It takes quite a bit of time and effort to find a job, especially when you take into consideration the amount of time spent working on the development of a resume, searching through online job boards, filling out online applications, and going through the interview process – often interviews with multiple recruiters and hiring managers. What happens after you have spent all of that time and discover the job you’ve begun is not what you had hoped it would be or not what was advertised? Perhaps you have the ability to simply quit as soon as you start, or you have limited options available and you have to stay with this job until you can find a replacement – and that means having to go through the entire process all over again.
As a career coach and educator, I have found that there are usually one of two explanations. The first involves a situation where the person is searching for a job and is genuinely surprised to find that the actual job is nothing like the job they applied for and accepted. This is often due to not conducting proper research while pursuing a job and/or not asking the right questions during the interview process. The second explanation involves a person accepting a job they know is not a good match, and hoping it will become something else in time. For example, they have more experience than the job requires but the employer only matches them to an entry-level position. Or perhaps the person accepts an entry-level position, which requires less qualifications than they possess, hoping to advance quickly within the company.
Regardless of the reason why someone finds themselves in a position now that they did not hope for or want, it can become extremely frustrating to wait and hope for the job to eventually improve through advancement within the company. This is why I have always recommended that a person accept a job offer only if they are willing to perform the job tasks exactly as required now and not for the hope of something changing in the near future, or holding onto a belief that they can advance beyond this current position any time soon. Why? Because there is no guarantee that a new employer will hold the same view or be willing to make an immediate change. The only aspect of your career that you can control are the actions you take and to make the best decisions you need a clearly defined purpose and plan.
The Role of Expectations and Perceptions
Economic conditions have made finding a job in many industries challenging and/or highly competitive. That means gaining an interview can be extremely difficult, and a new job even harder to come by. It is understandable when someone has struggled to find a new position for quite some time to take a job even when it is less than desirable. But starting a new job under those circumstances means that eventually reality will set in and you will either feel happy for a short-term, stuck and locked in a job you do not want, or be surprised and find the situation eventually improves. No matter what the actual outcome may be, accepting a job for any reason other than finding a good match for your career requires examining both your expectations prior to accepting the job offer and your perceptions after you begin.
While you are searching for a job you need to establish a clear set of expectations. Determine what you expect from a job, which includes the minimum you are willing to accept in terms of responsibilities, salary, and other benefits or perks. The expectations you set should be realistic as well, and that means you do not expect a job to lead to anything more as there are never any guarantees. You may want to take into consideration what a potential employer expects. When an employer hires someone, regardless of the reason, there is an expectation that the new employee accepts the position and is willing to perform the required tasks. Employers rarely hire someone with the expectation that they will be quickly moved out of that position. While you may expect something more from a new job, if your expectations do not align with those of your employer you may find yourself off to a rocky start. This leads to perceptions as well. If a new employer perceives that you are starting with an attitude of expecting more, you may be deemed as a threat or worse early on.
Establishing a Career Purpose
Whenever you accept a job offer there is only one certainty you can count on and that is a position has become available for the job tasks listed in a job ad and/or described during the job interview. The employer has matched your background and skills to this position, whether they have recognized your current and future potential – or there was a hope you would accept the job because they hold a market advantage. Some employers may view your acceptance of a job as an indicator you need it and have little bargaining power.
Whether the reason you were offered the job was right or wrong, accepting and starting the job means you are now expected to complete the required tasks. You may never know the exact reason why you were offered the job and the only way to avoid finding yourself in a situation you do not want to be in is to establish a career purpose and have a well-defined job search plan in place. The follow strategies will help you develop your career purpose and plan.
Establish Career Goals: This is the first step needed for developing control of your career. You can have long-term goals that guide decisions you will need to make about professional development, and it will help you consider what skills you need and the jobs that will help you grow both personally and professionally. Short-term goals can serve as checkpoints along the way to ensure your career is on track. The reason you need goals is to help you establish a specific purpose for the ongoing progression of your career. Then as you review job postings you can decide if it aligns with your purpose and will help you meet your goals, whether short-term or long-term.
Establish Your Priorities: You may have more than career goals to consider when you are looking for a job. For example, you may have pressing financial considerations if you have recently lost your job or your job may be coming to an end soon. Or you may have taken a job and a pay cut recently, and now you have to find something else to make up for the lost income. In contrast, if you do not have a pressing need right now – you should still prioritize your goals by establishing which goal or goals are the most important.
Establish a Timeline: Your goals establish what you want to do with your career and how you can develop it through incremental steps. Your priorities determine the immediacy of your goals. For example, a goal and top priority may be finding a job immediately. That should become your primary focus and included in your weekly time management plan. You can then budget time each day to complete a specific task or something related to your priorities and goals.
Establish Plan A and Plan B: I recommend that you always have a plan and a back-up plan. For example, you may accept a job out of necessity – knowing that it is not a good fit for your long-term career goals. Instead of accepting the job and resenting it or being upset, your back-up plan could involve continuing the job search process. If you do not have a back-up plan and you find a job is not working out, and you become frustrated about the situation, it may ultimately have a negative impact on your performance.
You establish a career purpose when you have a set of goals, establish priorities for those goals, create a timeline for completion of the top priorities, and develop a proactive working plan. Having a purpose means that you are in control of your career, even when you have to make decisions out of necessity, and that sense of control will allow you to stay focused. You need to decide what is right for your career as you are involved in the job search – but don’t talk yourself into something. Instead, learn to make informed decisions based upon your priorities and goals.
More importantly, when you accept a job offer, accept it for what it is now and act as if this is the best it will ever be. I know of too many people who have accepted a job offer that wasn’t a good fit, often out of extreme circumstances, and then talk themselves into believing it will become better somehow in the future. That is usually not a good way to start a new job as it may create tension and negative feelings. If you are considering a job offer, do your homework and research all possible sources – including online employee reviews. This will help to establish realistic expectations and minimize the possibility of being surprised if you find out the job was not what you had expected. You can accept a job that isn’t perfect, just be certain you understand why you have accepted it and what you plan to do next for your career.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has expertise in higher education administration, adult education, distance learning, online teaching, faculty development, curriculum development, instructional design, organizational learning and development, career coaching, and resume writing.