This is a phrase which you see plastered all over graduate recruitment and careers websites and it gets right on my nerves. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not for a minute because I think that you should give up on trying to find something that suits you and just settle for any old rubbish which pays the bills. You all deserve better than that – and if you are a Warwick student checking myAdvantage regularly, you will know that there are a steady stream of alumni and employees coming onto campus to recommend and talk with enthusiasm about the jobs they do. But perfect? Yes, even a perfect job is not impossible, but here are the reasons why I wish the phrase wasn’t used quite so often:
1) Jobs are not designed to be perfect
The purpose of work is not to make you happy. Sorry. Of course, most employers will want very much for their employees to be happy – not just because happy employees make more effective employees, but also because they are human (on the whole). That said though, you are there because a job needs doing. You have to do something which someone will actually pay you for. There will probably be some bits of what needs doing which you wish it was not your responsibility to do. Most of this will still apply even if you decide to be courageous and take the risk of starting your own enterprise. But if you have researched the job before taking it on, with a bit of luck these elements will be much smaller than the occasions when you are thinking ‘I like doing this’ – that’s not perfect, but it sounds pretty good on the whole, doesn’t it?
2) Your perfect job might not exist
Every careers professional will have a story of someone they’re working with who has said something like ‘I want to work in international development without leaving Barrow-in-Furness’ or ‘I want to be a nurse but I faint every time I see blood’. There may be people who have found their perfect job working in international development in Cumbria or nursing without a job of blood in sight, but most people who set such narrow expectations about their perfect job will be disappointed, and will probably overlook many slightly imperfect but entirely acceptable jobs in the meantime. Entirely satisfactory compromise can often be found where perfection cannot exist.
Try talking to a few people you know well who like their work, and ask them ‘But…?’ The chances are that they will say things like: ‘I love the opportunity to help people but the pay isn’t very generous’, ‘I love the pay but I wish I had more time for my family’, ‘I love the travel but sometimes it’s so tiring.’ These don’t sound like people doing a perfect job; hopefully they are people who find that the bits of the job that they love make up for the aspects they don’t like.
3) You can never know enough to judge perfection
All the Warwick careers consultants will from time to time see graduates who have decided that in terms of jobs and careers things have not worked out – sometimes after many years, and sometimes after just a few weeks. They have not found their perfect job. Sometimes the job has changed, sometimes it was not what they thought it would be. Many – I think most – of these will have done all the things that careers professionals suggest: Find out as much as possible about the job. Get relevant experience. Develop and think about your skills, interests, strengths and values. We still recommend these things because they will certainly make it more likely that you will find satisfactory work. But not much in life comes with certainty. Perfection is worth striving for, but failing to find it is neither unusual nor blameworthy.
And sometimes it works the other way round, and the things which look particularly unsatisfactory beforehand turn out to be good. When I first decided to train as a careers professional and most of the work was in schools, the element that looked least satisfactory to me was the need to work with teenagers. If I had decided not to do the training because I was waiting for the perfect opportunity, I would never have discovered how much I enjoyed working with them.
So there you are. Three reasons why I don’t like the phrase ‘Find your perfect job’. Of course it might just be that the websites which use that phrase don’t literally mean ‘perfect’ and are just encouraging you to think about what work might particularly suit you – in which case I hope this blog has encouraged you to do that, without reaching for the impossible.