Principal Consultant, Career OverDrive!
Whenever you begin your search for a new job or opportunity, one of the first things you should ask yourself is whether you're looking for a paycheck, a job or a career (PJC).
While there's no right or wrong answer to this question and it will depend on many factors including your current circumstances, it's very important for you to understand what you're looking for and what the "right" opportunity will look like when you come across it.
Moreover once you've determined what your needs are you'll need to be cognizant of how you communicate and convey this to prospective employers because of the expectations and intent these three words evoke.
Each of these words (paycheck, job, career) when used will often trigger a vast range of emotions in receiving (listening) individual or party and subsequently your choice and usage of these three words can greatly help or harm you depending on what company you interview with, what position you interview for and whom you interview with.
Let's look in more detail at these three words and the expectations and intentions they often evoke in the receiving (listening) individual or party when they are used.
1. A Paycheck:
In its simplest form, this communicates that you expect to do some work, hopefully put in an "honest's day's work" and get paid. You don't expect any particular future with the company employing you (or that you hope will employ you) nor is much expected of you by the employer. Perhaps you just need this paycheck until you can get something more stable or better or your current circumstances change to allow other options.
In some cases, such as seasonal work, approaching an employer with a "just looking for a paycheck" attitude could be a win-win as friction-less or reduced friction business transaction between two consenting parties. In other cases, communicating that you are looking for a paycheck may make you appear to be "flighty" or a "quick buck operator" while communicating that you are open to this as a "starting point" but that you're hoping for something more permanent or substantial down the road, could give you an edge over others, even if the employer doesn't have "long term work" available as you now appear more ambitious and professionally minded.
However, in still over cases, if you seek more than a paycheck or the interviewer / hiring company feels that you are, you'll appear "sticky", "difficult" or just "overly ambitious" (misaligned / overqualified) for the position at hand and this will often lead to you being passed over.
2. A Job:
Beyond earning or collecting "a paycheck" is the concept of "a job". Using the term "job" often communicates not only more professionalism (i.e., permanency) on your part than simply seeking a paycheck but it may also communicate greater employee engagement. The use of the term job may communicate that you consider this but a stepping stone to a complete career and that this job would or will be one piece of quilt work in your career development.
This gives you wiggle room and even leverage with the interviewer if they feel that the job you are seeking doesn't have future growth potential or that it's not within your apparent career path.
By communicating how this fits into your career path or plan, can give you a huge leg up on other candidates.
For instance, you may have work at Company A, in Industry X as a marketing associate, then moved to Company B in Industry Y as a marketing analyst and later get promoted to associate marketing manager at the same company, before moving to Company C in Industry X as a marketing manager.
Each of these jobs stands alone and yet may span several companies and in some cases span a few industries, yet we can see a career or at least a career emerging from these jobs (if you are able to clearly connect and communicate the dots to us).
In some cases, this can move you to the hiring authority's short list of interviewing candidates. In other cases, communicating to the prospective employer that you're looking for a job can be dangerous as the prospective employer may view you as flighty or a job hopper while referring to a job as a "career" may communicate to the employer that you're going to be there for the long haul, through thick and through thin (what the real case may be and whatever your real intentions may be).
The downside of referring to a job as a career or telling your prospective employer that you are seeking a career, is that they may take this as evidence that you don't understand the way 21st century business is done and that if they hire you, you'll need to be removed with a crowbar at some point, which isn't a lot of fun and which just may get them to pass you over.
3. A Career:
A series of jobs or even a series of paychecks can be organized in such a way as to create a "career". In the last decade, most careers no longer develop linearly but instead often see an individual exploring new areas through lateral changes with occasional movements appearing to be "backwards" as the individual works to build out their skills and portfolio.
By understanding what career you are building towards (or have already built) and being able to clearly communicate this to a prospective employer you can overcome many hiring objectives or resistance that is often a natural employer reaction when the candidate appears confused or lacking direction in their "job choices" to date.
Plainly stated, it gives you a huge leg up on the competition when you can clearly and succinctly articulate why this next position fits into your career path and plan.
Conversely, by not understanding what you career path is (however nascent it may be) or not being able to clearly articulate it to a prospective employer, this may be taken as evidence that you are unambitious and/or indecisive.
There is a word of caution, though, as in still other cases, a prospective employer may interpret your use of the term "career" as "I'm looking to build a career here" (versus "I'm looking to build a career in XYZ functional role or industry) which may carry the connotation to the employer that you are looking to stay in that role or with the company for a very long term even though the business may no longer need you there in the future. This can then be interpreted as a sign of insecurity or even a tacit admission of the non-marketability of your skills in the job market and you may then be "tagged" as a person, who if hired, would stay past your welcome and they would need to fire you to get you to move on.
So what does all of this mean? Simple. Each of these three terms communicate expectations and intentions which have the ability to help or hurt you in your job search.
So what to do? Well, after we understand what these terms mean to the hiring authorities, we then need to be very careful and precise in when and how we use them.
To do this, when communicating with a prospective employer we need to watch and listen to what terms they use (and how they are viewing and interpreting such terms), as well, as probing, testing, defining these terms ourselves as we communicate.
To do this properly, it is critical that we probe, calibrate, clarify and pullback when a boundary is hit or crossed. And by knowing how this works we'll first be able to avoid traps and pitfalls while at the same time positioning ourselves as both the must- meet candidate the must-hire candidate.