You already know to avoid a second date with someone who doesn't laugh at your jokes or who was mean to the waiter. But what about staying with an employer as they slowly cut back on important perks? Turns out treating your career like a relationship could be just what you need to kick it into high gear.
1. Use the first date to feel out your compatibility and pick up on warning signs.
The interview (a.k.a. the job equivalent of a first date) is much like its relationship counterpart; you get a general impression of a person and, if you're paying attention, you can also pick up on some warning signs.
Note the work environment and how people present themselves (carefully dressed? splatters of food on the tie or on the desktop?) and how the two relate to each other. An interviewer who talks down to a secretary gives the same impression as a date talking down to a waiter. Look for the basics of kindness, common sense and a touch of humor to give you an impression of what your day-to-day life would be like with this person (or employer) in it.
2. Realize both partners should be giving and taking, not just taking.
Give and take is a natural cycle on the job and in your relationships. Don't get too strict about keeping score, but be sure you have a general sense of when someone (or some job) isn't contributing their fair share. In the workplace, this could mean telecommuting in exchange for lower pay, or a generous expense account for a tough travel schedule.
If your company starts to pull perks without compensating you in other ways, it could be a warning sign that they don't have your best interests at heart. In the same way you would seek balance with a partner, don't be silent about your employer's lack of consideration. Speak up or move on!
3. Try something new if you don't feel committed.
Leaving is hard, especially when you feel comfortable in your job (or relationship). But if you find yourself "just getting by" or feeling like you aren't growing as a person or as a professional, you may be in the wrong job.
Don't get me wrong; very few people wake up thrilled-beyond-reason every morning, in work or in love. There are good days and bad days in every field. However, if at the end of the year you don't come out on top, you're putting your long-term happiness at risk. Assess the pros and cons of the situation with a close friend and see if you're really getting what you need out of your job.
4. Play the field to learn more about yourself and find the best fit for you.
Therese Schwenkler hit the nail on the head when she wrote, "You don't start off knowing the exact person you're going to marry, and no one expects you to. ... So why do we expect this when it comes to our careers?"
Within a given field, there are as many dream job possibilities as there are job openings. Each position will be different from the other in the way that one potential spouse is different from every other. Some people luck into the perfect job on their first go around, but more and more people find it by accident after two or three tries. Many more find a way to make the perfect job for themselves. (Though maybe don't try that in a relationship, Dr. Frankenstein. ...)
The important thing is to try new careers (and hobbies and experiences) to keep learning about what you like and what you don't like, what you need from a job and what you couldn't care less about.
No job or relationship will be perfect in the long run. But if you make the commitment not to settle and you keep an open mind, you may just find a spouse and a career that help you achieve long-term happiness.
(Sarah Greesonbach is a contributor to Brazen Careerist. She is a content and communications expert who manages and writes for the lifestyle and personal finance blog Life [Comma] Etc and recently launched her first ebook, Life After Teaching. Brazen Careerist is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. This isn't your parents' career-advice column. Be Brazen.)