By Esther Lamarre, Assistant Director, Alumni Career Programs
I remember being a bright eyed fresh out of graduate school job seeker with a list of expectations for what I wanted in a position.  Confident in my list, I could rattle off my requirements in thirty seconds or less.  I was looking for the perfect job.  I wanted a position that would meet most of the requirements on my checklist and give me a reason to brag to family, friends, and maybe even the occasional stranger.  

After rejecting numerous job descriptions (for what now seemed like trivial reasons), the thought crossed my mind that maybe the perfect job did not exist. Although things like location, salary, and people were important, it did not put me in the right frame of mind when it came to critically reviewing potential job leads.  In fact, it moved me further away from my goal of finding a position that would be a stepping stone for future opportunities.  Once I accepted this unpleasant thought, I began to examine positions for the professional story it would allow me to tell and the opportunities I would be afforded.  
So if you are still searching for that ‘perfect’ first, second, or third job, I encourage you to pick up those job descriptions you’ve been analyzing and explore the following three questions to make sure you are choosing a position for the right reasons:  
1. What new skills will I add to my professional toolkit? What narrative will be added to my current portfolio that is different from past experience?
Consider the measurable skills you will gain if you accept an offer from company X.  This can include things like supervisory skills, budget management, or opportunities to engage different populations or clientele. Focus on items that might make you stand out in future positions or give you something different to talk about on your resume.  Using the job description, identify tangible skills you will walk away with if you choose company X. Then, even if things do not work out exactly as you imagined, your time at company X will still result in invaluable experiences.  
2. How will I leave my mark? OR Will I be able to leave my mark?
Think about whether you are being hired to maintain the status quo or if you will have the autonomy to influence systems, decisions, and processes.  While maintaining the status quo is not always a negative thing, you want to be sure the position will allow you to earn some notable achievements.  Future employers will want to know how you advanced the mission of your former organization.  Having significant accomplishments to talk about will always be important in the job search process.  Make sure your potential position will afford you the opportunity to contribute to the overall success of the organization.
3. What is the workversus the job?
Although used interchangeably, there is a difference between your work and your job.  Work is the warm and fuzzy.  Assuming you are passionate about your field, work is the difference you are able to make – no matter how small.  In sum, the work is the greater purpose.  On the other hand, the job is the day to day.  The job is the tedious and sometimes daunting tasks you have to complete in order to be successful in the work.  The job is the endless emails requiring a response or the stack of paperwork that has to get filed. If the work is the reason you get up in the morning, than the job is the reason you count down the minutes until you can escape.  Make sure the work is meaningful enough to get you through the job.
Although the perfect job may not exist, the perfect opportunity for where you are in your career does exist.  A position may not offer every single thing you want but there are key things you can take away from every experience.  The reality is your future employer won’t care if your last job was in a really cool location or if you had a super cool boss.  Your future employer will care about the impact you made and how well you made it. As you continue your search, make sure you are focusing on the right things: a position that will give you a great professional story to tell – that is what will stand out to your next employer!