Business Insider is to research what Fox News and MSNBC are to “fair and balanced” reporting. The basic facts may be true, but after you remove the spin, opinion, and marketing are you really left with useful information?
Last week I saw a Business Insider article touting what the Economic Policy Institute (http://www.epi.org/about/) says it takes to “live comfortably” in different cities. I’ll start off by saying that regardless of the quoted report’s standards, one’s definition of living comfortably can be wide and varied based on a host of very personal circumstances. If mom and dad indulged your every whim while you were in school then you may think that trips to the salon for mani/pedis or chest waxing are something no civilized person can do without. On the other hand, if you paid your own way through school and barely scraped by, dinner at Chipotle may seem like a once a month splurge. In other words, living comfortably is not something that can be discussed objectively.
I’d also question data that comes from a source engaging in “a research and public education initiative to make wage growth an urgent national policy priority.” Not that this isn’t a noble goal for the Economic Policy Institute, but it’s kinda like getting automotive performance data from a group who’s stated aim is to increase the net fuel efficiency of cars on American roads. What do you think they’ll have to say about a Chrysler Hellcat? They’ll probably reward fuel efficiency over horsepower.
That aside, I’d like to address the idea of seeking careers based on salary. Though it seems to be an accepted practice professionally, there’s a word for this approach when it comes to personal relationships. It’s called “gold-digging” and it’s generally the subject of much scorn. Why then is it so prevalent in career searches? If you want to know how to find the right job, move salary to the end of the equation:
Figure out what you want to do. Don’t focus on job titles, focus on job duties; the things you’ll be asked to do day in and day out. Titles are pretentious. They are invented by Human Resources people with the hope of attracting job seekers. Seriously, it’s all marketing. Use self-assessments to figure out your preferences and skills.
Once you have an idea of the job duties you’d want to do, backwards research the job titles to do those things. Here’s an idea; go to Indeed.com and put the duties (not the job titles) in the search bar. You’ll get a list of job titles and postings. Look through the ads and winnow that list down to the top five-ish jobs you think you’d like to do.
Research those jobs and the companies. This is a start, not an end. You may be looking at your future job, not the one you’ll get out of school. You’ll have to develop the skills and qualifications needed for the job. If it took you three tries to pass College Algebra, you will never develop the analytical skills to be an accountant or financial analyst. I’d love to write songs like Dave Grohl. A qualification to do this would be “know how to play guitar.” Since I don’t my options are learn or admit I can’t. I can’t, so I moved on. Instead find jobs that have skills that you can develop.
You also want to research the companies. When it comes to being happy, where you do what you do is almost as important as what you do. Glassdoor is a good place to start for basic info. Just remember that the only people who leave online reviews are either really pissed or fanboys. And unfortunately there are usually more of the former and fewer of the latter. Be sure to separate opinion and emotion from information.
Use LinkedIn and other sources to develop a network. Target people who have the job you’d like to have and their managers, recruiters, and alumni. Reach out, ask them to meet for coffee. Ask them why they like what they do and where they do it. Ask what they had to learn to get where they are. What were their hurdles? What helped them succeed? And when it’s all over, thank them profusely and ask if there is anything you can do for them. Networking is a reciprocal relationship!
Once you’ve done all that you are set up to find a job that you’re not only qualified to do, but have a greater chance of actually enjoying. In a commercial for his Samuel Adams beer, “happy with his life” guy Jim Koch says he hasn’t worked in years after finding a job he loves. Whether it’s solving puzzles, talking to people, or brewing a great glass of beer, loving what you do is a much more critical (and controllable!) component to a successful career than what you earn.
Now you can address that “living comfortably” issue by living within your means. A friend of mine works on cars, he’s a highly talented Collision Technician (or “body man” as he calls himself). The job doesn’t pay six figures, but he’s really happy doing what he does. He works with his hands, he gets to know his customers, and he sets his own schedule. He’s also realistic about what he’ll make during the year and lives a life within those modest confines. He’s very, very happy.
Some of you gentle readers are fortunate enough to already have a significant sweetie in your life. Unfortunately, many more of you don’t (or your sweetie isn’t so significant!) but would like to find that special one. Basing your career decision and city where you’ll live on what it takes to live comfortably is like being a job gold-digger. To get that payday, you’ll probably have to whore yourself out by doing a lot of things you don’t want to.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to be someone’s poolboy-toy start with your own needs and then find someone who satisfies them. You will want to work harder to make them happy because of all that they do to make you happy. It’s called compatibility and it’s a much stronger basis for a long term relationship than gross earnings.