In Steve Jobs’s famous 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, the iconic tech leader tells young graduates to do what they love, that their time is limited, and that they shouldn’t waste time living someone else’s life. Jobs tells them that one should live each day as if it were his last. In final, he advises them to, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
I concluded that it came down to three factors that “made or break” someone’s future job happiness: their boss, the activities they performed on a day-in and day-out basis, and the people they worked with
The speech went viral and was shared by millions. The speech was discussed and commented upon by countless newspaper reporters and columnists.
The question you’re asking yourself, as you embark in search of your dream job, is whether you should follow Jobs’s words of advice. “He was a successful entrepreneur, a powerful visionary, running one of the world’s largest tech corporations,” you’re thinking. “He must know what he’s talking about.”
The truth – as is the case with most maxims or adages − is that it’s half-right. This means it’s half-wrong, and for these reasons:
1. Follow your passion − yes, but only if have the talent, and the resolve to see your lifelong dream through. But thinking you have talent, and actually having talent, are two different things. Sad things happen when people aren’t able to differentiate the two.
2. You’re time isn’t limited. (Well, technically, it is limited because one day, you, me, everyone, will die.) But the point is, you have more time than you realize. But we all tend to waste it by browsing Facebook, watching too much TV, playing too many video games.
3. You shouldn’t live your life as if each day was your last. This leads to bad decision-making, and the sacrifice of long-term gain for short-term satisfaction. If you’re Steve Jobs, yes, you can live each day as if it was your last, because you’ve already made your billions. But for the rest of us, we should be spending time building up our skills, learning new things, reading, improving ourselves. These things take time, because skills build up slowly over years of practice. Nothing worthwhile ever happens overnight.
4. Despite what Jobs tells you, don’t “Stay Foolish,” unless you want to get ridiculed or fired. If you’re Steve Jobs, by all means, revel in all things foolish. Who’s going to fire Steve Jobs?
So what does all this mean to you?
1. Finding work you love involves a lot of trial and error, and − as much as I hate to admit − luck. Jobs was lucky when he met Steve Wozniak, the engineering genius behind the first Apple computer. Jobs was, again, lucky when Microsoft in 1997 made a lifeline investment in Apple, saving the company from bankruptcy.
Let’s face it: the fate of your job rests on your boss. If you have a good boss, one who ensures you get the right training, mentors you, gives you constructive feedback, then count yourself lucky.
2. Do follow your passion, but to a limit. Here’s my adage: the more creative, the more glamorous the job, the more competitive it becomes in finding monetary success. Space is limited for the next Lawrence Olivier (stage and film actor), Alice Munro (novelist), Walter Cronkite (television journalist). It takes talent, yes, but also luck. Think of the thousands of equally-talented authors, artists, journalists who toil in obscurity, never attaining stardom, recognition, or decent or high income. If you’re passionate about writing, music, or what-have-you, and you have the talent, don’t turn your back on it. But also remember that luck plays a role.
3. If you’ve set your goals on something outside of the creative field, and decide to settle for an office 9-to-5 job, here are some guidelines that you can follow, in search of your dream job. Maybe not a “dream job” per se, but a job where you might find satisfaction, learn something new; a job that you’ll look forward to. (At the very least, they might help you steer clear of a job that drives you straight to the bottle.)
- Who’s Your Boss? Let’s face it: the fate of your job rests on your boss. If you have a good boss, one who ensures you get the right training, mentors you, gives you constructive feedback, then count yourself lucky. During an interview, it’s hard to tell what your boss will be like to work for. You’ll have to trust your instincts. If you know of people who have worked at the company, dig around, and find out what you can about your future boss’s reputation.
- What’ll You Be Doing All Day? Will you be writing reports, presenting to people, collaborating in groups, answering questions on the phone? You need to zero-in on the actual activities that the job entails, and see whether they match your skill sets, temperament, and interests. How much writing will you be doing? Will you be selling? Reading? Researching? Analyzing? Think carefully about these activities. Some people are happy hunched over a monitor studying data, others are happiest collaborating with others, sharing ideas and views.
- What Kind of Environment With You Be Working In? Do you want to work on a solitary basis with minimal interruptions, or in a noisy, boisterous office? Sometimes, employers will take you on a tour of the office space; this will give you a feel for where you’ll be spending your working hours.
- What Types of People Will You Be Working With? As in trying to figure out what your future boss is like, it is equally hard to know about the type of people you’ll be working with. But a determining factor in whether you’ll be happy in your job comes down your colleagues. It’s like going to any restaurant, or joining any team or membership club – it’s all about the people.
Find out through your network what kind of reputation the department has. During the interview stage, see if you can meet other team members. Do they look happy, cheerful or talkative? Or do they have a desperate, tired or haggard look? As in trying to assess your future boss, you’ll need to rely on your intuition and judgement.
There are countless books in the market that teach you how to find the work you love. These books list dozens of other factors that one should consider such as: money & prestige, social contribution, industry sector, room for advancement, work-life balance, and so on. They are important factors, but none so important, in my view, as what I have just outlined above.
In my experience of interviewing hundreds of job candidates searching for new positions, I concluded that it came down to three factors that “made or break” someone’s future job happiness: their boss, the activities they performed on a day-in and day-out basis, and the people they worked with. When you start out looking for work, it will be hard to apply these guidelines because in this economy, securing full time work – or any work for that matter − hasn’t been easy for recent graduates.
But once you find your first job, and after several years, start looking for new work, you might want to bear these guidelines in mind, as you begin to “test” the waters and start interviewing at other companies. Good companies attract good people. If you’re asking the right questions, looking in the right places, hopefully, with some luck, you just might find that dream job.
Milton Kiang (B.A., LL.B.) is a professional resume writer and helps jobs applicants create powerful resumes and persuasive cover letters at his company www.resumeprofessional.net. He gives job searchers the advantage they need to stand above the crowd, and to land job interviews. Milton holds a law degree, and is a former executive recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa, the largest legal executive search firm in the world. He was a contributing writer for the “Business & Careers” section of The Lawyers Weekly, a national newspaper for Canadian lawyers.