5 steps you can take to decide on your career direction

March 7, 2012 | Jenni Proctor
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What do you really want to be?

There are times when the only thing that matters regarding your career is to get a job that pays some money so you can meet your financial commitments.  That’s a difficult time, usually brought on by a combination of unfortunate circumstances.  It’s a time for knuckling down and turning around your situation, and frankly at times like that any job will do if it meets your immediate needs.

But usually when you are looking at a change of career direction any job will NOT do.  A change is a chance to steer your career in the way you want it and to manage it effectively to meet your ongoing career fulfilment.  That’s a very different attitude from “That’ll do”.

What many people struggle with is how to work out what it is that they want to do.  School leavers struggle with this question, but it is not uncommon for people in the middle or later part of their career to feel the same way.  “I don’t enjoy my work but I don’t know what else to do” is a common phrase expressed by discontent workers.  Career decision making can seem so difficult and confusing.

If the thing that is holding you back is not knowing what you should be doing, there are a number of strategies you can use to get closer to your answer.  

Career decision making

Know yourself

Most of us don’t listen well enough to what our intuition is telling us.  To make wise long-term career decisions you need to know yourself well; not the superficial persona we often show to the world, but the real person who is deep within you.   Getting to know and understand yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.  When you really know who you are you can answer the question “What do you REALLY want” because your inner voice, your intuition, will be leading you there.

Know your preferences

Undoubtedly you have  not enjoyed parts of each job that you have had.  But there are probably parts of the job that you enjoyed to some level, even if the things you enjoyed had nothing at all to do with the job itself!  Similarly in any work you have done, perhaps voluntary work, family commitments, or sporting club involvement, there will be things that you have enjoyed doing.  Think about what it was you enjoyed about those tasks. Do the same with the things you haven’t liked.  Already you are starting to develop your own personal criteria for the work that will satisfy you.

Know your culture

When you considered your preferences it is likely that you thought about the people you worked with, the style of management, the environment you were in and the culture of each workplace.  Each of these is a vital factor in how comfortable you feel about the work you are doing, and how much you enjoy your work life.  It’s quite common for people to love the actual work they do, or what their job could entail, but hate some of the environmental factors such as the management style.  Recognise the difference so you don’t throw away work you like when what you need is a change of environment.

Educate yourself

As you come to consciously recognise more aspects of yourself and your preferred way of working you will find that you start to think about what you can do with this newfound knowledge.   This is when you need to educate yourself to the many possibilities that are available to you.  Jobs exist now that didn’t exist just a few years ago so don’t stick with what you know, explore and stretch the boundaries of work related to your preferences.  Arm yourself with knowledge through attending expos, researching and talking to people who work in the fields of work that interest you.

Know when to ask for help

When you are stuck, or when you are ready to start moving forward in your career, the assistance of a career development professional can be an outstanding investment of time and money.  Just as you wouldn’t go to a lawyer without legal qualifications, to ensure that you get the best possible assistance in this area you should find a career development professional who has career-specific qualifications.  The Career Industry Council of Australia has a code of ethics and strict regulations for recognised career association members.  This is for your protection, so you know that a person who calls themselves a Career Counsellor or Career Coach is appropriately qualified to do so. 

Jenni Proctor 5/3/2011

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Last Modified: October 25, 2012
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