4 guaranteed ways to clarify what you want next in your career

Jun 30, 2022

Going round and round in circles trying to figure out what you want next in your career?

Working with high-achievers at a crossroads in their careers, there’s a common mistake I see people make. One which is keeping them stuck. And it’s something I did too…

Back in 2017, I was feeling unfulfilled in my decade long recruitment career and burnt out in my business. I remember agonising over what I wanted to do next for months. A big mistake I made was spending hours going down the Google rabbit hole, hoping my dream career path would magically jump out of the screen!

But trying to think my way to a solution kept me stuck in analysis paralysis.

So what helped me find clarity?

Taking action. By following my curiosity and finding practical ways to explore different career paths.

For me, this looked like many conversations with generous people doing work which interested me. I also tested out new skills through volunteering and various side projects. Then, by completing a coaching certification and post-graduate studies.

Because when you move into action and follow your curiosity… you will figure out what you want next in your career.

Here are four steps to shift out of analysis and into action so you can start to clarify your career direction.

#1 — START WITH A CLEAR INTENTION

It takes time to explore potential ideas and identify what you want next in your career. Before moving into action, check-in on the intention behind this desire.

Are you putting pressure on yourself to have it figured out because you think you should — or because you want to? When you’re driven by external factors, such as the expectations of others, you’ll find it difficult to stay motivated. But when the intention comes from within and you know why it’s important, you’ll commit to taking action.

Also, do you have the energy to dedicate to this process? Many people feel exhausted after the past couple of years, while others are rethinking their careers and ready to make a change. If it’s not the right time, give yourself permission to hit pause for now.

Finally, choose a couple of career interest areas to explore. Test and validate one idea at a time, starting with the one which interests you the most.

Because when you start with a clear intention… you will commit to taking action and clarify your career direction a whole lot faster.

#2 — PINPOINT WHAT YOU DON’T WANT

When you don’t know what you want next in your career, one of the best places to start is to get clear on your bigger vision. Then, you can start to define the career goals and action steps to make your vision a reality.

But if you’re feeling stuck, this can be challenging. Often, it’s easier to identify what you don’t want — instead of trying to visualise a vague picture of your future.

In this situation, I’ll take my clients through a brainstorming exercise. I start by asking: ‘What don’t you want?’

If they don’t want to be micro-managed, then I’ll respond with: ‘Great. If you don’t want to be micro-managed, what DO you want?’

I’ll repeat this process several times until we’ve generated a long list. By the end, their career desires and dislikes become clear. As one client put it, ‘I realised I know what I want, not just what I don’t want’.

Because when you know what you DON’T want, you will easily determine what you DO want next in your career.

#3 — CONDUCT CAREER CONVERSATIONS

One of the most powerful steps I took was having conversations with people doing work (or elements of work) which interested me. And time again, the clients who are proactive about this find clarity about what they want to do next. Meanwhile, those who resist or half-heartedly commit to the process stay stuck.

Yes, putting yourself out there is uncomfortable. You may feel like you’re asking someone to do you a massive favour by dedicating time to talk to you. But it IS possible to approach these conversations in a way which is strategic and based on building relationships.

First, the goal of a career conversation is to ‘interview’ the individual about their work. You want to approach these discussions with curiosity and get their career story — that’s it. By doing so, you’ll uncover new career pathways you’d never otherwise have considered.

Second, you’re not asking for a job. You’re looking to genuinely connect and build a relationship with someone in a role, organisation or industry of interest.

People love talking about themselves and will be happy to help by sharing their insights and advice. You can also offer to support them in return, by connecting them to a new client or connection.

Finally, career conversations are a great way to build your network. Used strategically, they’ll help you test out and validate potential career ideas. Plus, you’ll also be at the forefront of this person’s mind if they hear about suitable opportunities!

Remember, when you are proactive about having conversations… you will discover what you want next and open yourself up to new career opportunities.

#4 — TEST OUT NEW SKILLS 

What are you interested in? When you’re unsure what you want to do next in your career, start with what sparks your interest. Identify areas of interest related to your current career — or a brand new profession.

Then, find practical ways to try out the new skills required for your career areas of interest. Consider taking on a new project at work or a voluntary or board role separate to your day job. You could also undertake further study, upskill or start a side business.

The objective is to uncover new insights about what you want to do next. It also allows you to test out new skills and validate potential career pathways. In the process, you’ll be developing transferrable skills which you can use in your future career.

One of the best steps I took before changing careers was volunteering. At a time when I felt lost in life, being of service to others took the focus off the frustration I felt in my career. I also tested out new skills like coaching and facilitation, which helped me clarify what I enjoyed and wanted next in my work.

Because when you follow what lights you up your ideal pathway will become clear… and you will design a career which is fulfilling and sustainable.

Here’s a challenge for you… What one action step will you take to test out or develop a new skill to support your future career? Commit to doing it in the next seven days!

These tips helped my clients and I test out new career pathways and figure out what we wanted to do next. I hope they support you too!

Want further support to clarify your career direction? Here’s your next step…

Sign up for this free career masterclass and I’ll give you all the tools and strategies you need to get started! Get it NOW.

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achievers at a career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms. Stacey works virtually with individuals and organisations based across the globe.