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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Whistle While You Work

By Hannah Seligson

CTW Features

In the recently released movie The Devil Wears Prada, the main character, Andy Sachs, emphatically proclaims after landing a job at Runway (read: Vogue) magazine, a distant cousin of the real journalism job she wanted, I ll just stick it out for a year.

Andy s experience, however fictionalized, captures the reality of the modern workplace conundrum that so many of us tackle: How can you find a job that you won t want to put an expiration date on? According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the time that workers in their twenties stay in one job has shrunk dramatically in the past 20 years. In 1983, for instance, someone in their twenties would stay at a job for 2.2 years.

By 2003, that number slipped to just over a year.

While this could be written off as a symptom of a more volatile job market, there is a darker under-belly to this issue than fluctuating labor patterns. That is, the majority of people end up in jobs they don t like because they don t know how to go about finding the right job, and recent statistics certainly corroborate this theory. A 2004 Career Builder survey found that nearly one in four workers said they were dissatisfied with their jobs, a 20 percent increase over 2001. So how do you keep yourself from becoming just another dismal statistic?

Judi Perkins, who has been a job search consultant for twenty-five years, and is the founder of findtheperfectjob.com, says the people who are the most successful at finding jobs they love realize they have the power of choice.

People who end up in jobs they really like aren t afraid to walk away from something that isn t what they want, she says. OK, that sounds nice in theory, but what can you actually do? Perkins says that finding a job you won t want to quit boils down to how you scope out your potential employer and the questions you ask, many of which are not obvious to even the savviest of job-seekers. It s the idea that most bad job situations result from If I only I had known, or If I had just asked them about that.

To put you on the path of landing a job that you won t want to quit, Perkins advises that every job seeker have a handle on the entire picture.

A job title tells you nothing concrete, so you need ask, What are the priorities that will need to be addressed immediately in this position? To get at the nuts and bolts of the job, Perkins says to ask: Was everything left running smoothly by your predecessor? Is the job pretty much picking up and continuing daily functions as normal? Are you entering a newly created position? Is there damage control that needs to be done?

If so, is there a timeline for the repair, and is it an achievable one considering your capabilities?

Find out about the past. How long was the previous person there? Why did they leave? You want to know, for example, if the four people who were there before you were fired, or if there is high turnover in the position. Perkins says that if the job is in disarray and the last two people were there a short period of time and were fired, you don t need to ask any other questions. Exit gracefully and then run! Because before long, you, too, will be terminated for not achieving whatever it is they want done, regardless of if the stated time frame sounded realistic or not, Perkins says.

Tell me about yourself. What is your management style? How do you bring out the best in your employees? Perkins says that this question will help job seekers assess whether their boss is a micro-manager, a hands-off manager or just has a management style that doesn t jive with your work style. Make sure to evaluate this information in terms of how you are best managed. Do you like a more hands-on or hands-off manager?

What s the type of person who excels here? Perkins says this question will help you ascertain something about the culture in the company or department. Is the company or department mostly made up of detail-oriented people? Big picture thinkers? Self-starters? People who like to be micromanaged? People who work well in teams or committees?

Generally speaking, companies or departments tend to be made up of similar types of people that are in harmony with the company culture and philosophy, Perkins says. However, you want to do more than just ask this question. You want to assess how you are you going to fit in to that work environment. An entrepreneurial person isn t going to function well in a committee environment.

What kind of growth is available here? The root of so much job dissatisfaction is the ubiquitous workplace feeling of stuck, so be sure to scope out the trajectory for growth before you sign any contracts. You want to know if you are going to be trapped in an assistant role for the foreseeable future, or if people usually transition out of those positions within a time-frame that is congruent with your career goals.

To get at this information, Perkins advises asking, Is there a review after six months? How long was the previous person in the position before they got a promotion?

Hannah Seligson is a writer based in New York currently working on her first book, New Girl on the Job: How Not to Cry at Work to be published by Kensington Books in the spring of 2007.

Copyright CTW Features



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