Are You In The Wrong Career?

I’m contacted a lot by people who’ve decided they’re in the wrong career and want my help choosing a new and better one. I listen carefully to the dissatisfactions they enumerate and ask a few questions to help determine if it’s more a career issue or a particular job issue. Often the dissatisfaction turns out to be fixable in any number of ways, but that’s a subject for another post (see my blog post: How to REALLY Address Job and Career Dissatisfaction).

What contributes to career dissatisfaction?

For many it’s the accumulation of experience in their chosen field that starts to signal to them that the path isn’t right for them. They realize that what they thought would be engaging and maybe even glamorous work tasks turn out to be mundane. Or they see that they don’t have the strengths and personalities that people who advance in that career have. In sum, as we age and mature our values often change and our knowledge base shifts, so at least one career change (if not more) is the norm, rather than the exception. What kinds of fundamental shifts lead people to re-examine their career paths?


  1. Your life circumstances have fundamentally changed: you’ve had children, or gotten divorced, or came down with a serious health condition.
  2. The mission that inspired you to choose a career has become less important to you.
  3. You’ve come to realize that the potential to earn a lot of money has been supplanted by a greater interest in finding satisfaction in your worklife (“money can’t buy you happiness”).
  4. You’ve learned that career advancement in your field requires training you’re unwilling to undertake.
  5. You’re in a field whose long-term prospects are dim due to technological developments

Here is a link to a previous post of mine that outlines some basic steps to help you define new career path possibilities: Struggling to Define a New Career Direction?

But I want to supplement this guidance by emphasizing the importance of talking to people who know a lot about the career you’re contemplating. I’m amazed at how few career guides stress the importance of what is essentially interviewing the right people.

Who are the right people?

  1. People who are on your contemplated career path who have a background at least somewhat similar to yours
  2. People who are further along (I.e. more senior) on their path so they are able to accurately talk about your potential paths forward and prospects
  3. People who have left the career you’re contemplating to learn what led to their exit

In the same way you would prepare for a job interview, do your homework and learn about the people you’d like to talk with, and spend some time preparing smart questions that can truly shed light on whether the career is likely to work for you. Examples: “What are the personal characteristics most likely to lead to success in this field? Creativity? Introspection? Extroversion? Politician skills?;” “What kinds of common problems in this career lead to burnout?” “What’s the best thing about working in this career? The worst?”

How do you find the right people to engage?

Reach out to your personal network, clearly defining the kinds of people you’re looking to connect with. Use LinkedIn to see who in your professional network is connected to those kinds of people, and ask your contacts to facilitate an introduction (reaching out “cold” to people who you might be interested in is very unlikely to result in a connection). Check your college alumni data base (reaching out “cold” to an alumnus is a lot more likely to result in a conversation than is a reach-out without that common bond).

For help in undertaking these essential steps, please contact me at