What is it that I truly want out of my career?
Answering this question honestly is hard. More money? Prestige? To feel like I'm contributing to something bigger than myself? All of these are perfectly legitimate, and knowing your answer is a big part of finding career satisfaction. Here are five questions to help you get to the big question and a career you'll love.
1. What is it about my current situation that makes me want a different career?
Is it my coworkers? My boss? My work environment? Or is it the nature of the work itself, like too much research or time at a computer? If you're dissatisfied with core pieces of your career -- say you want to be more involved in the creative process -- then it's the career and not the job you want to change. But if it's the environmental factors, like your co-workers or boss, a job change is likely more appropriate. There are a lot of pieces to consider, and making a determination about what's motivating you to think about a change will help you better identify what's going to make you happy in the future.
2. What values, personal traits or lifestyle considerations do I want in my new career?
When thinking about a career change, there's almost always incongruence with personal values and those of the current job, such as work before family or the expectation to be available 24-7. You may want to be part of a company focused on solving a societal problem or see how your contributions are helping others. Or you may simply desire a career that allows greater flexibility in your schedule. It's important to be honest with yourself to find congruence with your values. There are always tradeoffs, however. For example, if a desire for more money is prompting the change, this is a good time to evaluate what you're willing to give up or change for a bigger paycheck. More money doesn't always mean increased happiness.
3. What is the education, training or knowledge you need to be a marketable candidate in this career?
Some fields, like accounting, require a specific degree and formal certification. Others may not require a bachelor's degree, but if 90% of job candidates in your desired field have degrees, you're going to need one to get hired. In other situations, you may already have the transferrable skills from your current career. For example, teachers have gained excellent experience in planning, public relations and training. So rather than covering 80% of a resume for an HR position in teaching credentials, describe yourself as a training specialist. Think like the employer, not the job applicant.
4. How much time do I need to commit to this change?
It may take six months from when you commit to a change to begin interviewing, but there are lots of variables. If you need to get a degree, it might take a couple of years. But if you have some transferrable skills, there's some research and considerable effort that will still need to happen. Finding the right position, developing targeted application materials and participating in the interview process will take time. Can you devote six months to this?
5. What must prove true for this career to be a good fit for me?
This is one of my favorite questions to ask those seeking a career change and is explained in greater detail in Clayton Christensen's book How Will You Measure Your Life? When we go shopping for a career change, we sometimes forget this bigger question. Think about what your new career needs to deliver for you to be more satisfied than you are. Then ask yourself honestly how likely is it that this new career will actually be able to provide those factors. If the answer to this question is yes, then you're on the path to a new career that will be fulfilling and satisfying.