Your 5-Step Method for Defining Job Satisfaction

by Taub, Rob Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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The question was asked: How do I pick my major if I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?

Answer: Start with the end in mind. As with writing a speech, you determine what your objective is and what it is you hope to instill in your audience, and only THEN do you begin to write your speech. Make sense? Same with job searching and too, picking a major, internships, related clubs and activities, and more: You begin with the end in mind.

Every step you take, even in the moment, is another step on a path that will lead to one place or some other. Once you define you want to go north, south or anywhere in between, you can take out a compass and start down the path. I tell people just starting college, “job satisfaction years from now will be affected by the decisions you make today.”

That being the case, why not try to define “job satisfaction” now? For many young people, the reason they don’t is they don’t yet know what job they want. Nonetheless, without a sense of what “job satisfaction” may be for you, it will be very difficult to pick the right major; so let’s start with that – job satisfaction.

5-Step Method for Defining Job Satisfaction


At the core of Job Satisfaction is an understanding of what it is you enjoy most. To understand what it is you enjoy most, you have to define ALL you enjoy, from most to least; an exercise that will help lead to a decision regarding not only your major, but internships and future job development. Sound enticing? That’s why we approach this not as an exercise to pick a major but to define job satisfaction (we begin with the end in mind). Afterward, we will see how it can lead you back to defining your major, so let’s begin!

1. From where or what might job satisfaction come?

Job satisfaction for some stems from the challenges in the job or a sense of purpose. For others it’s more extrinsic and may be measured by the money they make. Or it may come from the learning that takes place or from knowing their work matters. Finally, for others, simply having a job to go to everyday in order to have other things in life is fine, and it’s from accepting that they derive their satisfaction.

2. Defining factors for your job satisfaction.

Defining the factors for your own job satisfaction requires you jumping all the way back to the beginning. This could be your first job as, for example, a life guard in a day camp at 16 or a paper route at 12, and walking through your life right up to the present. However, instead of identifying duties, responsibilities, job descriptions, etcetera, as you might for a resume, look at your successes and the underpinnings of those successes. Underpinnings such as:

Instinctive skills – the automatic, the intuitive, creative skills that you drew upon at that time
Learned skills – that might be customer service, inventory control, basic accounting or program management

Don’t limit yourself to jobs either. You have successes from other experiences that may be relevant and transferable. An example is leading a youth group or charitable work through a church or synagogue, or writing a newsletter for your bowling league. Maybe even helping a parent or friend put together a website for a business.

3. Other successes outside the workplace.

When you take this walk-through, consider the following: alumni associations, community and civic organizations, councils with which you may have been involved, teams on which you played, or Boards on which you served.

4. Success attributes.

Once you have all these successes on the table, you can identify (a) actual skills, (b) personal characteristics, (c) professional characteristics and (d) knowledge areas, inherent or learned that you drew upon to succeed. These are the “underpinnings” or as I refer to them, success attributes, many of which may be derived from core competencies you possess. Don’t stop here!

5. Motivated versus unmotivated successes.

One a piece a paper, set up a “T-Chart” with Motivated and Unmotivated Successes written across the top of your sheet as your left and right headings, respectively. Next, divide and list your “success attributes” defined in step 4 above, into your two groups under the headings.

Motivated successes – those you are interested in perpetuating
Unmotivated success – though they are successes, they are those which you have little or no interest in perpetuating

The motivated successes describe those skills, competencies, attributes you not only work with and perform well, but enjoy doing – they motivate you. The others may also be skills, competencies, attribute areas with and in which you perform well, maybe even very well, but don’t hold your interest – they don’t motivate.

For example, maybe you’re terrific at editing research reports but don’t enjoy it. If you’re caught on the job being good at it and consequently it becomes 20% of what you do. Well, there goes 20% of your job satisfaction out the window. Agreed?

In other words, if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it don’t get caught doing it!

Many people get caught doing something they don’t enjoy and it becomes part of their job. Depending on how much a part, will determine their level of angst – the most severe being that which requires them to pull themselves out of bed every morning and drag themselves to work. How many people like that have you met in your life? They live for Fridays and vacations. Hey, life’s too short!

Once you have defined and thus classified your success attributes, you have laid the groundwork and are well on your way to defining the “best fit” for what might be your first career position after you’re graduated. With that done, you may be able to back up to the moment, the present time, and with some guidance from people you know and trust (family, peers, your school’s career development office, a career coach) you can begin to lay a path moving forward.

A friend once said to me, “If I knew job satisfaction was so elusive, I wouldn’t have spent half my life looking for it.” I asked him to define what job satisfaction for him would be. He said: “I’ll know when I find it,” hence the reason its been so elusive.

When you know what it is you can do, and moreover, want to do because you enjoy it most, you are in the best position to capitalize on the opportunities that await you in school, outside and beyond. And, why? We are at our best when doing that which we enjoy most.

Today you take the first step!