We can do all the right things… study, get a job, work hard, and still be dissatisfied. Many of us go on autopilot and wake up 20 years later wondering where all the time went. If you pause and reflect, you can change your career trajectory by becoming an active participant on your journey. Or you can take it to the next level by having a career conversation with a professional. Dare to share your hopes, dreams, and dissatisfaction. Brainstorm and don’t judge. Include all and any ideas about skills, interests, passions, and priorities. Think about which ones exist in your life presently (personally and professionally) and which ones you’d like to add or drop. This is where we start our exploration, by building a list without judgement of our interests and abilities, and finding where they overlap with how we can earn a living.
This limbo-land can also mire us down at any point of our career; beginning, middle or end. Recently, my daughter was at a crossroads with her nascent career; either go back to school and stick with a job that wasn’t ideal, or to find something totally different. It’s hard to find the path when we have so many different interests, skills, and desires. We discussed the situation and I agreed to hire a career coach for her. We picked someone that was working with one of her friends because we thought it would be a good match. What we didn’t think about is that each coach has a different style and different way of approaching careers.
Here are some thoughts about being proactive in designing your own career pathway and how a coach or counselor could impact you in a positive way.
How to best identify your own work/life priorities, and how to find the best possible guide to reach this goal made me to think about other coaches I had worked with in the past. I thought about who I clicked with and who I didn’t. When you select a career navigator, it is a very personal thing. You don’t want a spineless “yes” person, but you do need to find someone who has a compatible style to yours. Someone simpatico, but willing to challenge you. Definitely compare expectations in advance. A career change can be a very emotional experience. If you explore your career choice options with a rational approach but consider emotional factors too, the right guide can help you reach a point of clarity that can be very rewarding.
Ask questions of yourself:
What are you looking to get out of the coaching?
Are you seeking a traditional career path?
Do you want to identify alternative career options?
Are you seeking a consulting gig or a longer term commitment?
Ask questions of the coach:
What types of clients does the coach work with typically?
Do you specialize in an industry?
Are your clients newly entering the workplace or heading towards retirement?
Is there a curriculum, structure, or program you offer?
Do you have open-ended sessions?
The more communication there is up front, the more satisfaction there will be with the outcome.
EVALUATION & ACTION
Many people have never spoken to a therapist or a career coach. This isn’t good or bad, as some people like to noodle through ideas on their own. Other people like to bounce ideas off friends or colleagues. I’d suggest that working with a career advisor or navigator can help you reflect on more choices, learn new skills, and explore different approaches. Personally, I would say that having another perspective to brainstorm ideas can increase the odds of positive outcomes.
Definitely take time to jot down ideas about what your skills and interests over several days or weeks. Digest the lists, and then split them into personal and professional preferences. Next, narrow down the top 3 to 5 preferences in each category. Rank them in order of strength or interest. Let these ideas come together and be a gauge as you consider various options. This may seem simple but sometimes you can get stuck and make this more complicated. I have helped countless people sort through the noise or the tangle of thoughts to see that there are several common themes, skills, or interests.
GATHER MORE INFORMATION
Come back to the list of interests and skills to review it multiple times. Then go out and collect more data. Start with informational interviews. Yes, you can Google to find out lots of details about companies, professions, and people in the professional world. Regardless, nothing beats meeting with a real human being. Informational interviews are the first step where you learn about what options exist out there. These types of interviews help you build your network, and eventually can lead to a job or career change. Each time you meet someone new, you gather more information and different perspectives. This can help you recalibrate your list of personal and professional priorities. It can also ground you in reality about what options exist. Or if they don’t exist, can you create them? Is there space in the market and/or do you prefer something outside the traditional 9 to 5?
EVALUATE YOUR OPTIONS
Check each opportunity you learn about to see if it has the various components listed on your priority list. Here are examples of possible areas of interest:
Will it feed your creativity?
Does it let you mentor people?
Can you use your tech skills?
Are you able to continue to learn?
What’s important to you will be different from what’s important to me. Be honest with yourself. Remember as you learn and grow, your list can evolve too. Each opportunity will include some of your priorities and preferences. Our goal is to evaluate each option to see how closely it comes to meeting our overall goals. If you keep this in mind you won’t get as distracted, take a job for the sake of having a job, or put yourself in a situation that is less than ideal.
There’s a quantitative way of looking at this process; you need to gather data and make statistical comparisons. There’s also a qualitative part of career exploration. After you have done the math, you then need to use the intuitive side of your brain. You need to trust your gut, because there are intangibles that help us make decisions. Go back regularly and check your personal and professional priorities; your level of satisfaction on your next job will increase exponentially if you keep these in mind. There’s no right or wrong way, just what’s best for you. Remember, we are looking to find the sweet spot in the Venn diagram where our interests, our skills, and our ability to make a living intersect.