Why a best-fit career can be so elusive

2007

When it comes to career change, I have a pet peeve.

With hundreds of 'how to fall in love with your work' self-help books and articles available, there is great emphasis on discovering the "clues", or attributes that describe your values, work preferences skills and passions. But there is almost no emphasis on how to constructively get these clues to work for you.

It's almost as if there is a presumption that knowing your attributes will automatically result in a host of exciting, viable work possibilities. But most anyone who has struggled landing on a new career direction can tell you, this is not the case.

There are five reasons why seekers get stuck in trying to land on their best-fit career:

1.  If you are attempting to figure things out for yourself, you are only one person, with one perspective and one work history. Yet, by its very definition, career change means that you're navigating uncharted waters. It is virtually impossible to 'just know' options that fall outside your realm of experience.

2.  You may be working with too few and/or very broad clues, when, in fact, you need a robust list of very specific clues.

For example, as a career counsellor, I often hear "I love working with people." In return, I ask "How do you like to work with people? Training them? Influencing them? Serving them? In a group, or one-on-one?"

These are all very different ways of manifesting one's desire to work with people, and lead to very different work possibilities.

3.  Career change has many dynamic variables. What you like to do; what you're qualified to do; money issues; timing; fears – just to name a few. And it's problematical to try to juggle too many dynamic variables in your head.

Would you try to complete a jigsaw puzzle in your head? Of course not. You work with individual pieces, looking them over in minute detail, feeling the edges and trying them out in different places. And often, isn't this true, your mom or brother peers over your shoulder and immediately sees a fit that you've been in search of for hours!

Take this same approach with your career "pieces". Examine them closely. Look for the fluid vs. hard edges. Get input from knowledgeable friends and colleagues. Move out of your head into the streets, asking questions and opening yourself to feedback from people who have different, and broader, perspectives than you.

4.   Your difficulty may be intrinsic to how you are wired. Some people have compelling interests and preferences that allow them to zero in on work options rather easily, while others have interests and preferences that are strong, but maybe not compelling. This latter group may well have a greater challenge deciding on their 'best fit' path. (Note this is not necessarily the same as the proverbial "Jack of all trades, master of none". Jack, may, in fact, have both broad and compelling preferences.)

5.  Finally, when your ideal career remains elusive…confusion sets in, then frustration. Both of which prevent clear thinking and keep you stuck.

At this point, there are two options for moving forward, both of which involve reaching out for help.

Option #1 is to seek out professional career counselling where you can take meaningful vocational assessments, that map to vocational categories as well as REAL JOBS.

This might be from a college counselling office, a community resource or a professional counsellor or coach. The costs will vary, but this investment in your career, and ultimate happiness, will repay you quickly and in spades.

If professional help is not realistic for you, try Option #2. Be disciplined and pro-active with your own reading and research, and actively seek input from a small group (two or three) of business mentors, all providing objectivity, and each providing different perspectives.

This approach will likely take longer than Option #1, but it will put you in action – which is an absolute criteria for a successful career change.

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About The Author

Patricia Soldati
Patricia Soldati

Patricia Soldati is a former President & COO of a national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1998. As a career fulfillment specialist, she helps corporate professionals enhance their working lives – both within the organization – and by leaving it behind.

Older Comments

Having worked for the same company for 3 1/2 years, I wanted to move up so I used my former training and made myself available for a promotion to property manager. At first this seemed what I wanted but I came to realize that the company I worked for would never see me as a full fledged PM (I was the only PM without a vice president's title), my pay would always lag behind my peers and the work stressed me out. So I took a chance and proposed a new position in the company, doing exactly what I wanted to do and suggested ME to fill it. Miraculously, it worked, I have my ideal job fitted to my skills and personality and I'm as busy as I want to be without being on call or having to be a bad guy sometimes. This new position fits in to the company perfectly and everyone is comfortable with me being the chosen candidate (unlike when I was promoted to PM - this caused some angst among some of my coworkers who would never see me as more than a receptionist). SO sometimes it pays just to go for it and see what happens! 5 years with the company now and I'm happy.

Patti Odenton, MD