Selecting Your Career

The first step in the five-step job search process is determining focus. This includes elements such as industry, job function, size of organization, and geography, among others. Yet there is a higher level and more amorphous choice which often confounds us which is choosing a career. 

The Meriam-Webster dictionary provides two definitions of career which are worth considering: 1) a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in professional or business life, and 2) a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling. [emphasis added] But, it is rare to find individuals outside of helping fields that describe their careers as permanent callings. 

Putting permanence aside makes more sense now than it has in the past considering how many jobs exist today that hadn’t been envisioned 20 years ago. It now makes sense to begin with understanding yourself and not only focusing on the careers and jobs available today. 

What about passion?

If you are passionate about something in particular, e.g. men’s fashion or enhancing mobility, then by all means include that in the equation. But passion is not a necessary or sufficient element on which to base a career decision. Additionally, passion may not be granular enough to help narrow your job search efforts or focus. Finally, for many individuals passion develops over time as they become immersed in their chosen field.

Find clarity in the M.I.S.T.

An approach that provides insights begins with understanding your motivations, interests, skills, and talents. As you consider these four factors and identify jobs and careers which match with your unique combination of them, you will know where to direct your attention. 

What Motivates you? 

Your motivations may change over time. When first starting out, you may be very motivated by money. At another stage of life, you may be motivated by autonomy. Three broad areas of motivation are lifestyle, work environment, and legacy. Lifestyle has to do with things like income, working hours, and location. Work environment has to do with organizational culture, the physical environment, and advancement/learning opportunities. Legacy relates to how you want to contribute to and make an impact on the world and or community, i.e. how you want to be remembered. 

What are your Interests?

Your interests may change over time. For example, someone who studies accounting or engineering may have an interest in solving problems as they begin their career. As their career progresses, they may want to manage people in order to solve many problems simultaneously. Depending on organizational career tracks, fixed interests can present challenges or opportunities. In some organizations, e.g. many CPA firms, advancing to the highest levels requires business development activity. For the person with no interest in selling, that can be a problem. Other firms offer multiple career tracks and embrace specialization. They employ other employees devoted to business development. Knowing your interests provides another piece of the puzzle. 

What are your Skills? 

Skills, unlike motivations and interests, are learned. Some come easier than others depending on our underlying talents (which will be discussed next). Employers usually list desired skills as part of job descriptions. Frequently cited skills and abilities are communication, teamwork, negotiation, problem-solving, leadership, managing ambiguity, and analytical skills. Identifying your key skills – those that differentiate you from other candidates – can be done by using assessments or through self-reflection. Consider not only what you know how to do well, but how your skills bring value to an organization. Knowing your skills in great depth will enable you to describe them in interviews. 

What are your Talents? 

Gallup defines talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.” Sometimes our talents are invisible to us; they are just our way of being. We don’t think about them. Talents don’t describe what things we do (or can do) but instead how we do things. For example, we all develop relationships, but some of us naturally win others over more easily and quickly. Most of us can take charge when we need to do so, but for some that is their default approach or behavior. Becoming aware of your natural talents, which don’t tend to change overtime, allows you to seek opportunities where you will be able to utilize your talents and strengths every day at work. Awareness and use of our talents drive engagement in our work. And engagement drives performance! 

Beyond the MIST: What is needed in the world? 

With awareness of and confidence in our motivations, interests, skills, and talents, we are able to articulate our target opportunity and what we bring to it. But you must also consider what is needed in the world. If you are the best person to make buggy whips, you may never find the opportunity you want. But if you are an amazing software engineer, the world is filled with opportunities for you today. 

Your Career is a Journey

As I described in another article, your career is a journey with twists and turns along the way. Most individuals I have met as an executive recruiter and as a career coach have not been intentional about their careers. They started down a path – sometimes chosen by others or selected based on academic success or uninformed passion – and woke up one day wondering why they are not fulfilled by their work. Using the career-selection approach described here – understanding your motivations, interests, skills, and talents, along with what is needed in the world today – can launch you on a career journey toward the destination of your choice. Going through this process can also reaffirm your current path or point you in a different direction for the next phase of your career journey. 

How can I help you?