What do I want to do?

Auditing your current role and evaluating other possibilities 

As the end of year approaches, it’s time for sweaters, soups, and self-audits!

One of the many valuable lessons that I’ve learned from Amazon is that you can apply the company's guiding principles to fine-tune your professional and personal lives at an individual level.

It's hard to improve that which can't be measured.

Amazon is exceptionally rigorous in continuously reviewing its priorities, available choices, and the outcome of decisions -- and steadily refining itself in the process. The underlying principle -- that you can only improve that which you measure, makes perfect sense but requires discipline to apply.

In that vein, it’s important to recognize the significance of regularly reviewing your job. 

We spend half of our waking hours at work, and so the quality of our work experience has a huge impact on the quality of our lives.

While it may be tempting to rationalize a sub-optimal situation, staying too long at a job that we don’t resonate with is risky -- over time our minds can become used to anything, even things that we don’t particularly find enjoyable or meaningful.

Lack of high-level search filters

While regularly auditing jobs makes sense in theory, let’s admit it -- it’s tempting to let things run on cruise control. Making decisions and reviewing outcomes can be daunting, especially when it comes to areas involving emotional investment, like jobs, dating, and choice of home. 

Part of the problem is our own priorities not being clear. The counterpart is poor visibility into the available options. Usually the options that we come across are described incompletely and in such generic terms that it’s hard to evaluate them. For example, if the apartment listings were described more accurately and completely, it would take a lot fewer in-person visits for someone to make a decision.

It's very hard to narrow in on what you want without the right filters.

One of my favorite computer science areas is indexing and search. When applied to well-defined structured data, it delivers as expected. I enjoy thinking how to apply it to fuzzier and more subjective concepts, and support human-friendly search filters for squishier decision-making scenarios like jobs, dating, and searching for your next home. I’d like to be able to easily find old-style buildings in Seattle with red-brick exteriors, but property sites don’t have such a search-filter.

Another valuable search-filter is whether a job will be meaningful and exciting to someone. But I don’t have that either! So here I am, at Perfect Loop, where we’re building such filters. While our work is in progress, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to audit your current job and evaluate other possibilities.

Job satisfaction and adding value

Job satisfaction is a squishy concept to dissect and evaluate objectively, but one strong indicator for it is a sense (or the lack thereof) of adding value -- value as defined by YOU. While compensation and other perks are definitely significant factors, the meaningfulness of work tends to outweigh them. In general, people don’t like working as mercenaries. People who are satisfied at work tend to find the context of their work to be meaningful, and they are also able to deliver strong results against the goals. 

Some of the common factors

While not complete, this is a checklist of common factors to consider while evaluating your current role or another possibility:

  • High-level purpose: Why does the company, or the team, exist? Is the overall business problem-space meaningful to you?
  • Compensation
  • Location
  • Scope of your impact: How many people or processes benefit from your work? How soon? Delivering large-scale impact usually requires longer term projects involving multiple teams. Immediate and more individual level impact usually involves smaller scale.
  • Are you learning something new or applying your knowledge?
  • Building or growing: Are you building something new? Or optimizing, scaling, or maintaining something that already exists?
  • Is the big vision actually being worked on? Irrespective of how exciting the big vision may be, is the dev team actually working on it? Is project plan crystallized enough and does the dev team have enough bandwidth to execute?
  • Planning vs execution: Do you prefer being given the product requirements and executing on them, or being actively involved in defining the product and processes?
  • Agility: How many meetings and reviews does it take to finalize a decision and start executing on the idea? Smaller companies tend to be much more agile than more established bigger companies.
  • External or internal impact: Do you want the end-customer of the business to directly benefit from your work? Or are you satisfied with optimizing the internal aspects which may not be obvious to the end-customers?
  • Specialist or generalist: Do you prefer to focus on one narrow area and optimize it, or wear multiple hats and advance the state of things on multiple fronts?
  • Company stage and size: These have a big impact on the work culture. Do you prefer the structure and processes of a big company, or do you enjoy the fluidity of a small company?
  • The specific technologies applicable to the role
  • Flexibility of work schedule

Competing needs and trade-offs

Before you decide to act impulsively and inform your boss, let’s give a quick thought to Dr Maslow. It’s pretty common for us to discount factors which are important to us while they are being met. Our mental radars tend to only recognize factors as important when they are not being met.

And, by the way, I hope that by now you’ve realized that there are no perfect jobs. There are only less relevant matches and more relevant matches.

We often underweight the importance of needs that are currently met when evaluating trade-offs of future options.

Final thoughts

I hope that you will find these ideas useful in evaluating your current role and other opportunities. Writing down your career goals can be a powerful exercise to crystallize your priorities and assessing which ones are currently being met. It also helps in guiding your job search and communicating your needs to prospective employers.

At Perfect Loop, we’re building better indexes for you to be able to find relevant job opportunities. If you have feedback to share or questions, ping me at anupam@perfectloop.org or contact us via https://www.perfectloop.org/contact-us

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