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How Vacation Planning Showed Me The Importance of Knowing What You Want Before You Start Job Searching (And What It Can Teach You)

I don’t really like to plan vacations. I’d rather just relax. But when I don’t plan, I tend to hang around the hotel and not really feel like I “saw anything on vacation”. As it turns out planning helps make a better experience when you’re taking a vacation.

Why is it important to know what you want?

Knowing what you want, even having an inkling of what you want, can help save you precious time during a job search. It’s as simple as that. Instead of being surprised at yourself when it turns out you don’t want to leave your friends behind in Chicago when you get a job offer, you’ve taken some time to think about it beforehand.

Firsthand experience

When I was first going through the process, I applied to jobs that I thought that were a great fit, regardless of where they were located. It turns out jobs in different cities want you to fly out if they think you’re really a good fit. They also tend to have a higher bar for your coding sample and/or coding interview (because flying out people costs money).

Oops. Applying to a job in a different city (or cities in my case) wasn’t the best use of time. In retrospect, I should have targeted a city and applied to a bunch of different jobs there at the same time. Instead, I applied to one here and one there, and that left me unprepared for some of the scheduling of flights. It ended up wasting time and money that I didn’t want to spend.

What should you know before you start searching?

It’s really dependent on you. You might have kids, so a good school district might be a requirement. Or you might be single, so good dating prospects may be more important. But there are a few things you can nail down no matter what your circumstance.

  • Relocation – Decide if you’re willing to relocate away from (or towards) your family and friends. Are you ready for a different cost of living?
  • Weather – Some people would rather live in a warmer climate. So living in Boston might be too cold for you.
  • Cost of living – You can research the cost of living in a new city using sites like rentjungle.com and numbeo.com.
  • Compensation requirements – You can know beforehand what compensation you require before you get a new job. Notice, I didn’t say salary. That’s because salary is only one part of compensation. There’s benefits like sick time, vacation time, 401K match, and even stock options.
  • Type of company you’d like to work for – Do you want to work for a big company (stable, but possibly bureaucratic), a small startup (nimble, but a lot of work), a consultancy, or a mid-size company? There’s tradeoffs in each situation.

But what if I don’t know what kind of job I want?

If you’re a new programmer, chances are you may not know what type of job or company you want just yet. And that’s perfectly fine and natural. But figuring out some of the personal factors above can still save you time.

How much time can it save, really?

For example, if you decide you need to move to San Francisco to further your technology career, instead of interviewing at companies in Boston, you could focus your time on San Francisco companies only. If you’re doing your homework on preparing for your interview you’ll be saving plenty of time in the researching of what each company does, as well as setting up and doing interviews with companies not in your preferred location. To give you an idea, if you interview with companies outside your home city, eventually they’ll likely want to do an onsite interview. They may fly you out which takes time and money.

A job search is not a vacation

But a good job can help you take plenty of vacations. Isn’t it worth it to take some time to think about what it is you want?

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