A Super Simple Job Search Trick You Probably Haven’t Tried

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Whether it was analyzing the significance of a Renaissance painting, understanding the causes of the Russian revolution, or simply figuring out how to fit a keg into a Smart Car, you’ve spent the past four years in college developing your critical thinking skills.

But when it comes to the job search, sometimes those smarts fly right out the window and you go into panic mode. Must. Apply. To. Every. Job. On. Craigslist.

Recent college grad and guest writer Deirdre Quirk has a better idea. She shares her job search trick of applying those critical thinking skills before you even apply for jobs.

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Step 1: Think about tasks instead of interests

One of the most useful pieces of job search advice I’ve ever received was to stop focusing on my interests and to focus instead on the day-to-day tasks that appealed to me.

At first, this advice may seem counterintuitive. If I’m interested in books, shouldn’t I pursue a career in publishing, no matter what that job actually entails?

The problem with such an approach is the distinct possibility of ending up in a job that sounds great in theory, but bores you to tears in practice.

Let’s say what you really love about books is talking about them with other people; you might hate a job as a copyeditor, which involves great attention to detail and spending a lot of time alone with a manuscript. But you might love a job as a sales representative, which involves talking to other people about a product you (hopefully!) love.

Furthermore, focusing on your ideal work environment rather than your interests does not mean you’ll end up in an entirely different field. Knowing you like making lists, thrive on feeling busy, and work best under pressure can help you identify which jobs in a particular field would best suit you, or help you decide which company best matches your preferred work environment.

So how do you figure out what kind of day-to-day tasks appeal to you if you’ve spent all your time up until now thinking about your interests instead?

Step 2: Pay attention to what you’re currently doing

Start by being mindful of what you do every day.

When during your day do you feel most energized? Is it when you’re talking to large groups of people? When you’re working out a particularly difficult Sudoku puzzle? When you’re spending time outside?

When during your day do you find yourself losing track of time and getting into a flow? Is it when you’re reading articles in The New York Times? When you’re working with your hands? When you’re explaining a difficult concept to someone?

Another way to approach figuring out what really appeals to you is to think about the specifics of different projects that you enjoy.

Let’s say you really enjoy writing essays: great! But what is it about them that you really enjoy? Is it the research? Is it brainstorming the ideas? Is it creating the outline, or the flow of actually writing, or editing your first draft? Knowing which parts of the process appeal to you the most can really contribute to the sort of self-knowledge that helps you narrow down what kind of job would make you happiest.

Once you’ve gained new insight into how you like to work, you’ll be prepared to apply that knowledge to your job search.

Look for key phrases in job descriptions like “works well under pressure,” “a people person,” or “detail-oriented,” that let you know whether you’d be happy with the sort of work they’re advertising.

In the interview stage, consider asking questions like, “How would you describe the work environment?” and “What would a typical day look like for this position?” Above all, allow your newfound self-knowledge to guide and expand your job search, so that you’ll end up with a job you truly love.

Homework time! After you’ve spent some time outlining the activities that would make up your ideal day, go Explore jobs on AfterCollege. Read the job descriptions carefully to see how they match up. And if you want to learn more about a particular job, don’t be shy about asking people to do informational interviews so you can learn more about the day-to-day life in that industry.

Deirdre Quirk just graduated from Reed College with a degree in theatre and is a recent transplant to Oakland. She loves reading, doing crosswords, and going on hikes with her dog on the weekend. Eventually she wants to go back to school and become a librarian.

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