As an executive career coach, a common question people ask me is, “How do I decide what direction to head next in my career?” This inquiry is often accompanied by an urgent longing to get out of their current situation and into something more fulfilling and impactful.
My answer: there’s a clear, best practice approach that leads to an intentional, wholehearted, successful choice – but most people don’t follow it!
Because it feels counterintuitive and takes a bit of effort.
Skip it, and six months from now you will likely find yourself unhappy in your new situation. Follow it and emerge grounded and on the path to a more satisfying and successful career, regardless of whether you plan to grow in place, make a job transition, or a career pivot.
The big gotcha to avoid: starting in the wrong place. Most people begin with updating their resumes and looking at the job market to determine what feels feasible. Questions like “Where am I qualified to go from here?” and “What job postings are currently open that I qualify for?” constitute the mindset. Frankly, this is the tail wagging the dog. How can you update your professional narrative if you don’t know what you are optimizing for?
Rather, the intentional, competitive place to start is to first examine what’s important to you, defining what you want from the next phase of your career. Later you will evaluate those criteria against what feels feasible, what you are willing to undertake, and where the market is likely to open its doors to welcome you.
For now, let’s focus on the actual decision process. How do you choose what direction is right for you? It’s a three-parter.
Part 1 is expansive and includes the following steps:
- Identifying your non-negotiables.
- Ideating options that could be a potential fit.
- Running them through your criteria to gain an intuitive hit of the likely degree of match.
- Exploring your highest intuitive match first, holding informational conversations, and conducting research to try them on, without commitment. Move through your list, adding to the options over time as you learn more.
These activities feel expansive, energizing, and disconnected from reality, which can be simultaneously energizing and unnerving. That is normal!
Part 2 is deductive and begins when you achieve the energetic feeling of having explored enough. You’ve considered and tried on several potential paths, running them through your internal filter, and can confidently start to narrow your options down.
Part 2 includes the following steps:
- Reflect on what seems feasible. What direction feels like a stretch but one you can still handle? Where do you see greater success and an easier path forward?
- Consider whether to approach your transition in phases. Maybe there are short- and long-term strategies that make sense, such as moving into a new role at your current company while laying the groundwork for an eventual career change.
- Confirm what you have energy and resources for. You may be up for some short-term training but not want to go back to school for an advanced degree.
Bottom line: for a fulfilling career to come online for you, it is imperative to examine your options with the dual-lens of what you want, AND what feels possible for you.
Part 3 is where you decide and plan. Typically, you will come to one of the following conclusions. You:
- select a single target role as your right path forward
- crystallize a couple of types of target roles that are similar in most ways but are found in different contexts
- become re-invigorated by your current role and recommit to it to gain additional benefit from it before moving on to something else
Around this point in the process, there is often a sense of the answer snapping into place. When it does, you can make your plan for how you will make the transition, treating it like a typical project plan. Only now does it makes sense to update your career story, including evolving your resume/CV, updating your LinkedIn profile, crafting your networking script, and honing your interview answers. With these components, your aim is to blend what you bring to and can offer an organization, what you want from the next phase of your career, and who you are as a person. This three-part focus is the sweet spot to ensure your professional positioning is truly impactful for your ideal audience.
Intrigued? Consider following the process outlined above to enable your brain to relax with the certainty that you have engaged a 360-degree lens with your career design efforts. With this approach, you can move forward confidently, knowing that any move you make will be intentional, grounded, and take you toward more of what you want for your professional life.
This article also appeared on the Merideth Mehlberg Group website.