Before you look for a new job, do this

Oftentimes, our job searches involve little more than finding something that's the opposite of what we hate about our jobs now. But chasing a fix to our current job woes keeps us from paying attention to things that aren't necessarily on our minds but are still very important. So, before you quit your job and look for the next one, make an objective list of what you want. Then look for something that satisfies the list.

You hate your job. Maybe it’s the work you do, or your company, or your boss. Whatever the reason, it’s intense, and you want to leave.

Here’s a potential problem to look out for. Our brains overvalue information we remember while undervaluing information we don’t. Also, we remember emotionally charged experiences more than neutral ones. Therefore, there’s a chance that your job search may focus on recent frustrations you happen to easily recall rather than on everything that matters, in total, in finding the right job.

If your boss doesn’t value you, you might accept a role at another company primarily because they shower you with affection, meanwhile paying less attention to the many other things that matter. If your company’s mission insults your sense of personal values, your hunt for a new company might prioritize mission statements over characteristics that are equally or more important. If you hate the kind work you do every day, you might take a job mainly because you’ll be doing very different type of work, and not look carefully enough about other things about the company that could cause dissatisfaction.

You might even hop from one job to the next looking for nothing more than what your last job was missing. If your career isn’t going where you want it to go, this might be one reason why. Your search for the next job may be biased.

And… you may not even realize it. This is what biases do: they influence us in our blind spots, and it’s usually too late when we realize that we've missed something.

So, before you look for your next job, on a day when you’re well-rested, well-fed, and low on stress (because poor sleep, poor diet, and stress can bias our choice-making), make a list of all the things that objectively matter to you in a career, job, or company, regardless of what your current or past jobs were like. Rather than thinking about the options that happen to be right in front of you (like what jobs are currently posted online), think about what really matters to you – not just right now but in the future, and not just based on your current frustrations. Think about your professional life a few years before retirement. What do you want it to look like? How do you see yourself spending each day? What kind of organization are you working for? What type of work would you find satisfying?

Focus on lifelong fulfillment.

Then, over the following few days, go back to the list. Add to it, take stuff away, make whatever changes make sense. Once you feel like the list is done, go through each item and label it as either a “deal breaker,” “valuable,” or a “bonus.”

"Deal breakers" are things that a job must have for you to consider it. If a job doesn’t have that thing, you’d straight up say no, without hesitation.

“Valuable” items are things that matter, but their absence wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. No job will possess all the things you value, so ask yourself how many attributes on your list a job should possess for you to consider it.

“Bonus” attributes are those you could totally live without, but if a job had them, it would be extra great. Bonus items could even serve as tie-breakers if you’re on the fence about which way to go.

Then, as you look for your next job, seek out opportunities that meet the requirements in your list. When you interview, ask questions necessary to learn whether the new opportunity can offer you what you truly want, according to your list. Do your research. Gather your data. Know what you’re getting into, to the best of your ability.

There’s a chance you’ll find the perfect job or career without this process. A lot of people love jobs that they fell into by chance. But you don’t want to leave your future to chance. You want to have some control over the direction your life will go. An objectively thought-through list can make your job search less risky and your chances of finding the right job more likely.

There are no guarantees, but if you could improve the odds, wouldn’t you want to?