Settling on a career, or even changing career mid-stream, does not have to mean personal upheaval – all you need is a plan.
Finding the right career can feel daunting. Certainly for young people leaving school, it’s a big challenge to know which path to follow, and which subjects to take. For many of us we have often “fallen” into our careers, it was not something that was planned. But sadly too many people are unhappy in their jobs, so it is worth considering a fresh approach to your career choice.
Our careers so often take such strange twists and turns. We may look back and know that the only reason we followed one path, or went for a particular job, or even started a business happened to relate to a quirk of fate or an unusual opportunity that we stumbled across.
Then again, some people plan for one profession right back in school, and go along for years in the same career – and for some, a lifetime.
Let’s look at career planning and the best way to actually make sure you get into a satisfying career.
There are two main types of career planning approaches:
Planned and strategic career planning – where one researches and finds out about a range of careers and various options within particular industries. This research might involve:
- Exploring and undertaking courses offered by universities, colleges and online.
- Consistently reviewing online job opportunities and recruitment ads.
- Talking to industry bodies, HR managers and recruitment companies.
- Learning about small business and business planning.
- Trialing various options.
Spontaneous career plans – suddenly retrenched, changing living conditions after a relationship split or travel, seeing an unusual job ad and going for it, or recognising opportunities that arise and taking advantage of them. You may see and grab an opportunity, offer to assist someone for a short period, do a project, or make a spur-of-the-moment decision to do something quite different. Or for someone who is not risk averse, starting a business without a major planning phase.
What are the steps towards effective career planning and career change?
Get to know yourself – you need to do a very thorough self analysis. Recognise your personality type, identify interests, list the needs you have such being outdoors vs indoors, being physically active vs desk bound, your income requirements, the challenges you prefer, your working preferences (such as self managing/alone vs in a team, under leadership).
Know what makes you bored and what stimulates you. Learn about yourself – what do you most enjoy, what stimulates you, what was most fun at school or while studying, or in previous roles? Are you someone that wants to be their own boss? Are you a risk taker? Do you love using your hands, doing something different every day, or working with computers and software? Do you want to travel? Work close to home? Are you a fast learner and do you want to be constantly learning? Do you want to do positive things for the planet and make a difference to others’ lives? What are your hobbies and how do you currently enjoy your leisure time?
Talk to friends and family – they often have excellent insight because they know you so well and can say things honestly to you. Maybe you might want to find a career counsellor or mentor who will be good to bounce your ideas off or get some advice.
You need to come up with a list of your interests and values, your skills and aptitudes and your preferred environments. One of the most important guiding principles is to recognise what makes you feel good and what makes you feel proud of your work.
Gather information and seek opportunities – make yourself a “project”. Set aside time to explore career and job options. Use your list from step one to consider what job options might work for you.
Be open. Do you know and admire anyone who has a great job – go and talk to them about their work. Make appointments to meet people in roles that seem interesting to you, ask lots of questions, find out about possible work experience, project or contract work, or volunteer work you can do to trial your options. If you are lucky you may get an opportunity to hang around for a few hours watching them at work and learning more about what they do.
Check public sector options and the private sector. Look at different job ads on the internet. Explore websites like www.seek.com.au. Find out which roles have pre-requisite studies and see what is feasible for you to do full time or part time or online.
You need to get job descriptions, duty statements, salaries offered, job prospects and labour market information, educational and training requirements. Use the internet and read as much as you can about your options. Read up on best practice workplaces – what makes one place a fun place to work at while others are dreary and filled with politics and poor communication. Ask questions to find out why people in jobs are happy and why they are not.
Now match the two – what you need and want with what you know about jobs and careers. What is realistic and might work? What should be ruled out and never considered? You will be able to narrow down the list of options by eliminating ones with aspects to the job roles you would be unhappy and dissatisfied doing.
You may need to go back and learn more about yourself, or more about what is available to do a good job of this phase.
You might need to choose a short-term option and a longer-term option. You may decide you need to run parallel paths – for example being an artist or musician to satisfy your creativity and love of art or music, and at the same time having a “filler” career to earn money. Maybe you will build up a hobby and make it into your career.
You will need to narrow down your options and make an action plan of where to start, what studies to do, perhaps seek a work experience opportunity, and remember it’s OK to try a few different careers in your life. We no longer have to worry about short term roles on our CVs – it’s a time when we are honing our skills and gaining a variety of experience.
Set your goals and act on them. This may be a long process – over years while you undertake studies to achieve a certain qualification. You may need to persist with a job search, you will need a fresh resume and a great covering letter once you are ready. And you need positive thinking!
Career choice takes time – and even a careers counsellor can’t tell you what you are best suited to. Don’t feel because you have studied for one career or worked in one industry for many years you will be throwing away valuable skills. Skills and knowledge are so often transferable.
Advantages of already working in one career
Many people say that it is “too late” to consider a new career once they have a job that was hard to get, or where they are being paid reasonably well, or where there seem to be few opportunities. They often feel, especially if they have chosen a public sector role, that their options are now limited, which is not true.
They know their needs better and may have more to draw on when looking at their strengths.
Some have limited views of their skills – they must realistically evaluate these. Gain information from colleagues on what they see as your strengths, or do a 360 degree feedback assessment of your skills.
Reality may be disappointing, expectations may not match the job market. So be prepared to do anything relating to the desired career. The goal and desired job can come after recognition. Take on extra work, promote yourself, and seize opportunities for promotion. Or take a risk – start your business and go for it. Be determined!
Eve Ash is a psychologist and co-author of Rewrite Your Life! (Penguin) and managing director of Seven Dimensions, and producer of Career Planning (Take Away Training series) www.7dimensions.com.au
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