How to Job Hunt the Right Way: Use Constraints
Of the four job hunting criteria people typically look for when applying—industry, job, geography, and culture—narrow your desires to two and let the hunt begin.
We have more stuff today than ever before in human history. More food. More drinkable water. More usable energy. And of course, more Pokémon.
We produce all this stuff with unprecedented efficiency and scale. But we’re still light years away from the science fiction world where everyone shares the benefits of our mega-abundance. So we still use money to decide who starves and who has solid gold toilets, cocaine, and lobbyists.
How do you get money? First and foremost, you inherit it. If that doesn’t work, you might luck into being one of the first entrepreneurs on the ground floor of an explosive new industry. If that doesn’t work, maybe you can invest intelligently. But in the real world, 99.99% of us never make much money except by having a job. And finding a job is no easy feat.
The Paradox of Job Hunting
Job hunting is a paradox. It’s a skill, which means you get better with practice. But getting good at job hunting may be a signal of failure. If you do it over and over, that means you aren’t actually finding jobs that are a good match, so you are just learning bad habits.
If you find great jobs, then you don’t job hunt very much, so unless you just happened to spontaneously be good at it, you don’t get good at it. As a result, most people who are thrown into a job hunt flail around and don’t really know what to do.
I spent several years doing career and job coaching a few days a month at Harvard Business School and a curious pattern emerged.
4 Criteria of Job Hunting
Four themes kept coming up. These themes limited and expanded peoples’ job searches:
- Industry. Some job hunters want a particular industry. “I don’t care what the job is, as long as it’s in entertainment.” “I’ve been passionate about video games my entire life. How can I get into the game industry?” “Medicine is my calling! I want to work in healthcare!”
- Job. Some people want a particular job. “I don’t care what industry, I just want to do marketing.” “I’m a programmer. Put me in a company and let me program.” “Event planning is my specialty! I’ll do it for anyone who will hire me.”
- Geography. For others, it’s all about location, location, location. “I don’t care what I do, as long as it’s in London. That’s the only place I can thrive!” “Being close to nature in the wilderness is what’s most important for me.” “My family is in New York; I have to be in New York!” “My family is in New York; I have to be in Los Angeles!”
- Culture or company. And lastly, sometimes what’s most important is the culture, values, or work environment. “I want to work with smart, supportive people.” “I want my pay to be based on the measurable results I produce.” “I want to work somewhere with lots of big windows. And candy. Gummy bears, specifically.”
Freedom is Paralyzing
Some job hunters are pretty flexible. Too flexible. “I’ll do anything where they can use my skills. I’m not really wedded to anything in particular.” “I want a job in high tech.” “I want a job doing fulfillment.” “I want a job with a relaxed work environment.”
With flexibility like this, they may as well put a big stamp on their head that says “I love working the cash register!” because their desires are too broad. No employer wakes up thinking, “today I need to hire someone who wants a job in high tech.” Too much flexibility is dangerous.