Have you ever noticed how many people, when asked about their career path, will say they “just fell into” their current role? They may be happy where they are or unhappy, but the statement conveys a career that is at least somewhat accidental.
For years, that was how I told my story: “Well, I was doing this because it seemed like a good idea, and then I thought this might be cool, and then this opportunity came along…” It wasn’t that I was a passive actor in my own career – it’s just that for several years I wasn’t intentional about it.
What I experienced is common. Because comprehensive, personalized career guidance is rare, most people make professional decisions the only way they know how: using the limited information they have to make the best choice or least bad choice, depending on their situation.
For most job seekers, this approach means that if they’re figuring out what to do next, and they get offered a job that seems pretty good, they’re likely to take it. Alternately, there are some job seekers who go the opposite route and get so fixated on a specific position that anything else seems like the wrong choice (e.g. “I have to be a junior art director at an ad agency – nothing else will do.”)
The first job-seeking approach – going with the flow – takes as its starting position the availability of open roles without considering your internal motivation. The second approach – zeroing in on super-specific target you’re sure is the only right one for you – doesn’t consider whether the desired role is available.
The most effective path lies in between the two.
We have our clients begin by investigating themselves while analyzing and their likes and dislikes. “I hate my current job” is an opportunity to take careful note about all the aspects you dislike, as well as what you may enjoy. For instance, is it the tasks, the people, or the company’s values you don’t like? Another way to ask this is, if you could change any of those three things, would you want to stay?
Similarly, “I really want to work in strategic planning, but no one is hiring at the my experience level” is an opportunity to examine what attributes appeal to you about strategic planning.
Once you have a clear picture of what your skills are, what kind of projects makes you feel both competent and challenged, and what kind of environment and colleagues will allow you to do your best work, then you can begin to methodically research which companies and roles will be a good professional fit for you.
And, if you’ve had a very specific job as your target, you may discover that there are lots of other opportunities for you to do your best work in the right environment – opportunities you never would have discovered without the right framework.
Taking the steps of 1) getting clear about what you want and 2) being methodical about researching possibilities allows you to be both true to your values and needs AND have more opportunities than you might have imagined or considered.
On Wednesday, February 13, my co-founder Elissa Kuykendall Unton will be speaking about intentional careers on a moderated panel at The Riveter in West Los Angeles, and I will be offering on-the-spot coaching to anyone with career questions.
If you’re in town, we hope you can join us. Here’s a link to more information.
Published on 2/6/2019