Blending Where You Want to Live With What You Want to Do

When I meet with students they often tell me that they know where they want to live and what they want to do to kickstart their career. When I ask them what they want to do they cite a specific category of organization. This is almost the right approach, but usually creates trouble.

Pick Problems then Organizations

Whenever you’re considering a career change think first about what specific kinds of problems you want to solve for organizations. This seems really similar to knowing the specific kind of organization you want to work for, but it’s not.

Once you decide where you want to live you are bound by the constraints of that job market. And as it turns out, your certainty may not make practical sense. For instance, this comes up with candidates who want to work at a think-tank and can only live in Chicago. These two preferences (Think tank + Chicago) don’t fit well, because the vast majority of think-tanks are based in D.C, followed in a distant second by New York. Chicago has few options for that specific type of organization and lots of smart people who want to do the work. By selecting Chicago and limiting their search to research jobs at think-tanks, candidates unnecessarily constrain themselves and will likely be disappointed.

Pick a Location then Ask…

If location is your top priority, make the choice and then be flexible on the work. Candidates should think first about the kind of work they want to do, rather than preconceived ideas of the types of organizations in which they should do it. Ask yourself:

  1. What problems do you want to engage within an organization?
  2. What responsibilities do you want to have for those problems?
  3. What skills do you want to use and which do you want to develop?


It’s likely that many organizations in a community would be interested in some mix of the answers. Approaching the problem this way opens up areas of exploration that most candidates haven’t considered—most often because they haven’t been exposed to the diversity of organizations and roles that are out there.

Location + Assumptions –> Network

Next, use your answers to the above questions to direct your search for organizations to target and later, people to reach out to (see post on how to network). Avoid spending all of your time searching on the internet. The internet is excellent for finding what you’re looking for, but in this case you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Instead, actual people are best positioned to help you find new opportunities faster. They’ll help you interpret your skills and the trends that you’re perceiving in local job postings.