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From the GA's Desk: A 4-Step Model to Choosing the Right Job

Jun 23, 2022

Author Andrew Pairio is a Graduate Assistant at Springfield College.

Two years ago, I met my good friend Mike Wade while interning with the football strength and conditioning staff at the University of Iowa. Mike was finishing as a graduate assistant strength coach at Salisbury University, and I was just beginning a dual graduate assistant position as the wide receivers coach and strength coach for the football team at Springfield College. Mike is now the Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning at Central Michigan.

During our time in Iowa, he shared with me the model he uses when evaluating job opportunities. This framework was introduced to him by Justin Lima, Director of Football Performance at Towson University. The framework has four criteria to ensure that the job you take is the right one. 

The four criteria for evaluating any job opportunity:

  1. Money
  2. Career Development
  3. Sense of Purpose 
  4. Personal Life

The goal is to make sure that at least three of the four criteria are met before accepting a position. Where you are in your career, individual circumstances, and what you value will determine what criteria are a priority. There are no wrong answers, nor are the criteria listed in any particular order. They are simply a foundational guide to make sure that the position you take is a good one.

Start With A Demo

It is estimated that we will spend about one-third of our life at work. Given the nature of our field, that number, which is based on a forty-hour work week, will be even higher for those of us who coach. Much higher. So, it’s important to make sure that all that time is spent doing something significant and fulfilling. Surveys from the Pew Research Center suggest that only about 49% of employees in the US are very satisfied with their job, and even fewer say they are passionate about it. It’s no surprise that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an average of twelve job changes throughout our working life. Compare that to a family friend of mine who just retired from their company after 54 years of service. That loyalty, which went both ways, is unseen today. For most of us, the development of others is the primary reason we cite for why we coach. Now imagine the influence we could have throughout five decades. Sure, the odd-end jobs we work when we are young account for some of these career changes, but not twelve. Accepting a job is a big decision and we can improve how we make it. This framework will help you refine your decision-making process. 

1. Money

This is usually the most dominant factor during a job search. What is the salary? What incentives, bonuses, and benefits come with it? Financial security is an important aspect of your position. Will it allow you to live comfortably, pay off student loans, support a family, and even provide discretionary income as well? What risks and opportunities can you take or are you willing to take at this point in your career? Is this short-term or sustainable long-term? These are all questions you must answer. It is also important to consider where the ceiling is for a position and how much room there is for growth. What opportunities for promotion exist? Where you start on the ladder is as important as making sure you know whether you are on a big ladder or a small one. 

It is ok to want a job that pays well. Really well. Just remember why it is that you want that. There may be a point of diminishing returns when other criteria should become the focus and drive your decision.

Anyone who says they don’t care about money is either incredibly naive or a liar. Now I don’t think that money is the source of a good life or what makes us happy…but fifty dollars in a birthday card from a grandparent does create a small amount of cognitive dissonance.

Here is some perspective:

We associate higher earnings with higher levels of satisfaction and happiness. That’s ultimately what makes a high-paying job alluring, but the research isn’t conclusive. In 2010, Nobel Memorial Prize winner Angus Deaton conducted a study comparing income to life satisfaction (how we feel about our life when we think about it) and emotional well-being (the quality of our mood throughout everyday experiences). As income rose, so did satisfaction and well-being, but only up to a certain point. The average income when this plateau occurred was $75,000/year. Surprisingly low. Interestingly low. More recent research, however, suggests that this plateau occurs much higher. What is less conflicting is that separate nationwide surveys reveal that over the past 10 years, median household income has consistently risen across the United States but general happiness across the same time period among adults and adolescents is approaching an all-time low.

The point of all this? Your job should be bigger than the bottom line. Decide on the amount of money you need to be happy and to support yourself and your family before you let the highest bidder make your decisions for you.

How we think about money has a greater effect on us than the quantity of it we actually have. In other words, it comes down to prioritizing your values. As Angus pointed out over questions on how this sharp happiness plateau could occur at around $75,000/year, he noted that well-being depends on things like the ability to spend time with those we love. And no amount of money has ever bought a second of time. It is clear that there are things we need beyond the scope of money. Find out what they are, and the price you are willing to exchange for them. 

2. Career Development

When you accept a job, you make a commitment to fully invest into an organization or team. So, gauging your return on investment should be a top priority when choosing a job. Beyond the monetary, how does your organization invest in you? What opportunities does your organization have within and beyond itself for you to develop as a professional? Does it provide stability alongside opportunity? Will this organization challenge you and allow you to expand and assume more responsibility? What kind of training and mentoring will you receive? What kind of network can you build? Will it connect you to the right people?

What's in it for me is not the right attitude to have. That’s not what this is. Career development within a job is about answering the question how can I get better? The better we are, the more we can contribute. Most of your decisions up to this point had a purpose. What school you chose, the major you declared, internships you took, certifications you earned, research you studied, previous jobs — all of these aligned with a vision you developed. Will this organization keep you on the right trajectory? Your job should provide a valuable experience that is full of exposure to resources, repetition, and relationships that equip you to hone your skills, further your knowledge, and become a coveted asset in your field. 

