One of the greatest challenges facing employed and unemployed professionals alike is lack of a clear career direction. Most professionals focus narrowly on their daily work and fail to think more broadly about their long-term career goals. They do not stop to consider whether the steps they are taking today are likely to lead them to their desired levels of career success and satisfaction in the future.
Having a clear career direction is critical for a number of reasons. First, without it, you cannot be strategic about your career choices. It is difficult to evaluate a potential new opportunity without a clear sense of how that opportunity will fit into your long-term career plan. With a clear career direction, you can focus your efforts on opportunities that are most likely to help you achieve your career goals.
A clear career direction also enables you to more effectively utilize your resources. Many professionals, particularly those in career transition, engage in networking activities that offer the illusion of productivity. They meet other people, collect business cards, and pat themselves on the back for stepping outside their comfort zones. More often than not, however, the activity ends there. They do not build meaningful, substantive relationships with people who can help them because they are unable to clearly articulate their career goals.
Lastly, a clear career direction helps you identify gaps in your skill set and experience, and then plan accordingly. Once you have a goal, you can determine where you need to focus your development efforts in order to strategically fill those gaps and achieve your goals.
If you are unclear about your career direction, here are 3 steps you can take to gain greater clarity:
1. Think ahead
Where you would like to be in your career five to ten years from now? You do not have to know exactly what you will be doing. As a matter of fact, it is virtually impossible to predict the future with such precision, given the rapid pace of change we all face. Think more broadly about the type of environment in which you would like to work, the level you would like to reach, the people you would like on your team, and the feelings you would like to get from the experience.
2. Reflect back on previous roles
Without much attention to the specific job titles you have held, or the particular work you did, identify the experiences in your previous roles that were most enjoyable to you. What were your greatest accomplishments? What were your proudest moments? What did you most appreciate about the environments in which you worked?
Similarly, think back on what was missing from your previous roles. Was it a mentor, or a more supportive manager? Was the work unchallenging? Was there a lack of collaboration among the team?
3. Imagine your ideal job
Many professionals do not allow themselves to imagine an ideal job because it seems unattainable. While it may feel unrealistic today, with a clear and actionable plan, it is not necessarily out of reach. Even the jobs that are most unrealistic, however, provide valuable information at their roots. While the job itself may be unattainable, the essence of that job may be achievable in other forms.
Think carefully about each of these areas and pay close attention to the themes that emerge. Your responses to these questions offer important information about your values, goals, priorities, and motivations.
Unfortunately, many professionals wait until they are in a desperate situation to think about their career direction. They may have lost a job, or are unhappy in their current positions, and now lack the time and emotional neutrality to think strategically about their career paths. Like anything else in life, achieving your career goals requires a clear plan. Clarifying your career direction is the first step on the road to reaching your desired levels of career success and satisfaction.