20 Questions That Will Help You Determine Your Ideal Job

By Gerald Walsh ©

A number of people start their job search without knowing what type of job they want. This has all sorts of problems associated with it.

For one, you are going to waste a lot of time applying for jobs that aren’t right for you. Plus – and this is more concerning – there is a chance you will be offered and accept the wrong job: one that doesn’t fit with your needs and expectations.

Here is a simple yet effective exercise that can help you minimize this risk.

Step 1

Everybody has their own preferences about work. But many people fail to state them clearly. Take a sheet of paper and think about the questions below. Then write down your answers in as much detail as possible.

1. Type of work. What type of work would you prefer to do? Should your work be meaningful such as helping others versus just making money for your employer? What scope of responsibility do you prefer? Do you need wide variety? Describe the level of challenge you need. 

2. Use of your skills. How important is it that you have the opportunity to use your skills and abilities in a direct and meaningful way?

3. Culture. How important is the company’s reputation to you? Is it important that the company be socially responsible? Should they have a clear sense of mission, values and goals?

4. Industry. What industry sectors appeal to you? Which ones match your values?

5. Company. Do you prefer a start-up, a growing entrepreneurial company, or a large well-established organization? Does company size even matter? How important is the company’s reputation to you? Is it important that the company be socially responsible?

6. Your boss. What kind of boss would you like to work for? What leadership qualities does your ideal boss have?

7. Autonomy. To what degree do you need autonomy in your work? Are you okay being told what to do or would you prefer to make your own decisions?

8. Job security. How important is job security to you? Is it necessary for you to feel comfortable in your job at all times and not worried that you are going to get laid off?

9. Work/life balance. How important for you is maintaining a balance between life and work? Might options like flex-time and telecommuting make a difference?

10. People. What types of people do you like to work with? Do you prefer to work on your own? How important is it that work gives you a sense of community?

11. Professional growth. What are your expectations around growth? Do you need to work for an employer who promotes professional development and lots of opportunity to learn new things?

12. Physical location. Where do you want to work? How far away is it from your home? How would you plan to get to work: car, bike, walk, transit? What amenities are nearby?

13. Work environment. What would you like your workspace to be like: open workspace, private office, natural light, etc.? What about a home office? Describe the overall physical work environment that you prefer.

14. Values alignment. What values are important and non-negotiable for you? Is it necessary that the values of your employer align with your own? Even if a job paid a lot of money but their values differed from your own, could you work there?

15. Opportunity for advancement. What types of advancement opportunities (upward; lateral; new location) are you seeking?

16. Recognition. To what degree do you need to be recognized and acknowledged for your work?

17. Compensation. How much do you want to make in your next job? How much do you need to make? Are you comfortable with a form of incentive-based pay?

18. Benefits. What benefit coverage do you need? Are there other benefits, such as flex-time or a shorter work day, that you would accept if your salary target is not met?

19. Vacation. How much vacation do you want given your years of work?

20. Status and title. Answer honestly: how important is status and title to you? Do you want these to reflect your relative rank in society?

Step 2

Once you’ve written down your answers, it’s time to decide which ones are most important to you. Try to group them into these categories:

Category A: Absolutely essential that I have these in a job;

Category B: Very important to me but not absolutely essential;

Category C: Of lesser importance, but still nice to have;

Category D: Not important to me.

As a rough guide, you should select about five for each category.

If you’ve done this exercise well, you are going to benefit in three ways.

1. You will be able to answer interview questions better.

“What is your ideal job?” is a commonly-asked interview question. Employers look for candidates who are clear on what they are seeking in a job. Answering “I am not really sure” won’t get beyond the first interview.

2. You will be able to conduct an efficient job search.

Having clarity in your search leads to a more organized and focused job search. You’ll be able to quickly size up an opportunity and determine if it is the right fit for you.

3. You will be able to make an informed decision when offer is made.

In the absence of a decision-making framework, you have no way to make an informed decision. But a ranked list makes this step easier. Simply compare the details of the offer against your criteria. Are your most important ones being met. If so, you should probably accept the offer. If not, perhaps you can negotiate. Or if that doesn’t work, your best choice might be to decline the offer and continue with your search. 


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.