As co-founder of the popular career website, The Muse, Kathryn Minshew is deeply immersed in the career advice space. While tips and tricks can be helpful, the thing she wishes we talked about more is how deeply personal careers are.
It’s tempting to believe “there are such things as good jobs and bad jobs, good companies and bad companies,” Minshew explains. Lists like ‘100 Best Places to Work’ oversimplify what it means to be a good employer. And they completely overlook the nuanced combination of qualities that make a company the right fit for you.
Minshew goes on to say, “Work is personal in the same way that finding a friend or partner is personal.” Rather than collectively trying to provide good or bad ratings to a specific company, Minshew wants to encourage individuals to redefine what a good place to work is like for them personally. She also wants to ensure a better fit between employees and employers. Here’s what she suggests:
Identify your career values
With so much pressure to find the perfect job, Minshew says, "It’s easy to imagine that because a certain company has a prestigious reputation or everyone says it’s a great place to work, that it will be the perfect fit for you. But, in reality, the search to find a career is a much more individual process."
In The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career Minshew and her co-founder at The Muse, Alexandra Cavoulacos, write about how to discover and prioritize your career values. To identify the things that are most important to you in your career, they suggest starting with a long list of characteristics someone could seek from a career – things like flexibility, creativity, income, having a positive impact, etc. They ask you to pick the three that resonate the most.
“Starting with the values that feel authentic to who you are can serve as a compass to find more meaningful, fulfilling work,” says Minshew.
She also cautions that these aren’t static and may change over time. For example, I had one client who worked for what I like to call a “big, impressive, sexy company.” The kind of company that if you heard where she worked at a cocktail party, you’d ask, “Ooooh, tell me about that!” What drew her into the role was the name brand and associated prestige, but within three months she was miserable.
After realizing that she was tired of feeling unfulfilled with the work she was doing and having her income capped at what her employer was willing to pay, she recognized the values she was seeking were independence, pride in the work, and income potential. Having left this “big, impressive, sexy company,” she is now thriving in her career as a realtor.
Over a year into her new role, those values have continued to change. She told me recently that real estate helped her realize that serving her clients has been both humbling and rewarding, and she tells me, “Surprisingly, income has become less important to me in this journey as well.” She realizes that while she’s still motivated to hit the income goals that she gets to set for herself, “Being the top agent in Atlanta is not something that I'm after – I am after a real life balance, travel, and income that I have control over.”
Have honest conversations with employers
According to Minshew, “There’s a dance happening on both sides of the table.” She says, “Individuals are giving their personal and career values a lot more weight when it comes to finding a company that aligns with both. At the same time, companies are becoming a lot more transparent about their core values as an organization and the types of people they want to attract.”
The trend of companies saying, “We’re a great place to work!” and pretending they could be everything to everyone is fading. For Minshew, it’s not a moment too soon. “[Being a great place to work], is much more nuanced and multifaceted than a blanket declaration,” she says.
Besides, millennials aren't buying it. When companies would tell millennials, “We are a great place to work”, Minshew says, “Millennials are asking, ‘What does that mean?’ They want to hear specific stories from employees about a meaningful project or a tradition.” Minshew describes smaller anecdotal data points as, “pieces of a puzzle that ultimately might indicate that you’re a great place to work.”
While individuals like my clients and Minshew’s readers are finding spaces to self-reflect about their goals, companies are striving to have more substantive conversations with job seekers, ones that reflect their company values and culture. This more substantive work to find the right career fit will improve work for employees and employers alike.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.