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Pennies as Priorities: Measuring What Matters in Your Job Search

You have priorities when it comes to your job search and some are going to be easier to find than others. Looking to manage a program? Probably easy enough to find. Searching for an organization that is going to cater lunch every day? You’re in the wrong field for that one. But no matter what your job priorities are, it’s important to step back prior to starting your job search to determine your must-haves versus nice-to-haves, as well as how the nice-to-haves compare to each other.

With your must-haves, it’s essential to be stringent on what makes the list. You should keep your must-haves to a minimum when you’re searching so that you can cast a wide net and explore a diverse selection of opportunities. Ask yourself – is there truly no scenario in which you would accept something different? For example, let’s say you’re from Chicago, have family in Chicago, and currently live in Chicago and want to stay there. You might be tempted to put a job located in Chicago as a must have. That’s perfectly fine. But that means that if a job doing what you love, with incredible career trajectory, at an organization you believe in, and paying $25,000 more than you currently make but is based in Boston came along you don’t even want to know about it because you’d never consider it. Is that true? If so, that truly is a must-have. If not, take it off the list and move it to the nice-to-have column. Otherwise, you’re needlessly restricting your pool of available opportunities.

Now for the nice-to-haves, which is what we’ll be tackling with the exercise I’m going to suggest today. Nice-to-haves are the aspects of the job that you would enjoy having, but on their own, they aren’t going to be deal-breakers when it comes to pursuing a role. Examples of nice-to-haves might include location, income, type of work, professional development opportunities, and work-life balance. Here is where people go wrong – they don’t effectively compare one nice-to-have to another, thereby making it difficult to compare one job to another.

Here’s the way the exercise works. Take your list of nice-to-have priorities from above. For my example, I’ll focus on the list of five criteria mentioned above. Now, imagine you have 100 pennies. With these 100 pennies, you get to distribute them between your nice-to-haves based on how important they are to your future role. If location is very important, you might give it 50 pennies. If work-life balance would be cool, but you’re willing to forgo it at this point in your career, maybe it only gets 10 pennies. Take some time to really think through not only how the must-haves rank order against each other, but also how their importance is relatively weighted.

Now that you have your weight distribution you can use it to quantify how well a specific role matches your nice-to-haves. First, to evaluate a specific role, rate each criteria on a scale of 1 to 10 for that role, i.e. if you want to be in Chicago and the role is in Chicago, it would get a 10 out of 10. Once you have your rankings for each of the priorities, multiply them by the weight you labeled them with the pennies from above and add all of those numbers together. You can see an example of this math below. For instance, with the earlier example of a job in Chicago, you would multiply its ranking of 10 by its importance of 50 pennies and then you would add that result of 500 to the other results for the other criteria. The perfect score for a role would be 1000 points, so you can gauge your final result against that bar or against the final scores of any other roles you may be pursuing.

While this is certainly a way of comparing options against each other, if you’re struggling to find enough options this exercise might also help you surface roles you weren’t strongly considering before or help you re-evaluate your job priorities. If you have one nice-to-have that is pretty heavily weighted, this might be the time to figure out that you’re going to have to give a little on the other things you’re looking for in your next role. It also might help you discover that expanding the locations you’re looking at could be the right step in your career. If professional development and growth opportunities are really important to you at this stage but you’re not tied down to one location, it’s time to start considering cities you had never thought about before but would provide that professional growth you desire.

There might also come a point in your job-search when you realize you need to reallocate the pennies. If you’re a month in and you haven’t gained much traction, step back and rethink how important those job priorities are so you can widen your search area. The perfect role may not exist right now, but you might be able to find something pretty close to it if you can be a little flexible on where your priorities lie.

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