The questions to ask yourself before starting a job search

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Looking for a job isn’t easy. It takes time, patience and a lot of work. If you’re starting a job search, it may be tempting to jump right in, but if you don’t take some time to reflect on what you want and how you want to get there, you may end up taking your job search in the wrong direction.

Before you begin looking for a job, ask yourself some questions that will help you get a clearer picture of what you’re looking for, what skills you can contribute to a company and what kind of job can help you achieve your career goals.

Not sure what to ask? Here are some questions to consider:

Why am I starting a job search?
This should be the first question you ask yourself. While you may think it’s an easy one, getting to the root of why you’re looking for a job can help you determine whether you’re job searching for the right reasons. “If you are fresh out of school or unemployed, it’s not an issue. But what if you are employed and just unhappy with what you are doing?” says Bruce A. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “I have had a number of career counseling clients come to me thinking they wanted a new job but left realizing all they wanted were new responsibilities. They all stayed on the job, got new responsibilities, and they, and their bosses, were quite happy.”

What unique value do I bring to potential employers?
Kimberly Robb Baker, certified résumé writer and job-search strategist, says that if you stick to only showing how you meet the basic requirements of a job, you’ll be treated like a commodity. Instead, you need to think about what it is that makes you unique and attractive to prospective employers. “Whether your background in physical education informs your HR candidacy with a unique perspective on employee wellness programs or your coding knowledge makes you an IT manager who can speak engineers’ language, you have something to offer that goes beyond the basics. Find it and express it.”

What type of corporate culture do I want to work within?
“Corporate culture is an important factor one must take into consideration when not only contemplating a job offer but also when applying for jobs,” says Jesse Siegal, senior managing director and recruiting expert of recruitment firm Execu-Search. “Therefore, before applying to jobs, you need to take some time to reflect on what you are looking for in a workplace. Some valid questions to ask yourself include: ‘Do I need an employer who will permit me to work a flexible schedule? Am I okay with having to work long hours in a competitive environment? Do I prefer to work on more collaborative teams or do I prefer working independently?’ Once you have these answers, when applying and interviewing for jobs, you’ll have a better idea of what to look out for and what questions to ask the employer to learn more about an organization’s corporate culture.”

On what, if anything, can I be flexible? 
While it’s good to think about what you’d want in an ideal job, it’s more realistic to consider what are “nice to haves” versus “need to haves,” since no job will be perfect. “What is a must-have? This will help you decide if a job offer is worth taking or passing on,” says Laurie Berenson, career strategist, certified master résumé writer and president of Sterling Career Concepts LLC. “Location? Industry? Job function? Hours? Salary? Perhaps you’re willing to take a low salary to break into your desired industry. Prioritize what’s important to you.”

Where do I ultimately want to be in my career, and what steps do I have to take to get there? 
“Most people need several ‘stepping stone’ positions to reach their ultimate goal,” Berenson says. “This is especially true of younger job seekers. The job you accept tomorrow may not be your dream job, but if it’s getting you into your desired field or industry or is with a reputable employer, consider it a stepping stone to where you ultimately want to land. You can’t expect to get there overnight.”

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