Guest Writer Ashley Jacobs on Waiting for the RIGHT Job Rather Than Just ANY Job When You Find Yourself Without a Job
By Ashley Jacobs, Assistant County Administrator, Aiken County, SC
Unemployment is an unsettling life event that threatens to disrupt your entire world, including your financial stability, your social life, and possibly your geographical location. And the longer you’re unemployed, the greater the tendency to descend into a state of panic where you apply for every job posting you see, no matter how poorly it matches your career goals, interests and passions, or salary requirements.
It’s important to wait for the right job because if you do, you won’t feel compromised or cheated, and you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run. The goal of your job search is to find a role in a community and an organization that will be a joy to you; one that will give you purpose and energy, where you will want to stay for a substantial period of time. There is no greater waste of time than slogging away in a job that makes you miserable. And job hunting is one of the most exhausting, draining tasks, whether you’re employed or unemployed. You don’t want to set yourself up for a situation where you’re job hunting again soon after taking a new job.
Think of unemployment as valuable time to think about what you really want. Were you truly fulfilled in your previous position, or were you just complacent? What did you love about your previous job, and what did you dislike? What does the ideal job for you look like? Try a writing or brainstorming exercise that starts with: “It would be really awesome if….” If you were an assistant city or county manager, maybe it’s time to be the manager. If you were the manager, but didn’t enjoy the spotlight, maybe you would be happier as an assistant. You could also work for a non-profit or outside agency related to local government. Perhaps you would enjoy starting your own company and working as a consultant. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into one job title because it’s what you’ve always done. Focus on what you like doing, how well a position fits your personality, and how you want to grow professionally. Where do you want to be in five and ten years, or at retirement? Use this down time to your advantage. Think of it as a “gap year” or sabbatical. Travel. Start a novel. Write a blog. Take that seasonal job restoring sea turtle nests you’ve always wanted to do. Time is the most valuable commodity on earth.
Other questions to ask yourself as you apply and interview for jobs:
- Consider the culture of the organization and the community. Are your values and theirs the same? Will the elected body and the public promote and support decisions that are harmonious with your own beliefs? Will you have the opportunity to work on projects that matter to you? If not, you could find yourself feeling detached, angry, or defiant. Not a good place to be. I want to place a special emphasis on this for women. Do your research – is this a good environment for female employees? Is it family friendly? Is there gender balance among the leadership? Are women paid equally?
- Would you enjoy living in the community? I’ve seen a lot of people take jobs in places they didn’t like at all because it paid well or because it would be a stepping stone to the next thing. The problem with this tactic is that, while you’re waiting for the next thing, you’re living in a place that you’re constantly trying to escape. If your job is community building, how well can you perform that task if you hate the very place you’re paid to promote. A community can sense how invested you are, and if you aren’t present both physically and mentally, it will show. You won’t get the support you need to do your job, and they won’t get the leader and advocate they need.
Of course, as Ernest Hemingway noted in A Moveable Feast, “there is the problem of sustenance.” You’ve got to feed yourself and pay the bills. So what do you do if you just can’t find the perfect job and you’re forced to take the first offer that comes along?
- Decide what you can accomplish if you aren’t planning to stay in the new position for long. Can you make a big impact in a short time? Make a conscious decision to be positive and productive while you’re there.
- Have survival and escape plans, especially if you move to a new place you’re not psyched about. You know it won’t be ideal, so create strategies for small victories at work, and ways to decompress at home and enjoy your surroundings. Every place in the world has something positive about it, and something to offer as a new experience. Get involved with things that interest you so that you don’t feel isolated, and you make some connections with people who can be your support group and allies. As for an escape plan, start networking right away with other local government professionals in the area where you want to be, so that you’re in the grapevine for new opportunities.
- Most importantly, remember that nothing lasts forever, whether that’s unemployment or an imperfect job. You always have you, and you have the power to create any reality you can imagine.
What are your strategies for surviving unemployment and waiting for the right job? We’d love to hear and share your ideas! Share them with us by emailing: Info@LeagueOfWomenInGovernment.org.
Ashley Jacobs has worked as a local government executive in South Carolina since 2001. She is currently Assistant County Administrator for Aiken County, SC. She served on the ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession in 2012, and founded the South Carolina Chapter of League of Women in Government in 2015. She is a graduate of the Leadership South Carolina Class of 2010, the SCAC Institute of Government for Public Officials, and the South Carolina Economic Development Institute. She is a Trustee for the South Carolina State Firefighters Foundation, a Board Member for League of Women in Government, and a member of ICMA, ELGL and the South Carolina City/County Management Association. Jacobs earned a BA from Clemson University and a MPA from the University of South Carolina.