4 mins

Prioritizing your wants and needs to make sure your next career move is the right one.

Many people are looking for new roles right now. Spurred by layoffs, location changes, leadership’s missteps during COVID, and so much more—so many folks are asking themselves: what do I want in a new role? How can I make sure I find the right place? Where do I even start?

When I coach those who are considering job and role changes, I ask them to make four lists:

  1. MUST-haves. These are the non-negotiables. This list will be unique to you, your context, and what you need going forward. If you’d take a job that didn’t have one of the things in this list, then it belongs in the next list: nice-to-haves.
  2. Nice-to-haves. Thinking about the next job or role, what are the things that are really important to you? The things that you really want to acquire, or achieve? You recognize that you won’t be able to have ALL of these things in your next role, but if one or two aren’t there (but all the rest of your must-haves and nice-to-haves are there), you’ll take the job.
  3. Don’t-cares. These are the things that might matter a lot to other people, or have mattered to you in the past (and may matter again for you in the future!), but aren’t a requirement for you in this next role.
  4. I’m optimizing for. This is a one-liner that sums up your must-haves. At the end of the day, what is the #1 thing you are optimizing for, above EVERYTHING else? What’s the #1 thing that you cannot budge on?

I recommend drawing a 2x2 table, then filling in each list as you brainstorm:

1) Must haves:

2) Nice to haves:

3) Don’t care:

4) I’m optimizing for ___.

Or: I’m optimizing for [#1 most important thing] even over [other really important thing].


Notice that this approach doesn’t explicitly ask you to identify the job title you want. It’s easy to get stuck in a title-first job search, and our industry is notorious for having titles that mean different things at different organizations. Take a step back and think about each of these four lists instead, remembering that they can be found in different titles at different organizations.

This approach also means that though you’ll have a short list of must-haves, you acknowledge that you will likely need to budge on at least one of your nice-to-haves. Any job change will mean tradeoffs; your “I’m optimizing for…” statement will help you reason about those tradeoffs and ensure that your next step is towards the #1 most important thing for you.

Want some inspiration? Here are some real-life lists (shortened for anonymity):

1) Must haves:

• A leadership team I want to work with.
• At least the same salary that I’m currently earning.

2) Nice to haves:

• Working on a product that will grow
• Tech-first approach, or a healthy product/eng relationship
• Diversity in leadership
• Remote-first

3) Don’t cares:

• Stage of company
• Size of company
• Can be a product or engineering role

4) I’m optimizing for liking and respecting the leadership team even over my ability to grow my skills in the next role


1) Must haves:

• Flexible work hours
• Won't need to relocate

2) Nice to haves:

• A step up/promotion
• Progressive parental leave + PTO policies
• Ability to hire my own team/shape team culture
• A manager I can learn from
• Utilizes my existing experience + skill sets

3) Don’t cares:

• Established product culture/relationship
• Increase in salary

4) I’m optimizing for surviving parenting during COVID


1) Must haves:

• A manager I trust
• Having the resources (time, team, logistics) to get my projects done

2) Nice to haves:

• Peers I can learn from
• Professional development budget
• 20% higher salary
• Culture of feedback
• Flexible work hours
• Transparency from leadership

3) Don’t cares:

• How hierarchical the organization is
• How much good the company is doing

4) I’m optimizing for recovering from burnout


As you embark on your job hunt, keep your “optimizing for” statement front-and-center. Put it on a sticky note next to your laptop! Share it with the people you trust, so that they can remind you of it. 

When you start interviewing and making decisions about what you want to do next, ask yourself: would this actually help me achieve what I’m optimizing for? If you need to make a decision between two really great roles, ask yourself: which of these helps me with what I’m optimizing for most?

Remember: your four lists will be unique to you, where you are in your career, and what you need in this season. While lots of advice out there asks you to think about what you want in your job three or five years from now, I’m finding that long-term future-thinking is less helpful in the current climate. It’s important to acknowledge what you need today, and recognize that what you need will evolve in the future.

Set your future self up for success by articulating and optimizing for the #1 most important thing for you today.