Reimagining the Job Search: Prioritizing Work Environment before Role

Author: Shamis Pitts

The article, Reimagining the Job Search: Prioritizing Work Environment before Role, by Shamis Pitts, originally appeared in NCDA’s web magazine, Career Convergence, at
Copyright © February 2023.  Reprinted with permission.


Job searches often focus on finding the best job fit without substantive consideration for the best organizational fit. This article unpacks how starting with the end in mind – understanding what an ideal work environment looks like – can help clients think more holistically about identifying roles within organizations where they can thrive.

Job seekers often spend countless hours combing multiple job boards and reviewing roles in search of their next opportunity. Over time, job descriptions have expanded to include the proverbial kitchen sink to the point where it is often challenging for candidates to assess whether they should apply. Questions job seekers ask themselves include, “Do I have enough of what the organization is looking for, or too much? Will I be happy there?”

When job seekers over-focus on job roles and neglect understanding the environment within which they will be working, they miss the opportunity to think about the future. The goal should not only be obtaining a job, but also staying and thriving in a job. Therefore, intentionally designing a job search around exploring and identifying organizational context can increase the likelihood of an individual opting into a role where they can be engaged, satisfied, and stay. Career professionals can help job seekers with reimagining the job search.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM, 2022) 2021-2022 State of the Workplace Study, US workers and their HR counterparts agree on two of the top levers that need improvement with respect to talent management: retaining top talent and maintaining employee morale and engagement. Retaining top talent and employee engagement are two sides to the same coin. There is a clear “win-win” to resolve this conundrum.

Employee engagement consists of three key factors: (Nishi, 2018)

1. psychological meaningfulness
2. psychological safety
3. psychological availability

When these three factors exist, they create an employee’s ideal work environment. SHRM defines an effective workplace as one in which “its design, practices and policies must benefit both the organization and its employees” such that the employees “are highly engaged and satisfied and who plan to remain with the organization” (SHRM, 2017, 1)


Seven Components of an Effective Workplace

Integrating SHRM’s Effective Workplace Index into a client’s career search conversation can open up possibilities for helping the client identify target organizations and/or the sorts of questions they would want to ask within an informational or formal interview. The seven (7) components are as follows:

1. Job Challenge and Learning Opportunities
2. Autonomy
3. Satisfaction with Wages, Benefits and Opportunities to Advance
4. Culture of Respect, Trust and Belonging
5. Co-worker Support for Job Success
6. Supervisor Support for Job Success
7. Work-Life Fit

How the seven components can be integrated into a client’s career search are explained below according to their relevant engagement factor. The ideal outcome is for a client to frame their ideal work environment and articulate what is important to them, creating a roadmap for success that they can use as a powerful job search tool.

Psychological meaningfulness is defined by whether an employee feels compelled to be engaged in and be motivated by their work. A role filled with Job Challenge and Learning Opportunities means that the job not only leverages the employee’s existing skills in a way that they won’t get bored but also provides access to assignments that will help the individual continue to stretch and grow. Employees also enjoy the ability to act with Autonomy, having clear line of sight into which decisions they are empowered to make about how and when work gets done without approval. Additionally, Satisfaction with Wages, Benefits and Opportunities to Advance speaks to an employee’s desire to be compensated equitably for the work performed, to have clarity around promotion criteria and what it will take to move forward and to have access to a benefit offering that meets their personal needs.

Psychological safety refers to whether an employee feels free and safe to be themselves without concern about being harmed. An organization and a work team that embody a Culture of Respect, Trust and Belonging is foundational for an employee to feel that way and do their best work. This culture is reinforced positively or negatively each day through each interaction.

Co-worker Support for Job Success and Supervisor Support for Job Success naturally intersect across psychological meaningfulness and psychological safety. The collaboration that must occur with an employee’s manager, peers, and direct reports are imperative to get work done. And there is no collaboration without effective communication. Therefore, the existence or absence of clear, constructive discussions around shared goals, what is or is not working, and how to move forward requires an ability to safely speak up and have conversations that may be difficult.

Psychological availability speaks to whether an employee has the capacity to engage at work. Work-Life Fit aligns with this factor as it reflects how important it is for an employee to thrive and maintain a high-level of wellbeing, both physical and mental. People desire access to the resources required to do their work and confidently complete the objectives. Having the ability to design their schedule in a way that sets them up for success is also key. Finally, employees want to operate without being in a perpetual state of overwhelm or stress. Now more than ever, wellbeing is a must-have not a nice-to-have for employee productivity and engagement.


Helping the Client Identify the Ideal Work Environment

Ideally, a career coach will explore each of the seven components alongside the client, guiding them through an exercise, similar to the one presented below, to support the client’s identification of what an ideal work environment looks like based on their individual wants and needs.

1. What is the relative importance of each Effective Workplace Index component? Rank all 7.
2. For each component discuss:

● What is most important to you within this component? (There can be more than one.)
● How will you know when you experience those things? What does that look like?
● How can you obtain information to gain the clarity you seek?
● If you were to meet someone who works at the prospective organization, what question(s) would you ask to gain insight into what is important to you?
● How would you evaluate that person’s response?

Finally, a client should determine whether the work they want to perform is particular to a certain industry or can be applied across industries. For example, if they have a functional expertise in data science, organizations within many different industries hire for that role. However, if their expertise is specifically within health informatics, they would create a targeted list of organizations within industries like hospitals, healthcare or insurance.  Overall, this approach to the career search takes time, intention, and preparation on the front end. The job seeker’s end result can be greater engagement and job satisfaction, as well as an increased probability of retention.



Nishi, L. (2018). Improving engagement. Cornell University.

Society for Human Resource Management [SHRM]. (2015). SHRM’s effective workplace index: Creating a workplace that works for employees and employers. (Executive Summary).

Society for Human Resource Management [SHRM]. (2017). SHRM’s effective workplace index. (Brochure).

Society for Human Resource Management [SHRM]. (2022). State of the workplace study: 2021-2022.

Comments (0)


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *