How to Determine a New Career

Congratulations! You realize you are meant for a career that is more rewarding, whether that be financially, personally gratifying or provides better work/life balance. Life is too short to work a career that you are not happy with so you should transition to a career that feels rewarding.

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However, for a lot of people determining their next career can be very challenging. Here are a few obstacles I consistently hear:  

  • I know I do not want this career anymore, but I can’t think of anything else to do.
  • I do not have the qualifications for a different career.
  • I want a different career, but have no clue where to start.
  • This career search process is overwhelming.
  • My current skills are not transferrable. 

Such obstacles are completely understandable as we never consider these questions until we are pushed to our professional brink and then when we start asking ourselves these questions. We get flustered, overwhelmed and then quickly discard starting a new career and go back to our 40 hour work week we hate.

This is the equivalent to deciding to run a 26.2 mile marathon the day of the marathon without ever having trained one day for it. You and I know you are not finishing the marathon. You’re not going to be successful with that approach! Instead, if you were to train prior to the marathon then are you more likely to finish

Step by Step Guide

Well, determining a new career is similar in that you are not going to wake up one day and easily determine your new career with a snap of the fingers. Instead, this guide is designed to walk you through the steps to determine your next career.

 Within this guide you will be able to:

  • Determine your why
  • Avoid what you dislike in your current career in your next career 
  • Describe in detail what your criteria is for your next career
  • Research your next career
  • Realize there is no ‘perfect’ career

Do not cheat yourself from having the career you have always wanted. Follow the steps below and be on your way to your next career in only a matter of a few weeks!

Know Your ‘Why’

Before diving into determining your next career you should first figure out your motivation or as I like to say, ‘What is your why?’. Again, think of something like going to the gym. If you do not have a specific goal in mind then you will likely go to the gym for a few weeks and perhaps even eat healthy, but eventually you will fall off of the gym wagon as you don’t have a driving force.

The same can be said about determining your next career. If you do not know your why you may find at various times in this process that you want to quit and just stay with the status quo. Instead why not figure out what motivates you as your motivation will get you through the ups & downs of your search for a new career. 

For example in 2012 when I transitioned from a sales career into project management I determined my ‘why’. My ‘why’ was actually a few things like I no longer wanted to be in sales, I wanted a more stable career, I wanted to utilize skills that came naturally to me (organized, leader, mentor, detailed) that came naturally to me. Knowing my ‘why’ helped me persevere through the hard times of being rejected in applications & interviews. 

As you work through determining your new career not everything will go your way all the time. Maybe you will find out you really did not want that initial idea as a career, maybe you’ll find out a certain career isn’t as glamorous as you thought and even find your desired career isn’t as rewarding as you thought it would be.

Knowing your why at the beginning of this process will encourage you to push through when adversity strikes. Knowing your why will motivate you to put in the work because you know at the end of all of this work will be a rewarding career that you will be happy to get up every day and put forth your best effort.

Action Step: Take 30-60 minutes and really figure out your ‘why’ and write this down and put it somewhere you’ll see every day during your career search journey.

  • Note that your ‘why’ can vastly differ from other people’s ‘why’ so do not compare yourself to others.
  • Your ‘why’ can be motivators like the obvious of more money, bigger title at work or it could be things like work/life balance, making a difference, feeling better about the work you do.

What do you dislike?

Next you should identify what specifically is pushing you to want a new career. This is a critical step that a lot of people skip, move onto a new career and then 6 to 12 months later they hate their career…again!

Perhaps you dislike your current boss, co-workers, your commute, the actual work you’re doing day-to-day or you’re just ‘over it all’ and want a fresh start.

Now whatever you identify as not liking about your current career you have to ask yourself, ‘Can I control this in my next career?’ For instance things like salary, paid time off and other benefits you can negotiate upfront prior to accepting the position and thus you are in control of things like that.

However, what you cannot control are those gossiping co-workers, a new boss 6 months after you start your new career, increased hours of work during peak times of the year or ungrateful clients, just to name a few.

Action Step: Take 30-60 minutes and use the table below to list out your dislikes and then identify which of those dislikes are within or outside of your control.

Dislike

Within My Control

Outside of My Control

Dislike #1

Dislike #2

Dislike #3

Dislike #4

Dislike #5

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!!!

Think of this step like identifying what you dislike in relationships with people, whether that be romantic or friendships. You know you dislike being around certain types of people due to their toxic behavior. Well the same can be said about figuring out what you dislike about your job so that you don’t move onto a new career and then realize you hate it in 6 months.

Decision Criteria

Now after you figure out why you dislike your current career you should determine your decision criteria. ‘What the heck are you talking about Charles?’ What I’m saying is figure out the handful of key things that you want in your next career that will make your decision easy to make.

I have seen so many people who know they no longer want their current career, but can’t move onto a new career because they haven’t identified the career(s) they would be happier with.

Are you looking for a work/life balance? Are you seeking a flexible schedule? Are you wanting a certain level of compensation? Do you want to work from home 100% of the time? Remember, are these things you want within your control? Be realistic with yourself.

Also, try to be a specific as possible as you don’t want to have so many options for a new career that you can’t decide which to pursue. For instance, I saw on a Facebook group the other day someone posted they were looking for a job that doesn’t work weekends. Really?!?!?! You need to be more specific than that!

For instance when I was a project manager in 2015 and realized my current employer was not going to give me the salary increase I was looking for I decided to put my resume out in the market and started talking to recruiters/companies. When doing this my decision criteria was 2 fold: 

  • 1
    I was only going to leave for a salary of at minimum $90,000.00. I came to this number as I knew within myself I would be content at that number for the next 2 years.
  • 2
    My title at the next job had to be ‘Senior Project Manager’ as I wanted to demonstrate progression of titles ‘Project Manager’ to ‘Senior Project Manager’ as that is appealing to future employers.

Notice in my examples above I had a specific decision criteria and also logic to what my decision criteria was. I wasn’t just coming up with a random salary figure. I knew what the going rate in my job market was for a Senior Project Manager so my number was realistic for both the future employer and myself as I would have to live with that number for a couple of years.

Such questions appear to be basic, simple and unnecessary, but these questions will help you figure out what careers are a fit for you. Having answers to questions like this will enable you to have laser focus, which will prevent you from jumping from one career idea to another from day to day..

Action Step: Take 1-2 hours to list out your definitive criteria for what will make your next career one that you will enjoy!

  • Your decision criteria can be as short or long as you want, but let me recommend the sweet spot would be 3-5 items. I say this as the longer your list becomes the harder it will become to find a career that meets your laundry list of items. But the reverse is true as well as the shorter your list is the more career options you have, which can become overwhelming and lead to indecisiveness on your part.
  • Again, this is like dating. If you have 10+ items you want in a partner the harder it will be for potential suitors to meet your checklist. However, if you only have 1 item then the majority of people meet your criteria. You need to have a healthy balance which typically will fall into 3-5 items.

Research

After you have determined what your criteria will be for your next career I would recommend using a few different resources to research careers that fit into your criteria.

First and most obvious is using a site like Glass Door to read reviews about the career(s) that interest you. Second, use basic key word searches to read about the career(s) and their day-to-day responsibilities. After reading about the career can you see yourself in that position? Do you see yourself enjoying that career day after day for at least the next 2 to 5 years?

Finally and most important research you can do is find people who have the career you want and have a conversation with them. If you do not have anyone in your professional/personal network to talk to then I suggest using LinkedIn to find the people to talk to. This doesn’t have to be anything formal, but you definitely want to hear the truth from their perspective about what they like and dislike most about their career you’re interested in so you know if you want to proceed in pursuing that career.

In 2009 when I was still in an unsuccessful sales career I was in graduate school where a few of my classmates were in project management. I had never heard of the profession before so I started asking questions about it, which eventually led me to wanting to get into the field as I felt I could be successful and would enjoy it more than what I was doing at the time.

I cannot stress enough how important talking to people about your interests in a particular career. This step is crucial to ensuring you move into a career you’ll enjoy for the foreseeable future.

Action Step: Take 5-7 days to speak to people and list the career(s) along with the pros, cons and feedback you received from people about the career you’re interested in pursuing.  

Career

Pros

Cons

Feedback

Enter your text here...

Enter your text here...

Enter your text here...

Enter your text here...

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT…are you skipping ahead????? 

I realize I’m sounding like a broken record here, but skip this step at your own risk!

Why wouldn’t you want to talk to people who are already in the field of your interest? These people can give you 100% bullshit free reviews of their field. They can provide you will with all of the pros and cons. They can provide you insight that you will not get from reading article after article on the internet.

I realize for some people, including myself, taking people’s time to discuss this can feel uncomfortable, but get over that uncomfortableness and go talk to people as this will save you from getting into a field/career you hate 6 months from now.

No Perfect Situation

Now after you have taken the previously stated steps and you’re still finding yourself struggling to find a career I would suggest asking yourself, ‘Am I seeking the perfect career?’

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ career. I have had a career where I was able to work from home 100% of the time and make over $150,000.00 per year and while for some people that would be ‘perfect’ there were some draw backs of that career. Don’t get me wrong I never complained about the working from home or the money, but there were other things that were not ‘perfect’.

Again, I’m going back to the dating analogy. Look at your search for a career like that of someone to date. If you have some exhaustive list, say 20 items, that would describe your ‘perfect’ person then most likely you’re going to find it very difficult to find that ‘perfect’ person. However, let’s say your list consists of 3 to 5 key qualities that you find important then your pool of potential ‘perfect’ people is much larger and easier to find.

The same can be said about a career. If you’re looking for a career that pays 6 figures, has a flexible schedule, 8 weeks of vacation, easy going clients, great co-workers, 100% health insurance, 100% education reimbursement, a great boss, nobody yelling at you, no one blaming you and getting promoted every year well then….let me know where that career exists!!!

Now get the hell off of fantasy island and come back to reality with me as that career described above does not exist! So instead, figure out which of those variables are most important to you and within your control. Once you know what is important to you finding a career that you will love will be easier.

Recap

  • Know your ‘why’ as this will get you through times that you’re frustrated. 
  • Identify what you don’t like about your current career so you can avoid those things in your next career.
  • Get focused by determining what is important to you in your next career by creating a decision criteria.
  • Minimize risk of picking the ‘wrong’ career by talking to people who are in the career you want.
  • Stop looking for perfect and instead choose a career that suits your immediate needs for the next couple of years. 

Follow the steps outlined above and you will be onto your new career in just a few weeks!

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