Many people have broad and extensive work skills and experience, which can make it difficult to decide what to do next. You may think that everyone but you have solid long-term plans that they are following. In fact, most careers are somewhat accidental. Opportunities arise and disappear, life often intervenes, so we do the best we can to make our way through the maze.
Focus on the next, small step
If you are between jobs, or simply feel a need to move on to something different, hopefully better, there is some exploration you can do to help you find your focus. This is quite important, because the clearer you can get about what you want next, the more likely you are to get it.
Put your career search emphasis is on what comes next, not on “what should I do with the rest of my life?’ which is simply too big a burden to bear. You may have noticed that everything just keeps shifting no matter how hard you try to find solid ground; it seems to be the nature of life. And it’s certainly the nature of work anymore. It’s fine to have a master plan, but it will inevitably be composed of many puzzle pieces, and not all of them are on the table.
Start with reflection
There are actions you can take to gain clarity about your next move, some of them reflective, and some of them involving others. Start by reviewing your past. When were you the happiest at work? What were you doing? What were the characteristics of the organization? What are the accomplishments of which you are most proud? You can include experiences outside of work – they matter too. Go all the way back; what did you want to do for work when you were very young? And for fun?
You can also remember the times when you were the least satisfied at work. What was causing you pain? What did you learn from it? Sometimes we get the most enduring and valuable lessons from the most difficult circumstances, although we usually understand that much later. Surviving seemingly unsurmountable challenges, even if you would not necessarily call the results successful, does create strength and wisdom you can take with you into your future.
Learn about yourself
Review your strengths. There are numerous tools such as Clifton Strengthfinders, 16Personalities, or Personal Strengths Inventory by Truity to help you do this. Once you take the assessment, it can be helpful to have someone coach you through understanding how your strengths and personality characteristics can help you in your work. It’s also good to have someone with whom you can brainstorm your ideas in confidence.
It’s a good exercise to remind yourself of the value you bring to any position you take, and to remember your victories. Not just for your confidence, but also when you begin discussing what you want to do with members of your personal and professional networks, and of course, when you begin interviewing.
Do you feel like your work needs to have meaning and provide some social value? If so, give that some thought and conduct a value check to see what matters most to you. It can be wonderful to match your personal mission to that of an organization that shares it, or something close to it. Sometimes feeling like you’re participating in something important in the world that brings benefit can be highly motivating, and matter even more than your salary.
Find a match
Look at lots of job descriptions that interest you to see what’s out there now, and take note of the language they use. You’ll want to mimic keywords in your applications and cover letters. Often, you can translate experiences you’ve had into their equivalent in a different company or even industry, so identifying and articulating transferable skills in appropriate language is important. Notice if there are qualifications for what you think you want to do that you don’t currently have, and see what you need to do to acquire those additional skills or certifications.
Identify people who are in the profession or companies that attract you and see if they will talk to you from their perspective. What do they love about their work, and what do they hate? What is their typical day like? What are their biggest challenges, and greatest satisfactions? What advice do they have for you?
Update your profiles and resume
As you develop more clarity about what you want, take a good look at your resume and LinkedIn profile. They should be aimed forward, not backwards. If you need to change some of the verbiage to support your new goal, make subtle changes. Always keep it completely honest, but you can play around with how you describe your past work, as well as how you present yourself on social media.
If there are jobs that are irrelevant in your past, you can eliminate them or list them briefly under “previous experience” – just company name and title. If there are skills that are no longer viable, or no longer current, or you simply hope to never again in this lifetime be required to use them – delete them. Also, for both your resume and your LinkedIn profile you need a precise and beautifully written summary that lets people know who you are professionally and makes them want to talk to you.
Clarity of focus helps on many levels. It helps you know where and how to look for your next job, and makes your efforts more efficient. It helps friends and colleagues know how to refer you to potential opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, it helps recruiters and hiring managers know if and where you fit given their current and future needs.
Getting a laser focus on what you want next also helps on a mysterious, energetic level, believe it or not. It’s called “going for it” and people who can manage to do this really do seem to get what they want. At any rate, it’s the best way to start a job search, and if once again life intervenes, you can always make compromises when it becomes necessary. The good news is, you will have envisioned a direction for your career that’s right for you now, made steps along the path, and there will be another opportunity to move further along this path in your future.
Be willing to pivot
I had a coaching client who had been selling furniture her whole career. She was the quintessential salesperson, and had won every prize available for years and years in her company, and made very good money. Due to circumstances beyond her control, she got laid off and simultaneously had to move to another state for family reasons — a place where she had no network. She told me she was going to sell real estate there, although she had never done this, and she was going to do it for the biggest developer in the state.
She relocated, got her real estate license, and managed to get a phone screen with that company. For months, she had numerous interviews and extensive background checks. She told me the day she was waiting to hear the results she was sitting in the lobby with several tall, slim, elegant women dressed in expensive clothing and jewelry who had all been in real estate for years and were competing for the same position. Laughing, she said “And you know what? I got the job!” Then she said “And I’m 5 feet 2 inches tall and I weigh 165 pounds! And we both laughed. She was laser focused, courageous, and relentless in her pursuit of what she wanted. Well, and clearly a very good salesperson.
If you’re looking to change careers, either out of necessity or desire, start with introspection and move your focus out to the available job market and the greater world. Once you’ve found your direction, get laser focused and have the courage to ask for what you want. You might be surprised when you get it.
Kathleen Marvin is a Certified Career Coach at RiseSmart. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Antioch University and an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from JFK University.
“I’m have been a career development coach for 13 years, focusing on professional and personal development. Because every client is unique, I develop a custom coaching program to fit you so you can find a way to be happier and more satisfied in your work. I especially enjoy coaching managers, technical people, and people from different cultures on effective communication, managing through influence, and helping people find their next opportunity.”