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On Finding Meaningful Work

14 July 2017 , by Matthew Sturgess

Hey, I’m Matt and I work as a Talent Advisor at OfferZen.

I’m part of the human side of the platform: I support software developers throughout their job search. This looks different for each person. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving them advice on setting a reasonable salary expectation. Other times, it’s helping devs understand how to market themselves, communicate well with companies and help them to get a better understanding of what they want to get out of their next job.

Finding meaningful work is hard!

Finding a role that you’re excited about day in, day out is incredibly difficult. There is an overwhelming number of things you can do with your life and a plethora of different companies and roles. It’s important not to get demotivated at the sheer thought of the process.

Why? Finding a job that makes you tick can really change the way you see and live your life. But it takes a lot of effort. Half-hearted job searches won’t get you there and there will be plenty of rejection to deal with - better spend all that energy on something you really want! I have experienced this personally.

My peers and friends have been taken aback by how much enthusiasm I have for my Talent Advisor role. Being surrounded by smart and passionate people who are ambitiously driving the success of their vision pushes me to learn and grow continuously. It makes me think that we can achieve anything - quite a contrast to my previous experiences and a great way to go into every single day.

Matt’s manic days

The reason OfferZen’s mission resonates with me so much is that I was just about to give up hope.

To give you an idea, this is how my two years before OfferZen looked: Johannesburg. Quit job. Moved to Cape Town. Started own business. Failed. New job. Wrong industry. Quit job. Sold car to go to Spain. Visa trouble because - well, unemployed. New Job. Helped with the visa but destroyed my soul. (Spain was great).


I finally decided it was time to find something better than just a pay bump and went on a series of interviews with a bunch of really great tech companies, but got rejected several times. Not so great. Then I took a job that was better aligned with my personal aspirations but paid a pittance so that I had to quit again. I started remotely selling classified ads in a procurement directory to UK companies. (I know.) This paid the bills but also brought on a panic attack or two. Then, finally, came OfferZen.


As you can imagine, this period of my life was incredibly unfulfilling, exhausting and demoralising. I was always on the lookout for greener pastures. My head was in the clouds. I rarely put my energy and focus into specific tasks. I clocked in at 8am, out at 5pm. I wasn’t learning a new skillset or had the motivation to do more than what was expected. My main objective was to fly under the radar and focus on getting through one day at a time.

Seven jobs in the space of about two years and at least twice as many rejections. Being told “no”, over and over - this really took a toll.

Rejection applied

I’m now working with a company, brand and team that I’m proud to be part of. Thanks to the journey it took me to get here, I’m also better equipped to help others find meaningful work. Here are some of the things I learned:

Interviewing isn’t just for finding jobs

In order to find what was right for me, I needed to work through a lot of what was wrong. I went to many interviews for various roles at all kinds of companies. This allowed me to practice talking people through my experience, picking the impressive and glossing over the grit.

This way, I built up confidence in my interviewing skills and got a good idea of the jobs that are out there. It also really helped me to become aware of my own weaknesses and use this awareness as an advantage: Being honest about your capabilities helps you to gain trust and sets you up for finding an environment where growth is encouraged.

No interview is a waste of time if the objective is to simply learn more about the process of interviewing. Take note of what sort of questions interviewers ask you, as you’ll likely come up against similar questions in other interviews.

Since this isn’t being taught at schools, the only way to get really good is to practice, right?

Tell your story

In the interviews I went on, I was almost always asked to run them through my experience. With such an open-ended question, it’s easy to slip into “I started doing X, left to do Y (see my madness paragraph) and now I’m here because I want to grow.”

After a while, I turned this into a captivating story about a rollercoaster-search for meaningful work, delivering concrete examples of all the times I managed to stand out despite the circumstances. For this, I would write out a chronological list of all things I was proud of before the interview. Then I’d take my prep with me to guide my story and make sure I didn’t forget things.

Remember: No one ever said you can’t take your interview prep with you, yet most people don’t.

Interviews are there for you to showcase who you are, so make it interesting and personal. Bringing your prep with you also shows - you might have guessed it - that you have spent time and effort to be well prepared.

Figure out if it's a fit for you

Initially, I often made the mistake of spending too much time researching the company I was interviewing with and not enough time thinking about why I wanted to work there or what data I’d need to figure that out.

Slow down, ask yourself why.

Why are you going for interviews? What’s missing in what you currently do and what motivates you? Ask companies to give you examples of what it’s like to work with them. Maybe even go and talk to some of the employees about their experience. Don’t be shy to ask companies if you can spend some time with them, if they want you, they’ll be happy to take the time.

Going for interviews is not just for companies to see whether you are a fit for them. It is also for you to see whether you want to spend your every day in this specific environment.

Get companies to really show you what they are about. If you then get an offer, you already know whether they’re right for you or not.

Utilize your rejection

In the space of a month, I did a total of 8 interviews for 3 companies and none of them offered me a job.

Rejection definitely isn’t great for one’s self confidence. It does however offer a great chance to see patterns and recognise where you can most improve. Take the time to reflect on how each of your interviews went and write down a bit of a summary. Ask companies for honest feedback but also honestly evaluate yourself.

Ask the companies in question for detailed feedback. Without an honest evaluation of what went right and wrong, you don’t gain anything from your time.

Build a network

In addition, interviewing is a great way to build up your professional network - I would never have known about the opening at OfferZen had it not been for someone who had previously rejected me. Despite my non-fit for the role, we both enjoyed meeting each other and kept in touch on occasion. This ended up paying off greatly as the same person ended up recommending me to OfferZen a few months later.

This is why it’s super important to approach all your communication with companies in a professional and friendly way. You never know when you’ll bump into the same person again.

In short: Know your why

It took me a long time to start looking in the right places, rather than just chasing a better salary or cooler offices. I often applied to jobs without any consideration for my own fulfilment. The truth is, if you handle jobs as a means to an end that’s all they ever will be.

Devs often tell me they are very happy with what they do but just don’t feel valued by the company. The crazy thing is, most of the time they haven’t ever tried to ask for what they want!

  • If you feel underappreciated or underpaid, then speak up about it. Chances are quite high that your work is more than willing to accommodate you or find a compromise in order to keep you happy and on the team.
  • Try to fix your problems before running from them: Make sure it’s really a new work environment that you want and not just a change of the current status quo. If you have already tried point 1 and are still unhappy, maybe it really is time to go look for a new opportunity. It’s just important to really make the effort.
  • Sometimes you just need a change of scenery, and that’s ok too! (That’s what OfferZen is there for ;))

Remember that fulfilment takes effort, patience and persistence. All too often, there is such an overwhelming number of considerations that making no decision at all becomes the easiest choice. That will only leave you feeling stagnant and frustrated.

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