I often work with clients who worry that when deciding on a career direction, that is a final or permanent career choice. While I do believe one should feel intentional, confident, clear and informed with your career choices, keep in mind that your next step does not have to be the role or industry that you pursue for the rest of your career.
With every job search that you pursue, or any next role that you take, consider key concepts below to inform how you can approach it confidently and yet not rigidly.
Know yourself & learn from your past to inform your future
- Reflect on your past job experiences to think about what was aligned, what did not align, and what you want more of or less of in your next role.
- Consider this 3-part framework to guide your reflections: role (day to day style of the work), industry (ultimate mission or problem you were contributing towards), and environment (what did it look and feel like).
- Consider what specific, creative questions you can ask in a future interview to concretely assess whether you will find (or avoid) what you need to in your next role, team, or company.
Clarify your ideal next direction
- Learn deeply and reflect to clarify what your best next career step should be. The full process of career exploration will lead you to identify and gain confidence in which next role, industry, and environment is the best fit for you.
Take the time you need to explore
- If you’re still unsure and if you have options still on your radar, learn and reflect further until you feel certain about which one is the best fit amongst your options based on what the role and industry is like and based on what you are like, and the relation between the two.
- If you still have more than one option for roles, remember that each role varies somehow, so by understanding their differences, you will be able to best prioritize which one is most or more suitable for you and your affinities, tendencies, natural workstyle, and strengths.
- When prioritizing industries, you can prioritize which problem areas are personally most interesting or important to you to contribute towards.
- When reflecting on your ideal environment, think about the physical and intangible environment that you’d thrive in (i.e. pace, size of org, remote/hybrid/in person, and culture/values).
- Determine what open gaps or questions still remain and how to get the answers or information that will help you feel most informed and ready to confidently prioritize amongst your options.
Strive for certainty and confidence over “perfection”
- Knowing that you feel confident about what you choose to do next is the best defense against that potential future regret.
- Take the time you need to pursue exploration and clarify your best fit direction before your official job search begins, i.e., before you start applying anywhere.
- There is no need to get yourself into a tailspin, as there are hundreds of thousands of roles.
- However, by learning and reflecting enough on your options, it is feasible, with concerted effort and for not too long of time, to reach a feeling of certainty on what is right for your next step. There will always be endless options, ones that you can continue to explore in your future, but getting yourself to the point of “ready enough” to move forward is key.
- If you’re not yet excited about the direction, determine what gaps need to be addressed.
Consider short term over long term
- When you perform the career exploration process, you will identify what is your best immediate next step, but you can also consider future and long term paths.
- I recommend over-indexing on the immediate next career step by 60-70%, but learning about where those roles typically lead to in the future can be approximately 30% of your consideration.
- While you generally want to understand what your next role may set you up to do, you don’t have to feel 100% set on the ultimate long term direction.
- The reason for this is that your next role, team, or organization may lead you to a next step that you hadn’t predicted or known about before. If your next step is something you’re excited by, it may very well give you new exposure, learnings, insights, or interests to consider pursuing. It is a healthy balance of being informed but also allowing for some beautiful unpredictability, so as not to prefix but rather to inform every step of your future path.
- These roles and industries may very well change drastically in the long term, as will you, so by choosing a goal so far out, it may not serve you as much as making sure the next opportunity is a strong fit.
- By asking professionals where that role typically tends to lead, it may help you determine which long term paths sound potentially most exciting, as a method to clarify your next role.
- If you are the type of person who knows your long term goal very clearly or who prefers to approach it that way, you definitely can do the career exploration process to more deeply learn about those future, longer term roles, and then reverse engineer how people typically break into those pathways. Just know, there is a risk that the immediate next step may not necessarily be a fit if you’re only focusing on your long term goal, and that when you get 10, 20, or 30 years down the road, your interests and goals may very well change.
Know that pivots are possible
- Very often, professionals will zig and zag their careers, making small or large pivots along the way, so knowing that this is common and very possible will help you gain comfort in prioritizing what’s next without knowing where it may lead. Oftentimes those are the best kinds of journeys, if you’re choosing the immediate next step with the right intentions in mind.
Rinse & Repeat: Strengthen your clarity with each next role
- We want you to get into the right ballpark. If you feel clear on your best next role/industry given where you currently stand and what you’ve learned about yourself and your options, then every role and job change thereafter will be evermore of a fit.
- If you use this formula to be intentional with each of your next few job changes, eventually you will wind up feeling ultra clear about where you belong professionally.
You can see each next step that you take as an informed experiment. If with every job change, you learn, reflect, and pivot accordingly, you are doing everything in your power to make the best possible next decision that you can. Lean on your past experiences, deeply learn to clarify your best next step, and know that with every single step you will make an even better choice than the last. You can learn and reflect enough to feel confident about your next steps, but you don’t have to feel that your choice is a forever, permanent choice. Each and every job change allows for a new choice.