the company she now runs, Ellevest, an enormously popular investment platform, she was turned down on multiple occasions by investors who believed it was a bad idea. But each setback revealed how much she loved her job. Regardless of the unfortunate corporate circumstances, she found herself in, she still wanted to pursue the work she was doing. And she had her time exploring different careers in her 20s to thank for that. “My 20s were not about becoming senior [in an organization]. My 20s were actually about finding a fit, which I finally did in equity research,” she said.
How exactly do you find fit?
1. Supply And Demand
Most people falsely believe that if they are a qualified candidate, when they enter the job market they will surely get a job. That would a sign of an efficient market and it is unfortunately not the one we find ourselves in. An inefficient market is commonly defined as one where the market price of an asset is not representative of its true value. The employee is the asset, and in our inefficient market, we often find overly-qualified employees who are underemployed and underpaid. (And, frankly, employees who are under-qualified and overpaid.)
Because the job market is inefficient, you can’t count on the throwing yourself in the market and landing on the right job that will value you correctly. You have to take matters into your own hands. Finding the job that’s right for you in that moment takes some detective work. And to do that, like any market, you have to think about supply and demand.
As job candidates, it’s natural to focus on the supply side of the job market. We think, what jobs are out there that I want? With this strategy, we end up gravitating to the jobs that everyone else is applying for without thinking about why they would make a uniquely good candidate.
Instead, flip the script. Ask yourself what you want to contribute. What makes you uniquely qualified? What makes you a unique candidate more generally? What skills do you have? What are you good at and what do you enjoy doing? Important questions people rarely ask themselves.
2. Costs Vs. Benefits
After you’ve decided what you believe you are uniquely qualified to bring to a job, then decide what kind of job you can get with that skill-set. There are all sorts of jobs out there, more jobs than you can even imagine. Full-time jobs, part-time jobs, jobs that are time-poor and money-rich, or even time-poor and money-poor. Every job offers a series of tradeoffs and you should spend some time evaluating what costs and benefits you’re willing to accept.
Would you find it acceptable to have a job that pays well but offers very little free time? Or do you value your time more? Do you want growth in your organization or would you prefer a stable corporation with a brand name? In assessing a job there are all sorts of costs and benefits. Many people will impose their own views on you, but it’s important to think for yourself on this one.
There is a sister-concept to a job’s costs and benefits and that is its inherent risks and rewards. Every job is going to have its own risk:reward profile. You’ll have to assess for yourself the tradeoffs you’re willing to make. The jobs with the most risk are usually the ones with the most reward. But people today often forget about the tradeoff. They want all the reward without stomaching any of the risks. Starting a company, for example, is hard. Many creative careers are tough, too. You have to have the emotional stamina (and financial means) to work through that.
What makes the risk worth it? You’ll know it when you find it. A term that is overused today but useful to employ in this context would be a “calling.” Often described as a job would be willing to do for free, that type of work leads people to risk a lot to make happen. You’re so compelled to do it, it outweighs the risk. That, of course, doesn’t make a job. But buyer beware, choosing to pursue a calling is not any easier than a job. It entails its own uncharted path that isn’t for everyone.
3. Job Vs. Calling
You have to figure out what a job is going to mean to you. Some people want to find meaning and purpose in their work. Those people are looking for a calling. Others view their job as means to an end. They look at their job as one part of their much larger life. They don’t place as much emphasis on finding fulfillment in their job because they find it in other areas of their life. I know people in both camps who are equally fulfilled (and equally unhappy, I should add). If you follow what rings true for you, eventually you’ll land where you were meant to be.
The immediate risk you face is that the traditional job search will lead you astray. It will make you think you want the high-paying job or the one with status and prestige. But once you get lured into those jobs you will ask yourself, what have I done?
You know you’re in the wrong job if it leaves you feeling empty and dissonant with who you are. Every job is probably going to make you tired. We are increasingly expected to produce more work and put in more hours. If you’re going to feel overworked, you want to make sure you’re contributing to something you believe is worthwhile.
Job hunting is ultimately like a valuation. You have to get a view of what future earnings you want and your risk profile. The assumptions that underlie any corporate valuation apply here too: how much risk you contribute to a company (e.g., are you a flight risk?), your future potential (e.g., how successful you will be in any given job) and what you estimate your growth to be (e.g., how quickly you will rise the ranks.) You are ultimately trying to answer the question: are you irreplaceable? And it will be much easier to do so if you took the time to assess why you wanted the work in the first place.
Sallie Krawcheck started her career following the crowd, pursuing a job in investment banking much like everyone else. But she excelled in her career by following what was only true to her. We’re often too quick to forget that it is your life and you’re the one that has to live it.
Follow Stephanie Denning on Twitter:@stephdenning