Choosing between a job and autonomy

In a turbulent global economy midway through 2022, many students frequently ask how to choose the correct job. I hear the question from young undergraduates all the way to mature executive students on a weekly basis.

Many books exist, most of them quackery, on how to choose the right career, the correct firm, or the optimal position.

Essentially, we need to break ourselves away from the desperation usually associated with job searches. Take a deep breath and go on Google or the USIU-Africa website to read about Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs developed back in 1954.

Tens of thousands of Kenyan undergraduate students learned the theory. While Maslow’s hierarchy is not perfect, it does highlight some important aspects to human existence and spurred a thriving academic discipline around content theories of employee motivations.

Then, utilise a scientific approach to choosing your ideal job. Self-assess your reality as follows. Every person first requires his or her physiological needs met, such as food and shelter.

Second, people need security. Those living in semi-permanent dwellings often remain keenly aware and acutely concerned for their safety in ways the middle and upper classes cannot even imagine.

Third, once humans feel secure, then they primarily need belongingness. Belongingness comes in various forms, from church affiliation to community groups to political activism. Thereafter, people need esteem through job promotion, new cars or other measures unique to each person as the fourth stage.

Fifth and finally, humans reach the self-actualisation stage whereby they ponder the meaning of life, their place in the world, challenge sacred texts taken for granted or challenge accepted prejudices in society.

Where do you fall in the five categories? Perhaps you once operated within the self-esteem stage but then life circumstances sadly pushed you back down to physiological. In the physiological stage, you will take any and almost every job opportunity that comes your way.

You need to eat and you need a shelter from where to sleep. Unfortunately, people may even endure physical hardships in employment when they exist in the physiological state.

People become slightly more selective once they reach the safety stage. Their main concern revolves around additional safety needed in their lives.

Usually, safety stage individuals desire to move out of slum areas or find safer ways and times to get to and from work. Still, safety-minded folks will take any additional job if it pays more than their current employer often regardless of circumstances.

Third, employees become choosy once they transcend into the belongingness category.

Recent secondary school and university graduates fit into the belongingness stage and their primary psychological objective entails the togetherness with their friends or finding a new cohort of people. If you believe you are in the belongingness stage, then search for jobs where your identity can be rolled up in the position.

Join early startup ventures where a team works to find solutions to problems together. You would work better in a togetherness type of environment.

However, also focus on how the job looks in your career trajectory. It might sound obvious, but do not only think of industry-specific roles.

Think instead in terms of managerial roles. If you strongly desire to manage NGO projects one day, should you take a job as a field officer for an NGO or as a project manager for a for-profit company? Go for the latter position.

Early in your career, take roles that provide you with the greatest growth and learning opportunities mixed with the most responsibilities.

Later, once you have managerial experience under your belt, then go ahead and strive for industry-specific positions. Feel free then to make lateral moves from your current post to one of equal or even slightly lesser responsibility so as to jump into the new industry.

Go to industry association meetings, actively network, and get to know individuals in that industry. The earlier you get managerial experience and show real results, the faster your career trajectory can climb regardless of your initial industry.

Similarly, many students fret constantly about what degree to take in undergraduate programs and often switch back and forth between majors of study. The painful reality: your major of study matters little to employers unless you take a specialist track in a specialist industry.

A general business degree versus a specific deep concentration in management or entrepreneurship or marketing does not matter much. Get your degree as fast as possible.

Then, get managerial experience as quick as you can in any industry. Then network for your preferred industry and concentrate in your dream field when you conduct your master’s degree.

If you find yourself in the self-esteem or the self-actualisation stages on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then one of your critical requirements for a job must include autonomy.

Think of the job interview process as a way for you to also interview the employer to see if they meet with your minimum expectations around autonomy. You likely no longer need to show career progression or prove anything to anybody. You instead want to perform well and enjoy what you do.

Researchers Langfred, Gonzalez-Mulé, Courtright, DeGeest, Seong, Hong, and Ariely among many others show the positive impact on the autonomy you receive in the workplace and your ability to perform better and remain satisfied.

However, you cannot simply ask “will I have autonomy to make decisions”? Any sensible employer trying to recruit new top talent will automatically answer in the affirmative. You must, instead, inquire more subtly by putting forth specific scenarios.

Ask instead questions like: if I were to lead a new product development and rollout initiative, at what stages would I require higher-level approval? If my department needed to purchase a new Sh2 million machine, how many higher-level signatures must be obtained before the purchase?

How fast do decisions take for new initiatives involving Sh4 million or higher? How independently do you expect this position to work? How often should I meet with the board of directors and how often is too often?

Choose the position that gives you the most latitude to complete goals the best ways you know how without micromanaging up the chain.

[email protected] Twitter: @ScottProfessor

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.