There are times in your career when you need to respond quickly and make fast career decisions.
For example, you may be laid off unexpectedly. You need to act quickly to find a job.
But much of the time, a proactive — not a reactive — approach is a more effective way to work on your career.
Read on for three easy ways to begin building the career intelligence you need to make more informed career decisions in the future.
For learner drivers, reacting quickly is an essential skill. But you didn’t become a skilled driver just by practicing emergency stops. The same is true for your career.
Maybe you take the view that investing time thinking about what’s next in your career step is pointless because employment conditions change so quickly. But rapid workplace change mean that it’s more important than ever to take a proactive approach to your career.
There are fewer well-defined career paths for you to follow. As the pace increases and technology plays a bigger part in our work lives, getting informal career advice can be a challenge.
So how can you be more intentional about your career?
I recall a recent conversation with a skilled professional worried about being laid off. He told me that he had been thinking about getting a new job for at least five years. Many of us browse advertised positions from time to time but leave it at that. Job search can be daunting. It takes time.
If you’ve been in the same organization for a while, you might be wondering about your next step. But how do you know if it’s really time for a change? How do you gather the intelligence you need to make an informed decision? Here are three easy steps you can take.
1. Review the “Big Picture” of your Career and Work Life
If it’s a while since you’ve considered what’s most important to you in your work life, take some time to do that. Ask yourself some simple questions, such as:
- What’s changed for me in my life?
- What does this mean for the work I do now?
- What might this mean for the work I want to do in the future?
Our lives are not static. Being proactive means revisiting who you are and what engages you at work. If you were once happy at work, but now feel dissatisfied, take some time to explore what’s changed.
Maybe your priorities have altered. Maybe the culture of your organization has changed. Does this mean you need a new job?
Things may not be as they first seem. For example, one client I worked with was thinking about leaving her job in education. But soon it became clear that her biggest concern was not the job itself. By reflecting on her experiences at work, she could see that particular relationships within the organization were the primary source of stress and dissatisfaction.
The same problems might have re-occured in a new position. So in this case, the focus of coaching shifted from working on career change to working on role clarity and managing key relationships.
It is only by allowing yourself to pause that you can explore the big picture and make more informed career choices.
2. Set up Informal Career Conversations
Once you have had some time to reflect on your personal situation, it’s time to broaden your perspective. Talking with others is a great way to expand your view. Here’s an easy way to do that.
Contact three people that you like and respect. Ask them if they’re willing to have an informal career conversation with you. You can arrange this in different ways. Think about your personal style and what will help you to relax. It’s important to set up the environment so that you’re not holding back because you’re worried about being evaluated.
You could also have these types of conversations with peers and with staff you manage or supervise. Look for opportunities to share your learning and career experiences. Many of us are so busy doing the job that we don’t take time to reflect on what we’re doing and why.
When did you last talk about either your own career aspirations or those of your staff? Was it during performance reviews? Consider what you can do to make career development a regular topic for conversation, rather than a rare event. Career conversations may be a great way to strengthen your workplace relationships.
3. Do Informal Market Research
Sometimes a more focused approach is appropriate. One way to do this is to do some quick market research on potential opportunities. For example, spend 15 minutes browsing one of the job boards that aggregate job postings (such as Indeed) or look through jobs on LinkedIn. Choose three or four job descriptions that look interesting and save them for review.
For example, if you are a project manager, you might choose the following:
- a job at your current level that is with a competitor or in a different industry
- a job that seems to fit where you might want to go next
- a wild card type job – something new that intrigues you
Now take another 15 or 20 minutes to review these positions. You could do this on your own or with colleagues. Bring an attitude of curiosity to your analysis of the positions.
What made them interesting for you? What activities attract you? What parts of the job description repel you? What would you like to know more about?
Once you have reviewed three of four positions, summarize what you have learned. Then use this information to take a fresh look at your current position.
- What are you happy with?
- What changes would you like to make?
- What skills might you learn next?
This quick market research exercise is one easy way to take a step back and see your current position in a new light.
Take one Small Step to Build the Career Intelligence you Need for More Informed Future Career Decisions
It’s no longer viable for most professionals to rely on their employers for career development and direction. Yet, even if you feel dissatisfied, it’s easy to drift along in the absence of an external trigger for change.
Job search with all its uncertainties is daunting. But rather than wait for a career emergency, take one small step. Don’t wait until later. Choose just one action.
What makes sense in your current situation? What can you do this week to begin the process of building better career intelligence? By being proactive now, you’re preparing the ground for more informed career decisions in the future.
Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 7, no. 8
About the Author
Jennifer Bradley, Ph.D. helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and publishes articles on career development and career transition.
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