Job hunt is like looking for a spouse

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2008, 12:00am

The start of another year means some people are thinking about what changes they can make this year. Some may think about joining the gym, reading books, or starting a new hobby, and some may think it is time to look for a new job.

For those of you who have already made that decision for change, my guess is that it is because you have been disappointed with your present job and company. Disappointment happens when a company is not able to offer you what you are looking for. Before you sign your new employment contract, let us look at what questions you should be asking yourself before selecting a new match.

I am sure you have had, at least half-joking, conversations with friends about looking for a future spouse. I had one of these conversations a few months ago. The questions boiled down to what are 'must haves', 'negotiable' and 'deal breakers'. The same framework can be applied when looking for a job and organisation.

A must have is what the company must offer for you to want to stay and give your best. Usually, the must have factors are an individual's motivators and the conditions for one to be successful in that role and company. This all sounds abstract so I will use myself as an example. My must have is purpose because without purpose I feel a lack of motivation. A company must have a clear line of sight in how it contributes to society and how my role fits into that vision. My other must have is a flexible environment that tends to be relatively less structured, so I can play around with ideas and explore new possibilities.

Things that are negotiable are factors which will not determine whether you will stay or give your best, but if there are too many of them that lean towards the negative side they quickly add up to become deal breakers. I travel about once a month for work. While I wish our travel policy was more like that of investment banks, where practically all travel is done business class and five-star hotels, it does not bother me enough to make me want to look for a new job. For someone who travels more frequently this could be a deal breaker.

Deal breakers are factors, or conditions, that provide a reason to leave an organisation, or hinder individuals from doing their best. One of the most obvious for many people is pay. When applying for a job they expect the role will pay a certain amount and if that is not met the courtship ends there. A deal breaker for me is a highly structured environment that does not allow me to explore new possibilities, and is highly compliance oriented. The type of role that brings out the best in you, and the environment in which you will thrive in is different for each person. Just as I hope you will not chase after the most good looking and wealthy person to be your significant other, being successful in a new job, or company, is what fits you best.

Ji-Ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is Hewitt Hong Kong's lead consultant for employee engagement. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates.