Work + Life
How to start designing a career you love
Actions you can take now to land a job that will pay the bills and feed your soul
by Brittany Taylor
published February 9, 2017
updated June 5, 2018
¶ I believe everyone can do work they love, whether it's a full-time job, an online business, or a side hustle. Work can put a roof over your head and may you happy, too.
But finding work you love comes with fine print. You have to:
¶ Keep reading for tips to help you do exactly that. It's about finding the intersection of your passions and financial possibility, and then developing your skills and experience to work toward that goal.
Read on for four lessons to show you how to get started doing exactly that.
Lesson #1: Follow the money
If you find yourself thinking like this: “I don’t make much, but it’s OK because I love the work I do," then I want you to do the following...
- 1Figure out how much money you need to pay your expenses. That includes necessities, like rent, food, and insurance; luxuries, like going to the movies, travel, and tampons (screw you, government); and savings, like your rainy day fund and your retirement account.
- 2Create a salary range. The number you pulled together of what you’re paying now, at minimum, is your bargain- basement salary. This is the lowest salary number you will work for. For the upper end of your salary range, play with those numbers and figure out what your ideal budget would be. Be practical, not “well, if I won the lottery this week, I’d spend $X on doughnuts.” Once you’ve crunched out a respectable range, write all those numbers down. If you're thinking about contract work or self-employment rather than a salaried position, look at hourly or per-project numbers, instead.
- 3Do some reconnaissance. Look at job listings, salary sites, industry surveys, and national reports, and if you can, ask a few friends who do what you want to do. Here’s what you want to find out: For the work you want to do, what are the factors that help you earn more? What are the factors that make you earn less?
¶ Your investigation into salary information will provide you with a thorough knowledge-base about how much your skills and experience are worth depending on the type of job you’re looking at, the industry it’s in, the location, and a host of other moving pieces.
As you look for a job, keep these factors in mind as you apply, interview, and negotiate offers. Knowing what your bargain-basement salary is will prevent you from scrambling when numbers are mentioned and allow you to politely and professionally counter when necessary.
Remember, when you accept a job that provides you with the bottom of your salary range, you should be compromising on money and winning on love, but not the point where you’re in a pinch to pay your bills.
Conversely, when you accept a job that meets the high end of your salary range, understand that you’re probably compromising on love and scoring more money, but not to the point where you hate every aspect of your work.
Lesson #2: Upgrade your skills strategically
The random accumulation of skills is called hobby development. Your career isn’t about hobbies—and if your hobby becomes your career, trust me when I say you will love it less than you did when it was just a pastime. Your career is about doing satisfying work that allows you to live the life you want. To support that career, you need to continually develop skills that will help you move up the proverbial ladder.
There are a bunch of ways you can do that. You could ask a coworker to teach you something, or ask your manager to be part of a certain project. You could propose a new initiative or take advantage of a company-wide education, development, or mentorship program. You could take a course outside of work, or seek a certification required for a promotion. You could start a side hustle. And yes, you could co-mingle your work and your hobbies.
The idea here is to earmark time and take the action necessary for you to learn things and tackle projects that will get you more money and help you advance in the future.
Does everything you do have to be for the sake of progress? Hell, no! I knit sometimes just to keep my fingers busy while I’m rewatching Alias. But it’s good for your brain (and your resume) if you continue to take on new challenges either at work or in the name of work.
How to figure out which skills you should begin acquiring:
- 1Brainstorm. What types of work do you want to do in the next year or two that you can’t undertake without possessing certain skills or experiences?
- 2Examine job ads. Job listings are filled with very specific requirements. If you have your eye on a certain type of job, take a peek at what they’re looking for now and create a plan to meet those requirements.
- 3Ask your boss. Frame it like this: “I’m interested in taking on a leadership role (or a promotion, or whatever). What skills, education, or experiences would I need to demonstrate to make that possible?”
Lesson #3: Don't be precious about your job search
One of my journalism professors was the ultimate bubble-popper. My favorite of his many sayings is this: “Everybody wants to work in New York. Nobody wants to work in North Dakota. Learn to want to work in North Dakota.”
Yes, there are people who get everything they think they want, but statistically, that person won’t be you.
Throw out that laundry list of dream job requirements and make a new one. I recommend focusing your must-haves—and there should only be a few—on the actual work you would be doing, any necessities you require for mental, physical, and emotional health, and on items that would impact your career long-term. Everything else on your list should be “nice to have it, but not a deal-breaker” or of the “if I can’t have X, then I need Y to make up for it” variety.
Things to think about:
Lesson #4: Invest time in developing a deep network
Go ahead and flip me a bird if you want to, but when your finger starts getting sore, take note of this: Every single job I’ve gotten and every single job a close friend has gotten ever has come from networking.
When I say “networking,” I don’t mean schmoozing or sending LinkedIn invites to everyone you’ve ever met. “Networking” from here on out means building relationships with people you know professionally. It’s getting to know them and letting them get to know you, over and over again until you become a face and a name they recognize and vice versa.
What does that get you? A cool job, for starters. An old boss at an internship passed along an unposted listing from a woman she knew, and that’s how I got my magazine gig. An alumna at my college met my roommate for lunch, and when a job opened up at a national museum, she helped my roommate get it.
Networking helps you:
- 1Change industries. It’s easier to go to a person you know and explain your situation and lightbulb moment than it is to go in cold and hope a stranger will take a chance on you.
- 2Earn more money. A “hey, you should hire this person, she’s amazing” from a trusted employee at a company you want to work for could turn a negotiation in your favor.
- 3Get real-time feedback on the job market. Even if you don’t want to work at a contact’s company, you can still go him and say, “I’m thinking about looking for something new. Are there any skills or certifications your industry is looking for in new hires right now?”
¶ Hear this: networking works. Networking helps you advance your career. Networking opens doors you never knew about. Networking gets you interviews, references, and insider information. There is nothing else out there, no other strategy, that replaces it. Networking is the single best way to get a job for just about everyone in just about every industry at just about every level of work.
If you’re going to be not-precious about one lesson on my list, make it this one (OK, and the one about not being precious, period). If The Job is your ultimate goal, you’re gonna need an army of cheerleaders, referrers, and door-openers to make it happen. Start stretching that networking muscle, friend. It’s time to bulk up.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.
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