How to Research Your Commute

Few things are as challenging as looking for work. Making smart decisions involves a host of variables that may be quite contradictory. Figuring out where you want to work next involves balancing location (where you work), occupation (what you do), compensation (what you make), and availability (what jobs are open).

The earliest stages of the job hunt are a lot like a game of MadLibs™. For starters, fill in the following blanks in this simple CareerMadLib:

I want to be a(n)  (name of occupation)   working in  (name of location)   making   (annual salary) .

Think About What Means the Most to You

One way of thinking about it is that these three aspects (occupation, location, and, salary) are ingredients that can be mixed in many different ways. For example, you might be willing to make less money to work in the ‘perfect’ job. Or, you might be willing to do a job you don’t like as much in order to be closer to home.

Researching career opportunities is a form of the Goldilocks problem. For Ms. Locks, the question was how to find the thing that was just right. In her case, there was always just one facet to get right (the temperature of the porridge or the firmness of the bed). In career development, you have to solve multiple, simultaneous versions of that problem.

Unfortunately, computers are really bad at questions that have imprecise answers. Job search engines of all stripes would rather that you know exactly what you want. That way, they can give you exact answers. The problem is that exact answers don’t necessarily help.

Let’s say your CareerMadLib reads:

I want to be a photographer working in Massillon, OH making $60,000/year.

At the time of this writing, there were no jobs for photographers in Massillon. The closest jobs found online were in Cleveland, over an hour away. At this point, you must consider how much time you want to spend commuting.

Breaking Down Commuting Scenarios

The average commute time in the US (according to the Census Bureau) is about 25 minutes. Public Radio Station WNYC publishes an interactive map that allows you to see the average in your zip code. In Massillon, the average commute is about 21 minutes.

Taking a photographer’s job in Cleveland would mean spending 10 hours per week commuting… up early, home late, and all of the family sacrifice that implies. Meanwhile, your neighbors spend a little over 3 hours per week. In order to have a job as a photographer, you’d need to spend nearly a full 8 hour shift in your car more than the rest of your neighborhood. That’s a lot of lost free time.

At this point in your research, you may want to broaden the occupation dimension of your search. Let’s say that you are not interested in spending 7 extra hours a week in your car (with all of the wear, tear and expense). Instead, you’d like to find a job related to photography within 21 minutes of your home.

Not all jobs can be found from an armchair search of the internet. Between 30% and 80% (depending on who you ask) of all jobs are not advertised at all. Internet searches are great for getting the lay of the land. The real work involves networking and actual research in the real world.

The How Far Can I Travel tool from Free Map Tools will show you how far you can travel in your desired commute time. With this information in hand, identify likely businesses within your desired commute radius.

Companies that may need a photographer on staff include internet marketing companies, professional photographers, real estate agencies, large car dealers, architects, appraisers, resorts, wedding planners, newspapers, social media consultants, and sporting goods stores. Companies that offer services related to photography include fashion retail, arts and crafts, artists’ collectives, framing services, camera stores, electronics resellers.

Sometimes, taking a job that’s related to your heart’s desire can get you in place for an opportunity when it opens up.

Balance Is Key

Looking for the right job is a balancing act. The combination of location, occupation and compensation is a good way to start looking. With those three things in mind, you can narrow your search in one dimension wile expanding it in another. Remember Goldilocks.

The thing to remember is that the clearer you can be about what you want and where you have flexibility, the more likely you are to be successful.


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