31 Days to Financial Independence (Day 20): Finding a Better Job

“31 Days to Financial Independence” is an ongoing series that appears every Thursday on The Simple Dollar. You might want to start this series from the beginning!

Last time, we took a serious look at the steps that you should take to put yourself in position for a promotion at work. Today, we’re going to to take a look at building a game plan for moving yourself from your current job to a new one.

Why would you make that choice? There are many reasons, of course, but the one that really deserves consideration here is that changing jobs can often improve your true hourly wage significantly or else put you in a position where it will improve quickly.

The obvious route to that success is through higher wages. If your pay goes up, it’s very likely that your true hourly wage will also go up. (Remember, your true hourly wage is the total income you make in a year minus all work expenses divided by the total number of hours devoted to work plus things like commuting.)

However, you might see financial benefit from switching jobs if it drastically reduces your commute or enables you to no longer have to pay for child care or if it opens the door to a completely new ladder of potential promotions or if it gives you equity in a company. Those things indirectly impact your true hourly wage either by reducing your job-related expenses, reducing the hours you devote to work, or opening up potential increases in your wages.

It’s not just about the pay, in other words.

Is a job switch the right move for you? It’s usually a good idea if you’re unhappy at your current job or if you feel like there is little opportunity for advancement or pay increases at your current job. It’s usually a poor idea if there is plenty of room for pay increases or advancements at your current job and you’re happy there. Don’t switch just for the sake of switching.

Exercise #20 – Laying the Groundwork for Finding a Better Job

If you do see a job switch as something that’s right for you, something that will improve your financial outcomes, here are some strategies to start employing right away that will set you up for a job switch in the future, along with some strategiest to make that switch as effective as possible.

Identify a number of jobs you’d ideally like to have and discover what the requirements are. If you’re considering switching jobs, what exactly is it that you’re hoping to switch to? Are you just trying to escape a poisonous work environment? In that case, you’re likely just looking for the exact same job you have now, just elsewhere.

Many people, however, are focused on finding a new job that provides the financial benefits described above. It increases their pay, gives them opportunities to move up, or provides new challenges. Generally, these jobs tend to be ones that you’re mostly qualified for, but a bit underqualified for in a few areas.

Find listings for those jobs (LinkedIn is a good place to start). See what is actually required of them. If at all possible, talk to people who are in that position that you won’t be competitive with (people you may be competitive with may have ulterior motives for not giving you the full picture) and see what the job is actually like.

In other words, understand what your target is.

Make those new requirements your checklist going forward. Your search for new positions should have provided you with a long list of requirements and highly desired traits. Take that long list of requirements and traits, cross off all of the things that you clearly already have, and turn the rest of them into a giant checklist for the coming months in your life.

It may be that you need more education. In that case, start taking classes and progressing toward the degree that you need.

It may be that you need more experience. In that case, stick with your current job if it gets you that experience, or move sideways into another job that will give you that experience.

It may be that you need certain skills. Take classes to help develop those skills, or else find ways to work on those skills in your current workplace.

You absolutely should talk to your current supervisor about polishing and building up certain skills, even if your intent is to move to a new workplace. Just simply say that you’ve self-identified some skills that you’d like to improve and ask for opportunities to do that. This is particularly helpful if those skills are ones that show up on the performance reviews at your current job anyway.

Take on tasks at your current job that are specifically chosen to bolster your resume. Many job listings are actually looking for people willing to take on extra challenges of various kinds, and many jobs offer great opportunities for taking on new challenges. When a challenging task that will fit perfectly on your resume shows up at your current job, jump on it and do it to the best of your ability.

Not only will completion of that project give you something to add to your resume that looks impressive and enable you to potentially fulfill specific requirements of the job that you want to have, it also teaches you new skills – both in terms of the technical aspects of your job and transferable skills like time management and project management – that you’ll be able to apply elsewhere.

The people that step up to the plate and take on challenges and difficult tasks are the ones that build up a nice resume and get the rewards. If you want a better job, that needs to be you taking on those challenges.

Build up lots of transferable skills. Transferable skills are skills that are useful in almost every profession out there. Communication skills, both written and verbal. Public speaking skills. Leadership skills. Time management skills. Information management skills. Project management skills. Self-directed and independent working habits. Research skills (this does not mean “know how to use Google”). Many, many, many jobs want those skills.

Think about the job that you want to have and ask yourself what transferable skills would really shine in that job. We’re not talking about the job-specific technical skills here, but the other elements that would make you successful there. What are they?

Work on them. There are opportunities in every workplace to polish those skills and there are many classes you can take to build up those skills as well. Learn to use them, not just because they look good on a resume or during an interview, but because they’ll make you a more effective employee both in your current job and your destination job.

Cultivate strong positive relationships with professional peers outside of your workplace. If you’re looking to advance within your organization, as we discussed in the previous installment of this series, cultivating relationships with people within your company is a great move. However, if you’re looking to move out, the relationships that become the most valuable ones are the ones outside the company, with people who may be evaluating you, employing you, and working with you.

If you have any interest at all in switching employers, you should be involved in local and national professional organizations. You should be attending conferences and meetings if at all possible. You should be looking for opportunities to present things to people outside your organization. And, in all of those situations, you should be focused on meeting lots of people and building real, meaningful relationships.

That’s a hard thing for some people to do (myself included). I found that simply mastering the mechanics of How to Win Friends and Influence People helped immensely with face-to-face situations, and the mechanics of Never Eat Alone helped greatly with regards to building and maintaining relationships outside of face-to-face interactions.

Which brings me to my next point…

Get involved in social media from a professional standpoint. Social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn, provides a great opportunity for you to get to know professionals in your field, hiring agents who may want to hire you, and many other valuable folks in terms of elevating your career. You can build relationships, learn new things, and raise your public profile from pretty much anywhere.

Many people use social media personally, but turn that idea on its ear and use it professionally. Use it to share your professional knowledge, build relationships with people in your field all across the world, and follow up on face-to-face relationships that you’ve launched.

I often use social media as a tool for following up on potential professional contacts. I’ll immediately suggest following them on Twitter or connecting on some other social media network (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) and then do it immediately on my phone. I usually make a note as well regarding something that I can follow up on with that person, because following up is key for building a professional relationship (or a personal one for that matter).

Make sure your resume is up to date. It is really easy to let your resume atrophy over time, especially if you’re comfortable in your current job. Don’t let that happen, especially if the idea of switching jobs is on your radar at all.

31 Days to Financial Independence
Day 1: The Shallows and the Deep
Day 2: Direction in the Deep End
Day 3: Finding Meaning
Day 4: Your True Hourly Wage
Day 5: A Living Budget
Day 6: The Big Boost
Day 7: Minimizing Debt
Day 8: Trim Housing Costs
Day 9: Trim Transportation Costs
Day 10: Trim Utilities Spending
Day 11: Trim Food Spending
Day 12: Trim Insurance Spending
Day 13: Cut Health Care Spending
Day 14: Cut Entertainment Spending
Day 15: Cut Apparel Spending
Day 16: Cut Education Spending
Day 17: Integrating Cost Cutting Measures
Day 18: Earning More at Your Job
Day 19: Getting Promoted at Work
Day 20: Finding a Better Job
Day 21: Starting a Side Business
Day 22: Avoiding Lifestyle Inflation
Day 23: Investing for Retirement