If you’re unhappy in your current career and are contemplating making a switch, you’re undoubtedly plagued by anxiety about how to identify a direction that will work and fears about how to actually make the transition successfully. Here’s a framework that I hope will soothe your concerns and help you move forward.
Broadly speaking, there are two distinct initial phases to the process:
1. TAKING PERSONAL INVENTORY
You’re going to need to understand what kinds of work you find appealing, and what kinds of tasks and functions you excel at, as a first step. There are numerous published guides to help you in this process, including the classic “What Color Is Your Parachute” by Richard N. Boles. Others that I’ve recommended over the years include the relatively breezy, aptly titled “I Don’t Know What I Want but I Know It’s Not This” by Julie Jansen, and the dense, comprehensive “Pathfinder” by Nicholas Lore. But the best diagnostic tools are contained in the brilliant “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans (NOT Roy’s wife!). Its guidance has helped many dozens of my clients.
While a quick glimpse of your strengths and preferences can be gleaned by a number of career or personality tests (think Myers-Briggs), many available online, I’ve found them to be inadequate and highly unlikely to identify with precision successful paths forward.
2. DIPPING YOUR TOE IN THE WATER
Once you’ve identified some promising avenues to explore (a process that can be improved with the perspective of objective outsiders like myself) you should embark on research and “beta testing” of candidate paths. A simple Google search, utilizing queries such as “What’s it like to be an accountant;” “Pros and cons of data analytics;” or “Are financial advisors happy?” will uncover basic information that can inform your choices. Another great way to get a glimpse into a brand new career is to take a course or seminar that’s related. If you find yourself engaged with the content you’ll have a valuable clue (as is the case if you’re NOT engaged – utilizing an apt analogy, in “Pin the tail on the donkey” “You’re getting colder” can be almost as valuable “You’re getting warmer.”
The other key to getting a feel for what a new career would involve is to set up some conversations with people who are already involved in the work you are contemplating, asking them questions like “Tell me what a great/ terrible day on the job is like”, “What do you like best/least about the work you do?”, “What skills and personal qualities are most associated with people who succeed in this line of work?”, “What are the long-term career prospects/promotion and earning potential for someone in this career?”
Linked In and your college alumni data base are ideal ways to identify people who work in your targeted areas (see my blog post on Networking: A LinkedIn Primer:
Facebook and other social media, as well as neighborhood list serves, are other places to seek appropriate individuals.
3. FINDING THE BEST PLACE TO WORK
Once you’ve identified the most promising career(s) to explore you need to learn about which organizations in that field are the best to work for, which ones are (or soon will be) hiring people, and which ones have an organizational culture that matches your values. Again, internet research and (more enlightening) personal conversations with people who have knowledge of these organizations (either because they are or have worked there, or are perhaps a suppler or contractor to, or client of, that organization.
I strongly urge you NOT to rely too heavily on applying to posted job positions. It’s the easiest thing to do if you’re looking to get hired, but generally ineffective and frustrating (the vast majority of applications are never even acknowledged by most organizations). Instead, focus on utilizing or generating a network of internal contacts that can hopefully advance your candidacy or at least provide you with valuable intelligence as to how to optimize an application. And as you build a network you are increasing the odds that when a position is being created even before it’s formally announced you (or one of your connections) will have a chance to advance your candidacy.