When you were a child, you probably were asked this question quite often: What do you want to be when you grow up? Once you got older, you probably thought you had the answer. But, with the number of career changes in the average job seeker’s life, you might find yourself wondering again: What does the future hold for me?
In one study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. During this same time, these individuals experienced an average of 5.6 periods of unemployment. With re-employment, some jobseekers made minor or major career changes. A construction worker may decide to start his own home-remodeling business. A newspaper reporter may become a TV news anchor. Or a physician may quit, becoming a comedian.
Having “career clarity” about where you are going will help you identify what type of job you want to pursue. It can also give you insight into the specific skills and qualifications you need to be a candidate for the role, and it may even help you identify who is hiring for the type of position you are seeking. Once you’re ready to apply for a position (or contact an organization about an unadvertised opportunity), your professional résumé writer will need your clarity about your future career direction to help you create useful career documents to secure job interviews and offers.
Your résumé and LinkedIn profile are not a “career obituary” of where you’ve been — they should be a forward-looking marketing document that showcases your skills, education, and experience in the context of where you are headed — with a strong emphasis on the value you can deliver to your prospective employer. A professional résumé writer can also take a diverse work history and create a cohesive, compelling career story showcasing your qualifications.
Finding the thread to sew together an eclectic work history, or seeing a pattern in your previous positions, can set you and your career documents apart. Assisting a prospective employer to understand who you are and what you can do for them is the key. So deciding what you want to be “when you grow up” or even just “next” is critical.
How often have you been talking to a colleague about their job search and they say, “I’m not picky. I just want a job that pays more.” It’s not about being picky — or not being picky — it’s about being focused.
If you wanted a different car, and you were asked, “What kind of car do you want?” you would benefit from being specific with your description. Two doors, or four? Sedan or SUV? Cloth seats or leather? New or used? What color? What make and model?
If you know what you want (whether a car or a career) it much easier to find it. Once you have clarity about the job you’re seeking, you (or your résumé writer) can tailor your résumé and cover letter to showcase how you are the ideal candidate for the position — cutting through the clutter of hundreds of other applicants.
There are two paths to achieving “career clarity” — otherwise known as a crystal clear job target.
The first is through self-exploration. There are numerous online resources you can use to identify what you want in your next job — or your future career. The second is to enlist the assistance of a professional. You can hire a career coach to help you work through the process.
The Self-Help Route
The federal government has several excellent, free resources to help guide your research. These include:
The Occupational Outlook Handbook:
The OOH provides career information on job responsibilities, education and training, pay, and the outlook for hundreds of occupations.
O*NET Online provides detailed descriptions of the world of work, including the daily aspects of a particular job and the qualifications and interests of the typical worker in that field.
My Next Move:
My Next Move is a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is an interactive tool for job seekers to learn more about their career options. The website identifies tasks, skills, salary information, and more for over 900 different careers. It also integrates the O*NET Interest Profiler, which offers personalized career suggestions based on a person’s interests and level of work experience.
CareerOneStop Toolkit (Formerly America’s Career InfoNet)
The Toolkit is a “one-stop shop” to find information about careers, training, skills, jobs, wages, state and local resources, and more.
You can also take a variety of online assessments and career inventories to discern your career path. Keep in mind, however, that these may not be scientifically valid. However, they may help remind you of areas of interest that could potentially lead you in a new career direction.
Getting Professional Help
If you want to go beyond your research, consider engaging a professional to help you identify your career direction.
Career coaches (also sometimes referred to as “career counselors”) can help you assess your interests, skills, and values, investigate career options and define a career path. Some states require individuals to be licensed to call themselves a career counselor. Career coaches may have a counseling degree or certified in life coaching. Others may be certified through professional organizations. The key is finding a fit for your particular needs — ask people you know for recommendations. Talk to several coaches and make sure it’s the right fit.
Your career coach may use a variety of tools and methods to help guide you through the career exploration process. These can include career testing, conducted assessments and exercises, and interviews.
You can find career coaches in university alumni centers, community agencies, in private practice, and potentially in your state’s Department of Labor. The cost may range from nothing (when seeking assistance from your state’s Department of Labor) to several thousand dollars to work with a clinically trained professional in private practice throughout several weeks or months.