Look for:

  • Sound mentoring, instruction, and job training
  • Skill development 
  • Exposure to innovative technology
  • Exposure to new philosophies, strategies, and techniques 
  • Educational curriculums and opportunities
  • Research opportunities 
  • Application and hands-on learning
  • Opportunity for promotion
  • Opportunity for contribution and expansion of current practices, resources, and services
  • Certifications
  • Memberships
  • Networking 
  • Stability 

Make sure your job invests in you the way you intend to invest in it. 

3. Sense of Purpose

In a profession with big logos, catchphrases, slogans, and media presence, this can be the hardest criteria to evaluate from the outside, but nothing will contribute to your success and satisfaction more. Research shows that we are most energized when we are contributing to a cause bigger than ourselves. That is what this criterion covers.

What are you accomplishing working for this organization? Are you adding value? Are you doing something significant? Do you believe in what you are doing? Do you believe in what the organization is doing? Do you believe in who you are doing it with? And for? Ask yourself if this job values what you value. 

It is important to get to know the person for whom you are working. The character and convictions of the leaders in your organization often directly reflect the culture of the organization as a whole and the caliber of the staff you will be working alongside. Do these people value what you value? Are there strong relationships in the building amongst staff and departments? Is there a shared vision and mission? Organizations with higher work satisfaction outperform low satisfaction organizations by over 200%. So, what’s the temperament of your organization? What kind of environment will you be walking into? Will you enjoy it?

Here are some facts. Places with the highest life expectancies across the world have been studied to identify the common factors that separate them from the rest (some of these will be discussed in the next section as well). There are two important evidence-based factors that apply here. These are cited as pillars in the lives of those who live expectantly over 100 years:

  1. Knowing why you wake up in the morning (purpose)
  2. Having the right tribe (a strong social circle that supports healthy behavior)

These not only influence the quality of your life but its longevity. You are going to put one-third of your life into early mornings and late nights as a coach (probably more). Make sure that how you do it and who you do it with, is enjoyable and worth something transformational and permanent in the end. Something that ripples after you are gone. You will be better for it and so will the people around you. To quote Albert Pine, “what we do for ourselves dies with us. But what we do for others and the world remains and is immortal”. You will never see a U-Haul truck behind a hearse. We aren’t taking anything with us. Our legacy is composed of what we leave behind for others and what we leave behind in others. Who we stood with and what we stood for is here to stay. Make it count.

4. Personal Life

You have found a job that pays well, you are passionate about it, and it’s great for your sprouting career. There's only one problem. What about the rest of your life? You’ll spend a third of it at work, a third of it asleep, and what is left is reserved for your family, travel, dining, leisure activity, and anything else you want to do. What kind of time do you want to have outside of work? What life events are you willing to miss? Do you want to work long hours year-round? This is perhaps the most difficult criteria to manage in our field. Coaches are not on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. It does not matter what level you are coaching at, don’t expect it to be. Time must be explicitly managed, like money. And we have less of it than we think. 

Here are a few other factors that increase our well-being and life expectancy:

  1. Loved ones first (keeping relatives nearby, committing to a life partner, investing in children)
  2. Faith-based involvement (attending faith-based services) 
  3. Downshifting (daily routines to relax and relieve stress)
  4. Moving naturally (environments that promote organic and constant activity…think hiking, not back and biceps at the gym)

How many of these things have we traded away? 

No question short-term circumstances and certain periods in your career and education demand that some of these things suffer. There are points where you must put your head down, neglect some things, and just go. But I have seen how easy it is to forget to pick your head back up. 

In the long run, what on that list are we willing to miss for a job? Is it worth it? How about in 50 years when you are looking back at your life? These are questions you must think carefully about as you budget your time and marry your job. 

You must do what is necessary, especially when you are young. Rise early, go to bed after others, but set boundaries. Remember Parkinson’s law — work always fills up into the time allotted to do it. You will never reach the end of your work. Take care of your responsibilities, complete your work at a high level, and be efficient and thorough but don’t waste time. The most impressive careers are the ones where your kids get to have dinner with you.

There is a quote by Mother Teresa that will always sit on my desk to remind me of these things, “if you want to change the world, go home and love your family”.


Criteria 1 - Money

Consider the salary, benefits, bonuses, and incentives that come with your job. It is ok to want a job that pays well or even really well. Just remember why it is that you want that. There may be a point of diminishing returns when other criteria should become the focus and drive your decision.

Criteria 2 - Career Development

Career development within a job is about answering the question how can I get better? Will this organization keep you on the right trajectory? Make sure your job matches your investment and prepares you as a professional.

Criteria 3 - Sense of Purpose

We are most useful at the intersection of our passion and the needs of others. Find something worth doing and stick to it come hell or high water. Believe in what you do and make sure those around you share your convictions, principles, and values.

Criteria 4 - Personal Life

What kind of time do you want to have outside of work? What life events are you willing to miss? Your time must be explicitly managed. Remember Parkinson’s law. Decide what things are worth filling up your time. Be present for the things that matter most.

It is our disposition, not our position, that determines our happiness. There is no perfect job, nor will this process happen all at once. Be patient and understand that you are going to have to make sacrifices, it is inevitable. This framework is ultimately to make sure that you know what you are sacrificing. Commit to a job and to people that make you come alive. Demand much of yourself, have high expectations, act with conviction, and enjoy the process. The more criteria met, the better. It won’t be easy, but with the right people, the right attitudes, and intentions, it will be quite a run.

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