How to figure out if a job is right for you

Job shadowing and asking the right questions can help you find a job you love.

Feb 5, 2016

I recently received a very frustrated phone call from my sister regarding her new job, and I think there’s a pretty valuable lesson to be learned from what she’s dealing with. She spent the last year at a Vancouver dance school learning the newest moves, proper training techniques, and developing her artistry, and then managed to land a job as an instructor.

What if your dream job isn't as dreamy as you thought?

She was so excited to begin working professionally in her field! Unfortunately, the position hasn’t lived up to her expectations and she’s now struggling with some of the requirements she hadn’t anticipated. She works for a private studio where her hours of work—and therefore her pay—depend on how many students sign up for classes. This means that nothing is set in stone, so she’s expected to be pretty flexible.

So flexible in fact, that she was told last-minute that her work schedule was being changed and she’d be teaching different classes than the ones she had prepared for all summer. She is now expected to drive to a different dance studio that is farther away, meaning that she has to pay a lot more in gas money to get to work.

Most dance instructors will tell you that this is the nature of the business. If you want to be a top instructor you have to work for your position, and this requires you to be flexible and sometimes to put up with less pay so that you can gain experience. In short, you have to prove yourself. It can be tough starting out, but if you stick with it you might eventually be able to open a studio of your own.

Ask yourself what you really want out of a job

I asked my sister why she was teaching dance, and she said “to stay in shape while I spend my year away from Vancouver.” This is where I think she made a mistake, because teaching dance and being a dancer are two very different things.

My sister just wants to dance, but instead she’s working as an instructor, which means she’s taken on a bunch of responsibilities like creating dance routines, selecting music, managing students, dealing with disputes between kids and parents, and committing to the schedule assigned to her by her employer.

It sounds to me like the work of a dance instructor isn’t actually what my sister wants to be doing, and now she feels trapped.

There are bound to be aspects of any job that you won't enjoy, but if you're aware of these things in advance and can prepare for them, and you're happy overall with the work you're doing, you should be able to deal with the less pleasant requirements. It's important to know what you're getting into when you pursue a job opportunity, so that you aren't caught off guard like my sister was. 

The lesson learned here is that if you can identify something that you are passionate about and you think you want to do that thing professionally, be sure to do your research on what it takes to succeed, and what the expectations of the job are. You may think you know what a job is like because you’ve seen someone do it, but unless you dig deeper and do some research into job requirements, work conditions, and day-to-day tasks, chances are you don’t have a very accurate idea of what that job actually entails.

Get the inside scoop on a job before you're hired

You might want to set up a job shadow where you follow someone around for a day who does the work you want to do, asking them questions about their job so that you can figure out whether or not you’d be happy doing that kind of work. Alternatively, you might just want to ask a few pointed questions about someone’s occupation to dig below the surface and get to the nitty gritty details about what they actually do. Try these, for starters:   

  1. Can you describe your typical work day?

  2. What skills are necessary to do your job?

  3. What is the best/most rewarding part of your job? What is the worst/hardest part of your job?

  4. Do you work a standard work week, or do you put in extra hours (overtime)? Do you work days, evenings, weekends?

  5. What kind of process do you go through in order to take a holiday? How much time off do you usually get for vacations etc?

  6. Do you have to travel for work and if so, do you get compensated for this?

  7. Do you have to constantly update your knowledge, or was your post-secondary training enough?

  8. Do you pay professional fees?

  9. What are the job prospects like in your field?

In some cases it isn’t appropriate to ask about wages, for example in a job shadow or with someone you currently work with. I’d leave this question for people you know on a personal level like friends or family members, or you can do some research online. The important thing is to start asking questions so that you can get a clearer sense of the kinds of jobs that might suit you best. And don’t be shy because more often than not, people are happy to share their experiences.

As for my sister, now she knows the importance of doing your research before pursuing a job!


University of Lethbridge

A lot of my classmates already have experience in business, so I've been able to learn from them and start building my network.

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