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Wendy Cornett -- You spent months combing the classifieds and surfing the Web for that "perfect" job. You nailed the interview. The potential earnings and advancement sealed the deal. You accepted the offer with earnest enthusiasm.

That was six months ago. Now the pairing you thought was kismet has turned out to be catastrophic. Meanwhile, a colleague in the next cubicle thrives. What did you do differently?

Chances are, it's what you didn't do that cost you your job satisfaction.

Before opening the paper, logging on to the Internet or running off 200 copies of a resume, job seekers should strike a lotus position and do some serious soul-searching -- literally.

"People spend too much time evaluating potential opportunities, and not enough time evaluating themselves and what's important to them," says Celia Crossley, career strategist and owner of Celia D. Crossley & Associates in Columbus, Ohio. "A little reflective time speeds up the job search because you know what's important to you." Self-discovery not only saves time, it also helps to reduce a job seeker's chances of making the wrong decision.

To help clients determine what brings them professional satisfaction, Crossley uses an exercise in values. Supplying clients with a list of 15 common values, Crossley asks them to pinpoint their top five. The list includes friendship, location, enjoyment, loyalty, family, independence, leadership, achievement, self-realization, wealth, expertness, service, prestige, security and power. The client must determine which of their top five, if any, are supported by or shared by the employer. Where Crossley witnesses alignment, she sees a potential for career satisfaction and success.

People dissatisfied with a recent job move or those adversely affected by a merger or change in management can use this exercise to help determine whether or not their situation is salvageable.

Crossley recommends that, at the very least, an employee needs to find an alignment among two of their top five values.

One recent values assessment that Crossley conducted with executives from a small, growing Columbus company revealed that each manager aligned five out of five values. The company, Crossley says, is growing by 17 percent.

"I keep seeing this pattern," she says. "When you see four, or five out of five values in alignment, you see successes."

Conversely, Crossley recently assisted someone whose values were in alignment with those of the company, but who still considered moving on because of a recent management change. A decision of this kind, she noted, should not be taken lightly.

"If you're two or three years from being fully vested and there's a management change, just recognizing and acknowledging the facts can help you find ways to work it out," Crossley says.

Crossley refers to her process of values assessment and self-discovery as "doing your due diligence."

"This means doing your own personal homework to make sure the facts and figures align with what's important to you," she explains.

As in personal relationships, occasional periods of discontent do not constitute a mismatch. This is when it's time to refer to the values assessment for reassurance.

"Never change jobs on emotion," Crossley adds. "Do your due diligence before deciding upon any transition."

Consider time spent on introspection as a valuable investment toward building a satisfying professional future.

"A job paying $50,000 annually turns into a $1 million investment in 20 years," Crossley says. "No venture capitalist would give you $1 million without a plan."

Once you've done your due diligence, it's time to make sure the potential employer has done the same. Crossley recommends that all candidates ask about expectations.

"Once the job has been offered," she says, "but prior to accepting it, ask the hiring manager the following question: 'Let's say I've been on the job for six months. You're telling me I'm doing a wonderful job. What would I have accomplished?'"

If the question isn't answered to your satisfaction, it might be best to pass this one up. "You can't deliver unless someone has well-defined expectations," she says. And likewise, "Unless you have your own criteria, you're likely to make another mistake."

Whether you achieve self-discovery privately through meditation or by seeking help from a professional career adviser, what's important is that you define your values, refer to your list from time to time and update it when circumstances change.

The secret to any successful relationship is determining exactly what you want, and then finding it.

"We spend a lot of our week in that (work) relationship," Crossley says. "If it doesn't make us happy, we're not productive."

Wendy Cornett is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio. She worked for The Columbus Dispatch for six years following a four-year stint in corporate communications. She is a member of YourWriters.

(c) 2002 CareerBuilder.com

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