Choose between work and autonomy
In a turbulent global economy in the middle of 2022, many students frequently ask how to choose the right job. I hear the question from young undergraduates all the way up to adult executive students on a weekly basis.
There are many books, mostly quackery, on how to choose the right career, company, or optimal position.
Essentially, we need to get away from the desperation usually associated with job searches. Take a deep breath and go to Google or the USIU-Africa website to learn more about Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs developed in 1954.
Tens of thousands of Kenyan undergraduates learned the theory. Although Maslow’s hierarchy is not perfect, it highlights some important aspects of human existence and has stimulated a thriving academic discipline around content theories of employee motivations.
Then, use a science-based approach to choosing your ideal job. Self-evaluate your reality as follows. Every person needs their physiological needs to be met first, such as food and shelter.
Second, people need security. Those who live in semi-permanent housing often remain very conscious and very concerned about their safety in ways that the middle and upper classes cannot even imagine.
Third, once humans feel safe, they first need to belong. Belonging takes many forms, from church membership to community groups to political activism. Thereafter, people need esteem through job promotions, new cars, or other measures unique to each person as a fourth step.
Fifth and finally, humans reach the stage of self-realization where they reflect on the meaning of life, their place in the world, question sacred texts taken for granted or challenge accepted prejudices in society.
Where do you fall in the five categories? Perhaps you have already operated on the stage of self-esteem, but unfortunately life circumstances have brought you back to the physiological. In the physiological stage, you will seize almost any job opportunity that comes your way.
You need to eat and you need shelter to sleep. Unfortunately, people can even endure physical difficulties in employment when they exist in a physiological state.
People get a little more selective once they get to the security stage. Their main concern revolves around the extra security needed in their lives.
Usually, people in the security phase want to leave the slums or find safer ways and times to get to and from work. Yet security conscious people will accept any extra job if it pays more than their current employer, often regardless of the circumstances.
Third, employees become demanding once they transcend the category to which they belong.
Recent high school and college graduates fall into the belonging stage and their primary psychological goal is to reunite with their friends or find a new cohort of people. If you think you’re at the belonging stage, look for jobs where your identity can be wrapped up in the position.
Join the first startup companies where a team works to find solutions to problems together. You would work best in a friendly type environment.
However, also focus on how the job looks in your career trajectory. It may seem obvious, but don’t just think about industry-specific roles.
Instead, think in terms of management roles. If you are passionate about managing NGO projects one day, should you accept a position as a field officer for an NGO or as a project manager for a for-profit company? Opt for this last position.
At the start of your career, take on roles that offer you the best opportunities for growth and learning, combined with the greatest number of responsibilities.
Later, once you have management experience under your belt, go ahead and try to get industry-specific positions. Do not hesitate to make lateral moves from your current position to a position with equal or even slightly lower responsibilities in order to get started in the new industry.
Go to industry association meetings, actively network and get to know people in this industry. The sooner you gain managerial experience and show real results, the faster your career trajectory can climb regardless of your initial industry.
Likewise, many students constantly worry about which degree to pursue in undergraduate programs and often alternate between majors of study. The painful reality: your major doesn’t matter to employers unless you’re taking a specialized course in a specialized industry.
A general business degree versus a specific in-depth concentration in management, entrepreneurship, or marketing doesn’t matter much. Get your degree as soon as possible.
Then get management experience as quickly as possible in any industry. Then network for your favorite industry and focus on your dream field when you complete your master’s degree.
If you find yourself in the self-esteem or self-actualization stages on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, then one of your critical requirements for a job must include self-reliance.
Think of the job interview process as a way for you to also interview the employer to see if they meet your minimum expectations for self-reliance. You probably don’t need to show off your career progression or prove anything to anyone anymore. Rather, you want to perform well and enjoy what you are doing.
Researchers Langfred, Gonzalez-Mulé, Courtright, DeGeest, Seong, Hong, and Ariely, among many others, show the positive impact on autonomy you experience in the workplace and your ability to perform better and stay satisfied.
However, you can’t just ask “will I have the autonomy to make decisions”? Any sane employer trying to recruit new talent will automatically answer in the affirmative. Instead, you should investigate more subtly by offering specific scenarios.
Instead, ask questions such as: If I were to lead a new product development and deployment initiative, at what stages would I need higher-level approval? If my department needed to purchase a new machine for 2 million shillings, how many top level signatures must be obtained before purchase?
How quickly are decisions made for new initiatives involving 4 million shillings or more? How independent do you expect this position to work? How often do I need to meet with the board and how often is it too often?
Pick the position that gives you the most leeway to achieve goals in the best possible way without micromanaging the channel.
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