I Don’t Know What Job I Want: A Process for Figuring It Out

I

Answering the question “I don’t know what job I want” is a difficult but important endeavor. Your job choice not only dictates what you earn financially, but also what you spend much of your time on and who you spend it with. In addition, we as humans are wired for contribution, so your job can have a significant impact on the level of meaning and contribution that you feel day to day.

Throughout this post, I’m going to show you how you can figure out what job you want. I’m going to start by helping you to think through what type of lifestyle you want, evaluate the characteristics of a job that would fit that lifestyle, how to tangibly find and apply to a job that meets characteristics and then, finally, answer some common questions.. Let’s get started.

Figure Out The Long-term Lifestyle That You Want

In order to correctly determine what job you want, you need to start by figuring out the type of lifestyle that you want to live. In my view, you should find a job that enables the life that you’d like to live, rather than build you life around your job.

So how do you figure out the lifestyle that you want? There are a few tools that I would recommend:

  1. Think through the question of “What do I want to do with my life.” This question is broader than what job you want, and encourages you to think through your values, your personal mission, and the type of contribution that you would like to have. I wrote a whole post figuring out what to do with your life right here.
  2. The whole concept of lifestyle design was introduced by Tim Ferriss in the book The Four Hour Workweek. Within that book, he has an exercise called Dreamlining, which is a great tool for working through the process of the lifestyle that you’d like to live.
  3. The other resource that I’d recommend is a tool called Future Authoring by Jordan Peterson. It walks you through some exercises to get you to think about the long-term future that you would like to strive for, which is helpful for thinking about the lifestyle that you would like your job to fig into. Jordan also wrote the book 12 Rules for Life, which is a fantastic resource for thinking about how you want to live your life.

Immediate, Practical Questions for the Lifestyle That You’d Like to Live

If want to think through your ideal lifestyle a little bit more quickly, there are really a few big picture questions that you need to think about. Included below are the four big questions that you need to ask yourself about lifestyle, and how that relates to a job:

  1. How much money is enough?
    The most common answer to this question is “just a little bit more.” But if you really step back and think about it, you generally do not need to continuously make more and more money to live the lifestyle you want. If your big goals are to live in a nice neighborhood, send your kids to college, and have a comfortable retirement, those things are all totally doable on a mid – high five figure salary, depending on where you live, if your spouse works, how you plan, etc. My big point is, think about the life that you want to live, what is important to you, and then try to map out how much money you actually need to make to get there. It’s often as simple as just estimating what your monthly expenses will be to achieve that lifestyle and then figuring out a salary that will enable that. Here is a really helpful resource to help you think through how much money is enough for the lifestyle you want to live: https://millennialmoney.com/how-much-money-is-enough/
  2. How many hours do you want to work?
    The default answer to this question is generally to work as little as possible to make as much as possible. But if we get practical, in most cases, you’ll need to plan to work at least a 9 – 5. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and there are ways to get creative to find a job that works for the lifestyle you want. For example, if you have kids, and you want to align your schedule to be home with them when they’re not at school, then you may need to find a job working at a school district, to make that happen. Something that’s very doable. Alternatively, there is likely part time work out there which would enable those hours, you’ll just need to be very clear about your needs and expectations up front when you’re accepting the position. On a similar vein, maybe you don’t need to fully align your schedule to your kid’s school, but spending time with your kids is a priority for you. Working as an investment banker where the expectations are 60 – 80 hours weeks likely won’t jive with that lifestyle. It may make you a lot of money, but if you really step back and evaluate what you want, that may not align with where you derive fulfillment. That may sound obvious, but people often don’t step back and apply that type of thoughtfulness around how a job would jive with the lifestyle they want – they just pursue the path with the financial upside.
  3. How much flexibility do you need?
    Is traveling a passion of yours? Or do you play a competitive sport on the side that has tournaments in different locations? In those cases, it may be fine to work a job with traditional hours, but flexibility in the form of lots of vacation time or remote work will be key. Make sure to have those priorities in mind when you evaluate job possibilities.
  4. How much people interaction do you want?
    Jobs can vary significantly in the amount of people interaction that is required. For example, Paul Graham introduced the concept of the maker vs. manager schedule. Basically, it means that a manager’s schedule is going to be filled with conversations, meetings, and interaction throughout the day. A maker, on the other hand, needs lots of focused work time and a meeting can be extremely counter productive to the deep work required for coding or designing. Alternatively, the nature of a sales role will require you to be in communication with people frequently throughout the day. For a developer, that would not be as much the case. So think about how much you’d like to be interacting with people and if you’d like your job to be an important outlet for that. That will go a long way in dictating how much you enjoy your work. If you’re not sure, start journaling (I like the method Jim Collins describes in this podcast) and track how much you enjoy days with lots of people interaction vs. a little.

Identifying the Characteristics of the Job You Want

Now that you’ve done some thinking about the lifestyle that you want, we’ll now transition to thinking about the characteristics of the job you want. Certainly, you’ll want the job to fit within your ideal long term lifestyle, but you’ll also want your work to match to your strengths, intresters, and desired contribution.

Included below are some tools and resources that I’d recommend using to identify the characteristics of the job you want.

Use the Ikigai Framework and Other Job Search Tools

In the “I don’t know what to do with my life” post, I introduced the concept of Ikigai, which is a Japanese concept that means reason for being. It represents the intersection of all of the following items:

  • What you’re good at
  • What you love
  • What the world needs
  • What you can be paid for

ikigai

The intersection of all of those items represents a wonderful place to focus your work. And if you can find a job that sits in the middle of that intersection, you’re likely to have meaningful and enjoyable work.

