As I was thinking about the new year, it became apparent that my reflection on the past year and forward-looking projection to a new year follows a set routine. Predictability and set routines work well for some exercises but not when changing your career direction.
As humans, we like predictability and patterns. We work hard to create them wherever possible. Those in positions of authority tell us that success comes when we ‘level up,’ ‘get ahead,’ and ‘fail upward,’ so this is where we focus. Following this advice makes perfect sense as levels of seniority reflect how companies organize for productivity and growth.
Everything works well until we decide we want to change direction. It’s at this inflection point where we frequently get stuck.
If 2023 is your year for a career change, the process begins with thinking differently about the job search process.
A career change is not a linear exercise; it’s an exploration. The first step in any exploratory process is to put our natural propensity toward predictability aside and get comfortable with not knowing the outcome.
For that, you’ll need a new set of guidelines. What follows are three for making your career exploration a more proactive process.
Learn about yourself
It’s easy to identify what we don’t like about the boss, current role or organization. What’s more difficult is to assess yourself unapologetically. To successfully make a career change, you’ll need a clear handle on what you offer and how you interact with others.
Reread past performance reviews and look for trends. Pay attention to repeated phrases about behavior, communication, collaboration or critical thinking skills. You’ll need proficiency in these areas to succeed in your new career. If a skill needs improvement, you can start working on it now.
Commercially available assessments are valuable tools. If it’s been a while or you still need to, take both the StrengthsFinder and DiSC assessments for insight into your strengths, where you bring value and how you communicate.
Consider where you want to work- in a large organization, a startup or another model, how you want to work- in person, hybrid or remote, the level of authority and responsibility you want, and, most importantly, what you want to have accomplished a year from now. Stating how you intend to end the year directs decisions about the type of work you want to pursue.
Expand your network
Those who helped you get your current role may differ from those who will help you secure the next. Think expansively about who’s in your network. People want to help; it’s your job to give them clear direction.
Identify the people who will challenge your thinking and assumptions. They will help you clarify your narrative. Be open to meeting new people, feedback and new ideas. Filter the input and ideas through the intentions you’ve set; it’s the key to determining which options to pursue.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Change is hard and takes discipline and a long-term mindset. Changing the direction of your career requires two things – a clear philosophy that creates value for a new employer and expertise in the art of polite persuasion.
Getting others to understand the connection between your past work, skills, and a new direction is often an exercise in patience. Learn from the questions you get and revise your narrative to overcome objections and confusion. When you are in this test and learn phase, it can be easy to get frustrated. Having taken the time to do the reflective work and committed to changing your career path, staying optimistic and focused is key for helping others adopt your new direction.
When you feel frustrated, it’s time to take a step back and play. Playing is fun and relaxing and puts you back into an optimistic mind. Optimism and clarity are what persuade others.
A career change can be an energizing process. When you explore new avenues and ideas, you learn about yourself, stretch beyond your comfort zone and enter a time of surprising discovery.
You are the owner of your career path.