Struggling to Define a New Career Direction?

You’ve decided that the career you embarked upon years ago is no longer working for you. Perhaps you’re bored, or stuck with no opportunity for advancement, or just burned out. You’re not alone – in any given year millions of people reach the same conclusion. So, what to do?

First, be sure that your dissatisfaction truly arises from the essential, fundamental nature of your work, as opposed to what are possibly more transitory phenomena such as a nightmare boss, a dead-end project, a demotivated team, or excessive demands on your time. While these are all serious issues they may be alleviated by a change of job responsibilities or department, not necessarily a change in career. Abandoning a path that you’ve spent years on, acquiring expertise, seniority, and relationships is a pretty drastic, but perhaps necessary, solution.

But if you decide that a career shift is truly the answer, the next question for most people is: “To what should they shift?” Generally it’s a lot easier to know what you don’t want than what you do.

That’s where the process of exploration begins. Taking personal inventory is always a good idea (I very much like the exercises contained in the book “Designing your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans). Another good resource is a book by Julie Hansen with the apt title “”I Don’t Know What I Want but I Know It’s Not This. And online research can give you some good clues (try Googling something along the lines of “careers for people who are good at, or enjoy…” ). Read Glass Door reviews of various types of jobs. Look at LinkedIn profiles of people doing things you might be interested in to learn more about their backgrounds and qualifications.

Narrowing the Search

But, most importantly, you’ll want to reach out to trusted friends and colleagues for ideas.* Often, when I suggest this to clients they are reluctant because they think they need to know exactly what they’re looking for before asking for guidance and advice. Yes, it’s likely that the first question you’ll be asked is “I’d be happy to help but what do you want to do?” Don’t avoid their question. You can simply respond by explaining that you’re not sure but are able to outline the general things you’re looking for. For example:

  • “I enjoy connecting people with resources and information to help people or organizations solve problems. I am also good at delivering clear and compelling presentations to groups and analyzing data to spot trends and make recommendations”.
  • “I am looking to advance my career in an entrepreneurial environment in a growth-oriented, mission-driven private firm or an innovative nonprofit.”
  • “I love working with data and translating insights gained to ‘lay people’ who are non-techies.”
  • “I excel at making sure that projects are moving ahead accurately, efficiently, and on schedule”
  • “I want to be able to see the impact of my work in the real world and not just on some position paper.”

The initial conversations should be oriented to generating ideas worthy of investigation – primarily through teeing up conversations with people who are doing jobs of potential interest. See my networking blog posts on my website,, for guidance on this vital skill.