If You Don’t Know Where You Want to Go in Your Career, How Can You Get There?

If you don’t know where you want to go, going anywhere will do, right?

But do you really want to “go anywhere” when it comes to something as important as your career?

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We know of a truly and genuinely nice man, nearing retirement, who has worked in the cut-throat, exceedingly stressful financial services industry most of his working life. He has made an extremely good living for his family and his wife is quite grateful that his career has made it easy for her to be a stay-at-home mom. But he hasn’t been exactly…..happy in his career.

How did he get into this miserable-yet-lucrative career? He says he pretty much fell into it. He’d wanted to be a journalist in college but he graduated in the midst of the 1980 recession and journalism jobs were hard to find and didn’t pay well, so he took a gig in a bank. And then another position in a financial services firm. Then he got his MBA. Then he got married. Then he started making some serious money. Then they had children and the couple decided she would stay home. More money. More expenses (his children are lucky – and know it – because he and his wife paid for their children’s private-college tuition). And so on. And here he is today, literally counting the days until his retirement.

“If only I’d thought beyond taking that second job because it ‘paid more,’” he says.

Don’t let that happen to you.

No matter where you are in your career – graduating college or high school this spring, a year or two on this side of graduation, five years out, in mid-career, and so on – thinking about where you want to go helps you actually get there.

Yet, unlike the man described above, having a vague “I want to go into this and that” won’t get you far. After all, what if it’s not easy to find jobs in the field you’ve chosen (journalism jobs aren’t exactly plentiful today, either)? What if you meet up with roadblocks? What if you need to postpone the career for a bit and take another job until you find one you want? What if you find you don’t like where you’re headed?

What’s your Plan B? And Plan C? And so on.

But don’t worry, it’s not that you need to map it out completely.

After all, most of us have no idea what will make us happy in the future: we have an “idea,” but we don’t test it out. We think we’ll enjoy being an actress but – oops! – we never thought beyond actually being in a play or movie and forgot how awful it is to actually audition again and again and again and hear no so many times our head explodes from the rejection.

So while you don’t need a step-by-step plan, be careful. Take time to sit with yourself and be brutally honest. You want to help troubled children, but you also love to travel to Europe. Perhaps working as social worker – with its low salary – isn’t for you.

Conversely, let’s say you know exactly what type of career you want and you’ve thought it over carefully, talked to people who work in it, perhaps interned or volunteered within and it feels just right.

Now ask yourself, where do want to be within it in five years? Will you need more education or skills training? Do you want to go into a leadership or management role? How do you know if you’ll be a good fit? What will you do to find out?

And so on.

In other words, don’t wing it: have a plan, yet keep it flexible. Do so, and you have a greater chance of finding work that suits you as well as a career that unfolds as you want it to.

If you’re not quite sure if a field of work is the one for you, experiment with it via temporary assignments with Helpmates. Contact the branch office nearest you and let us know what you’re looking for. If we can help you “try a career” or job, we’ll be happy to do so.

 

So You Trashed Your Career When Young

Let’s say you were – like all of us – young and foolish. Let’s also say that you were so foolish that you trashed your career in some way:

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  • You told your boss you were sick so that you could take the day off to see a ball game, but who should you see at the game but your boss (who took real PTO) and she fires you on the spot.
  • Or you weren’t “foolish” per se: bad things do happen to good people: you went through a nasty divorce and couldn’t function well at work and got fired, for example.
  • Or you took a youthful chance and cashed in all your retirement savings at age 29 to start the company you told yourself you always would before you were 30….and it failed, leaving you with pretty much nothing and a big gap in your work history.

Things, in other words, happened, and you need to pick up the pieces and put the trashed part of your job history behind you.

Here’s how to do so. Take a look below.

  • When you have pretty much nothing but bad job references.

If you were fired for cause (as in the first trashed-career example, above), or if you’ve left jobs too soon, too often, and/or before they could fire you, you probably have few if any good references. You’re going to need decent former-employer references to land a decent job. What to do?

You’ll need to both ‘fess up and find different references.

If applying for a job that requires references as part of the application process, be ready. You should talk to friends who know you to be of good character who can speak of that good character. List them as references.

Once in the interview, the hiring manager or recruiter undoubtedly will ask for some on-the-job references. Here’s where you tell the truth and you make it totally your fault. Tell the interviewer you were young, you were foolish, you were cocky, you made some doozy mistakes. Tell the interview how you “paid” for those mistakes (fired, demoted, had to take lower and lower paying jobs always quitting jobs, and so on).

Then be sure to tell the interviewer what you learned from these mistakes and how they’ve actually helped you: you’ve matured, you’ve seen how being arrogant before proving oneself (even AFTER proving oneself) is never a good thing, and so on.

Then offer references at former employers who can speak well of you.

You can bet that the company will try to speak to your former manager, so having backup references of former colleagues who can sing your praises will be a big help.

  • When your life blew up, you didn’t handle the stress well and your boss ended up letting you go.

Very similar to above: tell the interviewer you were young, your personal circumstances took a turn for the worse, you didn’t handle it well, and you’ve paid the price. Let the interviewer know what and how you’ve learned from the experience, and so on. Keep those reference of non-former-boss people who speak well of you handy.

  • When you took a big risk that didn’t pan out.

This is where you explain your lack of current job references and the gap in your history to as the fact that you took a risk to follow a dream. Most hiring managers understand the impatience of youth and will cut you some slack for following a dream that you probably didn’t plan well enough for. Take full responsibility for the disaster and tell the interviewer what you’ve learned from the experience, making sure to add how your new-found wisdom and skills will help his company. (They will, by the way: failure is a terrific teacher.)

Need to get your career back on track after some self-administered or “life” setbacks? Helpmates can help. Many of our temporary assignments can help you get your career back on track rather quickly. Contact the branch office nearest you to register with us.

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