Whatever the case may be, you might be looking at your career future as a blank canvas - both exciting and overwhelming. This article is part of our Things to Know series - an ongoing series of blogs, articles, and resources meant to help you sort out your emotions and priorities so you can take the right first steps on your career change journey.
Before you begin the mostly-external process of finding a new career, it’s important to spend some time being introspective, understanding yourself and what you need from the next stage of your career. If you don’t, you may wind up investing a bunch of time and energy into a career that doesn’t fit your needs and makes you unhappy.
Obviously, the first question you’ll ask as you begin a career change is “what do I want to do now?” or maybe even “what can I do now?”
That’s too big of a question to tackle by itself. It will be easier to answer if you try breaking it into more digestible, smaller questions. Starting with:
What Skills Do I Like Using?
There’s an outdated career coach technique where coaches ask job-seekers, usually teenagers, “What would you do all day if you won the lottery and never had to work again?” The idea is that if you say “I’d fix cars,” then you should be a mechanic. If you say “I’d do sewing projects”, you should work in fashion. The saying goes “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”
But that saying is not necessarily true. Just because you love doing something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it for a living. In fact, doing something every day, being forced to do it for money, that’s a good way to start hating the thing you love. Plus, it’s possible to enjoy something without having the skills or abilities necessary to do that thing. You can love food but that doesn’t mean you’d be happy as a chef. But at the same time, maybe you would.
Before you dive into merging your work and your passions, try to think about why you love to do these things and what it is about you that makes you good at it? Is there anything else you can apply that to?
Here’s an exercise to help you get started on your self-exploration.
Grab a piece of paper. (You could make this the first couple of pages of a new journal.) Make a list of things you enjoy doing and things you’re very good at. You’re not thinking about jobs yet, just interests and abilities.
Do you like it, but it doesn’t earn money? Doesn’t matter, put it on the list. Is there something your friends think you’re good at? Put that on the list.
Now, look at your list. Do you see any patterns? Do the things you like to do seem to fit into certain categories? Can you group them together? Think about the activities you like doing, and start writing down the skills, talents, and character traits those activities require.
For example, if you like fixing cars or identifying birds - those hobbies require attention to detail, diagnostic abilities, observational skills, and the ability to research and retain a lot of highly-specific information. These are transferable skills that can apply to any number of occupations.
Grab another paper. You probably know what comes next: Do the same thing, but this time, list all the things you dislike doing, or feel that you’re not as talented at. This might be a little harder, so think back to your last few jobs and list all the aspects that you really hated doing.
Once again, what do the items on this list have in common? Can you put them in any categories? What skills do these require?
What you’ve done is come up with a list of your strengths and weaknesses. You can use this as you look for a new career, trying to find roles that utilize your strengths while minimizing the amount of time you have to spend on skills where you’re weaker. (Or better yet, roles which offer training to make you stronger in those areas.)
How Do I Like To Work?
Think about your last couple of roles. What did you like about them? What didn’t you like?
Obviously, this question is similar to the last one, but with a key difference: Before, you were thinking about what you wanted to spend your time doing. Now, you’re thinking about the environment in which you do it.
For example, if you disliked how micromanaged you felt at your last job, then you may be looking for a position that offers you more autonomy. If you loved getting to be part of a production team, then you might look for roles that allow you to be part of a similar-sized or larger team. Maybe you even feel ready to manage a team, because your favorite part of your old job was taking the lead on projects.
Some more practical things to think about are whether you’d be happier in a large company with many subdivisions or a small company where you’d probably wear several hats. Consider how much you do or do not enjoy roles with increased visibility - how you feel when you have to present work to clients or customers. Understanding how you like to work is key to figuring out where you’d want to work.
What Are My Priorities and Values?
As you shift into a full-on career change, it’s important to understand what your immediate goal is with this move. This is going to vary for different people, and you may even have different feelings depending on the day.
Consider your priorities and what you want out of your next job. Is your primary goal to make more money, or are there other factors? For many people, certain benefits outweigh others when considering jobs. Matching your values with your future employer's values is key. Are you looking for a role with more responsibilities, more freedom, or both? During the pandemic, you may be looking for a position that will let you telework indefinitely, or one that pays a childcare stipend. In a way, you are reinventing yourself to find the right job.
We live in a time where needs and priorities shift daily, so don’t expect to have the answer to these questions right away. Instead, write them down and track how they change over a week or month’s time. You’ll be able to see patterns develop which can tell you which priorities are really important to you and which are passing with the circumstances.
Taking the time to evaluate yourself can be difficult and it can feel like you’re “not moving” - especially if you’re in a rush to get back to work. But understanding yourself at the beginning of your career change can save you a lot of time and heartbreak later on. Ask yourself some difficult questions now so that you don’t get hit with the answers when it’s too late.