I’ve been writing about the similarities between engaging in an effective work search and conducting a research study since… well, last week. In that post, I outlined a few operational definitions that I’ve found to be helpful perspective-shifters for those seeking jobs. Today, I want to discuss another essential step in the research process—arguably the most important step—that sheds additional light on the process of job seeking: the research question.
Okay, so if I had thought this whole thing through a little more carefully, I probably would have written about the research question before I wrote about operational definitions, but it was only after last week’s post that I decided to try to make a series out of this idea. The order should be reversed: a solid research question is the absolute first thing that researchers need in order to get their study off the ground, with defining variables being the next step. (I do hope you’ll forgive me.)
There’s nothing complicated about a research question; it simply sets out that which the research will investigate. It is the question that the study hopes to answer, or at least to contribute to an eventual answer. The question can be broad and aimed toward exploration—most likely lending itself toward qualitative research—just as it can be narrow and geared at explanation, in which case a quantitative design is more likely warranted.
The important thing is that the nature of the question—exactly what is being asked, and how it’s being asked—fundamentally affects whatever answers you might uncover. As we’re about to find out, the same is true in the realm of career exploration. For example, let’s say you wanted to do research on student stress around midterm season. You could formulate a question like, “What are the contributing factors to student stress during midterms at Canadian post-secondary institutions?” Or, you could ask something like, “To what extent does stress affect performance on midterms among Canadian post-secondary students?” Finally, you could also ask something like, “How do university students experience stress during exam periods?”
Both the process and the results of the above three studies will vary greatly, even though they’re all studying the same phenomenon: student stress during midterms.
So, here’s the question this article is hoping to answer: what does this mean for your career exploration and job search?
It’s simple, really. Just as researchers need a question to get them started on designing and implementing their study, anyone interested in career development needs a question to inspire the thoughts and actions they take toward their exploration efforts. Here are a few questions that students have shared with me:
How do I get out of retail?
How do I find something I like?
What direction to go in?
How do I believe in myself?
What options are out there that use my degree?
What are some other things that I would be good at?
Who am I?
What do I want to do?
Where can I go from here with my BA?
….And the ever-popular:
What am I going to do with my life?
Believe it or not, these questions are all associated with slightly different thoughts and actions. Even the difference between using the words how and what is significant. As you can probably tell from looking at some of the above questions, some are more goal-motivated than others, some are more exploratory, and some are more action-oriented.
Knowing what you’re looking for makes it that much easier to recognize when you come across it. Asking the right question(s) provides you with the structure you need to figure out what you’re looking for.
In a similar way, asking appropriate questions in your job search allows you to work on things like resumes, cover letters and interviews more effectively. If nothing else, give some thought to “How do I fit with this organization?” and “What contributions can I make in this position?”
Before you jump in looking for answers, know what your question is.