Sometimes, it comes in the form of boredom. Other times, it comes in the form of layoffs. Whatever the root cause, coming to a crossroads in your career can be at once a terrifying and exhilarating experience—one that can permanently alter not just your means for putting bread on the table, but also how you contribute to society as a whole.
Phew. Kind of intimidating, right?
Only if you stick to this larger-picture thinking. In fact, whether you’re simply evaluating whether or not you should stay with the business you currently work for or switching industries altogether, your best bet is to break your actions down into smaller steps to increase your chances of following through.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
Recognize the Signs That It’s Time for a Change
As the saying goes, the first step in mastering a career crossroads is knowing that you’re at a career crossroads (or something like that). Sometimes, the signs are obvious: a micromanaging boss, feeling the need for new challenges, knowing your current role is a dead end, receiving a slew of offers for bigger and better things.
Other times, however, the signs are more subtle, ranging from trouble getting out of bed in the morning to a general malaise. Many jobs and moons ago, I knew it was time for me to change jobs when I’d stay up until 2:00 a.m. just so sleep wouldn’t speed 9:00 a.m. along.
As you might have gleaned, these more subtle signs may be a projection of other life issues, so it’s important to do a little self-examination and experimentation to pinpoint the real problem before making any big moves.
Determine How Big of a Shift You’re Seeking
As you consider your next career move, it’s important to pinpoint just what you feel needs changing so you can determine the level of change that would provide the appropriate resolution.
Would simply changing teams, managers and colleagues fix the problem? Or are you seeking an entirely different industry and job title? Is the grind wearing you down, and would an environmental fix (like being able to work from home three days a week) provide a solution? Do you love your job and company, but feel it’s finally time to prove how creative and entrepreneurial you can be by applying your skills your own business?
Of course, it’s important to consider a few more practical questions, like how much of a drop in salary you’re willing to take to follow your passions or if you’re willing to move. However, it’s best to save these questions towards the end of your process, because they can often be used as an excuse for inaction. (What’s more, you’d be surprised how many of these issues resolve themselves along the way.)
Do a Skills, Talents and Motivations Inventory
Oftentimes, people feel frustrated in their jobs because they’ve mastered a certain set of skills and are no longer challenged. Other times, it’s because their skills aren’t being used to their full potential, if even at all. In these situations, it can be incredibly helpful to do a skills, talents and motivations inventory to determine just what makes you tick and how your talents might be better applied.
Make two columns—one for skills you enjoy using, one for those you don’t. Then list not only skills you use in your job, but also skills you might use in other settings, like in your extracurriculars. Circle the skills you’d like to use more of, and cross out the ones you’d like to eliminate.
This is a simple exercise, but it can help you determine what’s going wrong both internally and externally in your job. You might find, for example, that your current job requires a ton of phone time when really you’d prefer to be alone reading research, or vice versa. Knowing even this simple fact can help you pinpoint the new role you’re seeking or be extra clear when you ask your current boss for changes.
Reverse Engineer Your Decision
Chances are there’s someone out there who has your dream career, or a number of someones who represent your ideal mishmash. If so, take a look at where they are now, and then do your research to determine how they got there.
This isn’t a call to copy their every move; rather, you can learn from their mistakes and adapt their process to fit your own explorations. In fact, you may even want to reach out to your ideal career models and ask them to help guide you, or at least meet you for a coffee.
Make a Plan for Getting There
You’re most likely not going to just walk into your new role, especially if you’re making a big change. Do your research and determine if there are any classes or degrees you’ll need to attain before you can get where you’re going. Keep in mind that some of these may be offered through your company’s HR department and that your company may be willing to pay for a degree program.
A mentorship with someone who is further along in your ideal career can also be helpful, as can be enrolling in professional groups within your desired industry. This is also a good time to set deadlines and goals, which can range from “attend one industry Meetup group per month” to “land an entry-level job a year from now.”
Any bigger plans should of course come with benchmarks to keep you on track.
Network, Network, Network
No career article, regardless of the topic, would be complete without an invocation to network.
Networking with professionals who work either in or with your ideal job title will provide unique insight into the role, not to mention valuable connections and perhaps even opportunities for shadowing. This will give you a much better idea of the realities of your “ideal” role so you can have a more accurate sense of whether or not it will actually be ideal for you.
Viewed the right way, a career crossroads can be a fun and exciting moment in your career, as well as a great excuse to refresh and renew your passion. The most important thing to keep in mind as you do this is that it’s all a big exploration, and you’re allowed to reroute as you go. It’s better, after all, to take risks than always wonder “What if?”
If you could change your career, how would you do it? What would you do differently? Let us know in the comments!