Treat Job Hunting Like Home Buying—Here’s How

Big decisions in life have a lot in common. And though it may not seem like it on the surface, job hunting is a huge life decision. It dictates how you will spend your days, whom you will spend them with, and how much money you’ll earn to pay for the lifestyle you choose to have. We treat job hunting like a necessary evil, and it some ways it is. But it’s also a series of actions that we shouldn’t take lightly.

In several ways, job hunting is like buying a house. You look for the right location, the right features, the right price. But you also approach it with a bit of touchy feely, too: how does it feel when you’re there? Does it support your dreams? (A friend of mine and her husband are empty nesters next year, and they are thinking about moving. The wife wants a garden. The husband wants a condo downtown. I pray for them to find peace.)

When you’re looking for a new job, keep these things in mind before making any huge commitments.

Price Yourself Like a House

If you’ve never bought or sold a house before, here’s some background: you price a house based on the going prices of comparable sales in the neighboring areas around you. You look for similar square footage, quality, features like pools or school districts, etc. You put together your list of comps and you’ll find a range of prices. You want to find the happy place where you as the seller feel like you’ve made a good investment but not so high that your house sits on the market for months (or years!)

The same is true in job hunting. You need to get on a site like Glassdoor and figure out what someone in your location with your skill set, level (individual contributor, manager, etc.), and years of experience is earning. A software engineer in Palo Alto, California is not comparable to a software engineer in Big Nowhere, Indiana, so be realistic and wary. If you see numbers that are clear outliers, ignore them.

Also? You need to hold fast to your number. Unless there are good reasons that you believe you have priced yourself too high (like changes in the economy, changes in the workforce, etc.) don’t be bullied into accepting a lowball offer. Give yourself time to be on the market at your goal price. And if too much time goes by, only then reconsider if you’ve priced yourself appropriately for your market and demographic.

Target Jobs In Your Salary Range

After you’ve figured out your range, find your sweet spot and aim for that. And don’t fall for that old, bad advice that says, “The first person to name a number loses.” As a job seeker, you must broach the salary question. You cannot afford not to know what a job is worth to the hiring manager. If you believe yourself to be worth $50,000 and the job won’t pay more than $32,000, it’s a waste of your time (and theirs) to go in for an interview. If they won’t give you a hard number, you need to tell them your range, and then ask if the job sits comfortably in that range.

You wouldn’t waste your time looking at houses that are $100,000 outside your budget. Even if you could make the payments, you probably couldn’t afford the rest of your lifestyle. The term for this is called being “house poor.” Similarly, don’t waste time applying for jobs with a salary cap that’s too low for you. Even if you could live off the paycheck, you wouldn’t be able to gain the lifestyle you want. And happiness matters.

You Make All Your Money Up Front

This is a big one, and too many people don’t realize this. But when you buy a house, you buy low and sell high, right? That’s the traditional wisdom. But in order to sell high, (whatever that means for you), you have to get in on the ground floor at a price that feels comfortable–and preferably on the low side of your comfort zone. You cannot control the housing market, and there’s no telling how home prices will fluctuate in the future. In order to improve the odds that you get more out than you put in, you need to put in as little as possible. How much you buy the house for ultimately determines how much you’ll make from its sale.

The same is true with getting a job. How much you ultimately make from this transaction depends on what you enter at the beginning, just like buying a house.  You cannot count on getting a raise, cost of living increase, or a promotion. So if you are looking to make money, you have to go in at the right price. Remember: the employer wants to buy your labor at a low price and yet get as much out of your as possible. But you know the value of your services: don’t be bullied. Go in at a price you’re comfortable with, because that might be your earnings for another three or four years to come. Don’t settle for a salary you can’t live with, and don’t compromise with yourself about what you really need to be satisfied in your life.

Do a Walk Through, and Case the Neighborhood

Before you make any commitments to any job, make sure you get a good look at it first. Go to the office. Are people eating lunch at their desks? Are they chatting in the break room? Are the cubes comfortable? Are the bathrooms well maintained? You’re going to be spending a lot of time here; it’s in your interest to make sure the environs are sound. Explore the neighborhood. Can you walk to lunch? Will you feel comfortable being here alone at night? Are there good places to take a walk, go for coffee, catch a bus or train? Consider all of these things before you take a job. And remember: if either the office or the neighborhood have big red flags for you, negotiate a higher salary to make up the difference. If they won’t budge, it’s up to you to decide whether these comforts are deal breakers for you.