I am writing this during the last week of the best job I’ve ever had. And the thing is, before this internship I never really knew how great a job could be. I should throw out the disclaimer that I am only 22-years-old, so maybe I am still in the honeymoon phase of this position and am just naive to the harsh realities of the real world. But I don’t think that’s true. Although I may only be 22, I’ve had quite my share of different employment over the years, whether it was part-time, full-time, private contracting, consulting or internships. Some positions have been three weeks and some have been three years. And this job is different. This is the kind of job where my commute is 1 hour 30 minutes on the best day and as an intern I am getting paid less than half of my last salary; and despite this I would be perfectly happy if I never got a pay raise or a promotion. I could work here for decades (if I wasn’t about to move halfway around the world).
I never hated my last full-time internship, and in fact I was all around pretty happy with it. I worked for a multi-billion dollar company, my superiors were kind and intelligent, it looked great on my resume and I paid off a majority of student loans in just six months. But it’s kind of one of those situations where you don’t realize what mediocrity is until you find something incredible. That being said, if you want to find the incredible too, this is what made all the difference:
1. A job that makes you feel appreciated.
Above all else, you should feel needed at your job. The work I do is important and both directly and indirectly affects thousands of people’s livelihoods. It can’t just be shuffled off or put on the back burner. I am necessary to our team and am constantly being reminded that no one knows what they’ll do when I leave. I’m pretty sure that might be an over-exaggeration on their part, but my team really makes me feel appreciated, and it means everything.
2. A job that utilizes your skill set.
Going along with being appreciated, it can be very frustrating when you know that you are being underutilized. It’s so hard to stay motivated when you are certain you can contribute so much more to your organization. Likewise, when your main projects are those that wouldn’t be handed off to another employee or outsourced if you left, it really makes you question the value of your contributions in the first place. Find a job that will challenge you, maximize your skills and knowledge, and put that education you earned to work.
3. A job where you learn—a lot, about things that matter.
I’m extremely passionate about education at all levels, including the belief that we should constantly continue to educate ourselves until we’re old and shriveled up. Expanding your skill set(s) and educating yourself about new and developing issues makes you more knowledgeable, more marketable, and at the very least you’ll have better talking points at parties. You should find a job that supports your learning. My job requires knowing a lot about a variety of topics, so many times I’m actually getting paid to learn about things I’m genuinely interested in. That feels like a dream come true in today’s job market.
4. A job that you believe in.
Everyone I work with—everyone— is passionate about what we do. This job is at a nonprofit and, as I would assume is common for such a workplace, it’s very clear that employees are motivated first and foremost by our mission. This passion is completely infectious. I am not sitting at my desk waiting for the clock to hit 5pm, and on the contrary, I find myself staying late or doing work at home. It’s not because I feel obligated… It’s because I want to. When you work for a company you believe in and when you’re surrounded by people that share the same passions and enthusiasm, it’s not work anymore. It’s what you care about. And I don’t know about you, but that’s where I want to be.
5. A job where your superiors are invested in you and your future.
This is never something I had looked for in a position before, but now it’s nearly a deal breaker. I am blessed because my superiors are not only constantly looking for ways for me to learn, but they are continuously ensuring that I am meeting people and gaining experiences that will benefit me in my future career. Do you realize how completely altruistic this is? My boss is scheduling meetings that will help me personally when she could certainly have given me ten more projects and had me sit in my cube hours-on-end instead. My attendance at these meetings and events is not benefiting the company and yet she sets them up for me one after the other; it’s because she so honestly CARES about me and my future and this truly makes the most significant difference in your work life. To have a boss that is so invested in you, for you… well, it’s certainly a rarity.
When you find a job you love, it raises your standards. And I know now that I will be satisfied with few things else. But I really want the rest of the yuppies and pre-yuppies and non-yuppies out there to raise their standards, too. If you really believe that your current job is a brief stepping stone to the one you will love, then keep doing you. If what truly makes you happy is being able to afford a glamorous life in NYC or a snowmobile or whatever your crutch is and the only way to achieve that is working a not so satisfying job, but you believe it is actually worth it, then that’s okay too. But if you don’t love your job and you can’t justify a real, honest reason why you are staying there… then try finding a job you love.
In the end we all want a place that cares enough to throw a farewell party—cake included—for our last week, don’t we?