I walked through detailed recommendations for how to find your Ikigai within the “I don’t know what to do with my life” post, but here is a quick high-level overview of what you’ll want to do in each category:

  • List a minimum of five things for each category. There is no limit on the upper end of what you can list.
  • For each of the categories, keep your thinking fairly broad and don’t tie it just into things that you think you’ll be able to do in a job. For example, if you’re good basketball, list that in the “what you’re good at section”
  • For the “what the world needs section,” don’t approach it as if you need to solve a large-scale societal problem. What the world needs can be as simple as solving a problem for a group of people. You could even approach it by keeping it as generally as listing out groups of people that you understand and would like to help in some way.
  • For the “what you can be paid for” section, think in terms of skills that are frequently used as jobs or paid for as services (i.e., copyrighting, gardening, fixing things, etc.)

Once you complete the exercise, you should have a handful of items that serve as potential areas of focus for your work or specific jobs. If not, you’ll at least have thought through some skills and areas of focus for your work, and seen some areas of potential overlap as far as jobs that may fit you.

Job Characteristic Tools That Are Not Self-Directed

If Ikigai is too fuzzy and/or self-directed for you, the folks at Truity put together a nice free career match tool that you can use. It basically asks your interests in different activities and your personality traits, and then provides information on your work style, career interests, and possible jobs. Additionally, there are also a whole slew of different career tests available that can match you with careers that may fit your interests. Here is a list of some popular ones.

Finding a Job That Fits

Matching Potential Jobs With Your Desired Lifestyle

Now that you’ve figured out your ideal long-term lifestyle, and identified some of the characteristics of jobs that may be a fit for you, it’s time to figure out the specific job(s) that is going to be your best match. If you completed the Ikigai exercise and/or the free career match tool referenced above, you should have a list of possible jobs that match your interests and personality.

The next step is to then take those jobs, and overlay them with your lifestyle desires to see which of those jobs will best match with the type of life that you want to live.

The best tool that I’ve found to help with that exercise is the Best Job Rankings toll from U.S. News. The thing that I like about that tool is that it not only provides information about salary and skill requirements for the job, but it also gives you a sense of flexibility and hour requirements. It gives you a holistic picture of the job as it relates to your overall requirements, whereas many just give info on salary.

By plugging your possible jobs into that tool, you’ll get more information about the benefits and requirements of the role, and which are going to be the best match for what you want.

Start Applying for Jobs

Now that you have a job, or potential jobs, that are of interest, your next and final step is to start applying. You can search for remote or in-person jobs using Indeed, LinkedIn Job Search, or other job search tools.

You’ll need a resume and cover letter ready to begin your application process. Here is a great resource for how to write a good resume, and one for cover letters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What If I Don’t Have the Skills for the Job I Want?

If you’re straight out of school, or looking to switch careers entirely, it’s likely that you’re not going to have the established skills required for the job you want. And that’s perfectly ok. We all need to start somewhere.

The key is that you need to start developing those skills. The best ways to do so are the following:

  1. Start low and work your way up
    Within the lifestyle exercise, there’s a good chance that you may have crafted a lifestyle that involves a good salary and limited work hours. And those are fantastic things to strive for, But remember that’s a long-term lifestyle exercise. Ultimately, you may need to start low on the totem pole and put the work in to develop the skills that you need to get there. So, realistically, you’ll probably need to apply for entry-level jobs in the field that you want to go for out of the gate, and start developing the skills you need to get to where you’d like to go.
  2. Start a side project
    The other way to develop the skills for the job that you’d ideally like is to do it on your own on the side. I love this approach because it’s such a great teacher. If you want to learn marketing, for example, there’s no better way to do so than to try and market your own project. In addition, it shows initiative that you’re building your own project on the side. Also, if it goes well, there’s a chance that you would transition into working for yourself, rather than a job for others, which gives you a ton of flexibility to build the life that you want.

What If I Can’t Find a Job That Matches?

If you’ve gone through the lifestyle and job characteristics exercises, and still cannot find a specific job that matches what you want to do, you l may need to ask yourself the following question: do I want a job?

Now, you may think that’s a silly question, because of course you need a job. But the beautiful thing about our digital age is the fact that it’s easier than ever to build the job you want.

And that’s one of the things that I like about the Ikigai exercise earlier. If you find that you like guitar, are good at making videos, want to teach others, and can make money via video editing, then you can create courses and videos about learning guitar on YouTube. Fantastic! Additionally, when it comes to lifestyle, there are also a variety of pros and cons that you’ll want to think through when it comes to working a job vs. working for yourself. Here are the characteristics of a job versus working for yourself:

  • Job
    • You work for somebody else
    • You work on what you’re assigned
    • You work hours that you’re assigned
    • You work with people that are also at the same company
    • You earn a relatively fixed and consistent salary
    • Your company owns the liability for legal issues that may arise around your work
  • Working for yourself
    • You choose what you work on
    • You choose who you work with (or if you want to be a solopreneur)
    • You choose your hours
    • You source your income, which can be less fixed and consistent
    • You own the liability for legal issues that may come up around your work

In general, what I recommend here is that you start out by working a job for a number of years before you consider working for yourself. And if you decide that you do eventually want to work for yourself, that you build your business on the side first and prove out the concept before making the leap.

There is a lot that is attractive about working for yourself, but if you’re fresh out of school, you’re going to need to develop the skills and experience to be able to successfully go out on our own. Working for somebody who has been there and done that can help you practice and learn in a low risk way to provide you with a stable income before going it alone.

Conclusion

Answering the question “I don’t know what job I want” is an important question that can feel overwhelming. But if you start big picture by asking yourself the lifestyle that you’d like to live, and then work down from that to look at the characteristics of a job that you would enjoy that fits that lifestyle, you can find a good list of possible jobs that will be a great fit for you.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

Recent Posts