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Changing Careers When You Don’t Know What You Want

Achieving Goals, Career Discovery, Career Enrichment, Career Transitions, Life Coaching, Self Awareness
07/08/24 - Robbi Crawford
Woman sitting at desk thinking

Changing Careers When You Don’t Know What You Want

Not knowing what job or career you want is typical. At some point in their life, most people find themselves at this crossroads, feeling stuck, discouraged, and saying, “I want to do something different, but I just don’t know what that is.”

It’s OK to feel this way, you’re not alone. This moment is an opportunity to clarify your why, sharpen your observation skills, heighten your curiosity, and start experimenting.

You don’t need to be in a dead end job, sacrificing your health or relationships or completely burned out to want to make a career change. Instead, actually, it is much better to start when you’re just beginning to feel the call for your next career move.

Here are some practical steps to get you started as you get ready to change careers.

Exploration Preparation for a Career Change

First, relax your shoulders, breathe, and release any tension and pressure related to identifying what you want. Oftentimes, we put so much pressure on ourselves to have the answer, know the next steps, and achieve that next goal. Ironically, easing up and stressing less about finding the answer often leads us to it.

Then, try replacing “work” or “career” with the word “contribution.” This small change can shift your perspective, expand possibilities, and ease any feelings of overwhelm.

The truth is: we often know what we want. The challenge could be:

  1. Not believing it’s possible to pursue what we want.
  2. Not believing we deserve to pursue what we want.
  3. Mustering the courage to pursue what we want.

Taking the time to explore who you are now in your professional life, understand what may be holding you back, identify what you need to thrive in your next career path, and clarify what you want is crucial!

Woman sitting at desk thinking

Curiosities, Interests, Preferences, Strengths

How many times have we all heard, “Follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life?” If you’re like me, it’s a lot!

Has this advice worked for some? Absolutely! Does this advice work for everyone? No!

If the pressure to “do what you love,” “follow your passion,” or “follow your purpose” causes serious anxiety, you’re not alone.

Create a list

As a first step, start by creating a list of what you’re curious about, what you’re interested in, your preferences, times when you enjoyed what you were doing, situations where you feel appreciated, and what you’re good at (strengths).

Sometimes, seeking out a so-called “dream job” is just too overwhelming. When you shift to simpler questions, the insights become easier.

During this self-reflection, you can also include topics you’re interested in reading and listening to in your spare time. And, don’t forget to add what you’re drawn to when browsing social media, videos, streaming services, etc. This may be a great place to begin exploring.

Free yourself of the limitations of your previous experience, and perhaps any limitations and assumptions (for now) around money, ability, or any other details that might hold you back from considering them. This is just about you and what you’re interested in exploring.

Review and Assess

Now, carefully review your list and honestly assess your curiosities, interests, preferences, and strengths.

Consider if each aligns with what is valued in the marketplace. Write down your answers to the following ten questions:

  • What kind of impact do I want to make in my job?
  • Who do I want to contribute to or serve in my job?
  • How do I want to contribute or serve in my job?
  • Can my interests pay a sustainable income for me (and my family)?
  • What level of education, knowledge or training is required to specialize or master this topic?
  • Will this interest keep me motivated and satisfied over time, and is my level of commitment enough to pursue this long-term?
  • Does this area of interest align with my personal values, professional values, and long-term goals?
  • Will this interest provide a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment?
  • Are there opportunities for me to grow and advance in this area?
  • Can I now envision a clear path to my next career choice in this area of interest?

“How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?”

Vincent Van Gogh
Woman behind video camera

I Still Don’t Know What Career I Want, Now What?

Dig deeper into a career reflection with our free Career Method Guide.

Download our comprehensive step-by-step guide to design and land a job you love!

Images from The ALV Career Method Guide
ALV Method Downloadable Guide

Take a Career Assessment

Career assessments or career aptitude tests focus on a variety of areas and are designed to help you identify a path that aligns with your curiosities, interests, preferences, and strengths. They go beyond personality type are designed to help you uncover jobs you may not have considered.

Many people like the idea of career assessments because they seem so scientific. We do caution, though, that these tools are wonderful to help you find jobs you may not have considered, but they are not magic.

No one, especially an online course or tool, can know you as well as you do! Trust your instincts about yourself and which career paths are right for you.

That being said, an assessment is a wonderful place to start when you feel stuck. Explore one or more of the following to get started.

  • Start with a quick assessment on the MyNextMove site. Using keywords, industries of interest, or the ONET Interest Profiler, this simple tool is an easy way to get started and save your results for deeper examination and comparison later.
  • If you haven’t taken the CliftonStrengthsFinder 2.0, it’s another great tool designed to summarize your top talents along with an ample amount of simplified, research-supported data to explain and contextualize your talents.
  • CareerExplorer is a free platform that allows you to determine your compatibility with over 800 hundred careers. It’s a more thorough assessment that takes about 30 minutes and includes discoveries, top careers, career pathways, and more in your results.
Person typing on laptop, close up

Explore What's Holding You Back

Maybe you're hesitant to pursue what you truly want due to external pressures from well-meaning loved ones, friends, or respected colleagues, or internal pressures like fear.

Laurence G. Boldt in his book, Zen, and the Art of Making A Living, suggests that there are “’reasons’ why you might not want to know what your life’s work is.”

He lists nine ways fear can show up that may be holding you hostage:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Fear of rejection
  3. Fear of reality
  4. Fear of losing identify
  5. Fear of pain and sacrifice
  6. Fear of commitment
  7. Fear of making the wrong choice
  8. Fear of not being in control
  9. Fear that it will never work

Do one, two or more of these ring true for you?

“Action is the antidote to fear. If you want to play the game, you have to act.”

Diane Windingland

It’s time to step out of paralysis and into action. Dive into learning and experimenting until you uncover what’s next. I’ve included a few ideas below.

Take Advantage of Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering is a great way to explore new career paths without the same commitment of a full time job. Through volunteer work, you can also acquire and hone relevant new skills, and build relationships with professionals and organizations in different fields.

Explore sites like GreatNonprofits.org and VolunteerMatch.org for suggestions and immediately available volunteer opportunities.

Conduct Informational Interviews

Wondering what it's really like to work in an industry you're curious about? Talk to people who are in your target role to get an idea of their background, day-to-day experience, and advice on getting into the industry. Their real life experience can save you a lot of time as you explore!

How to do to an informational interview

Tip #1: Tap into your network and identify several people who are engaged in work that you think you might be interested in.

Tip #2: Whether directly or indirectly connected to these people, request no more than 20-30 minutes for your interview, and prepare ahead of time to maximize your experience.

Tip #3: Not sure what to ask? Review 200 Great Informational Interview Questions to Choose From, for a comprehensive list of areas to delve into.

By engaging in several informational interviews, whether these are concentrated in one area of interest or across multiple interests, you can learn first-hand what it’s like to pursue that job.

These interviews are also a great way to connect with potential hiring managers. You may even learn about an open position in their company! Even if you don't, however, the true value of these conversations are the fresh perspective and insights they bring while you look for a new job.

Two men meeting at table

Dive Into Freelancing

Freelancing allows you to try different types of work and industries. Running your own business as a freelancer, even as a side-job, will help you discover what you enjoy and excel at.

The best part? You can earn money while figuring out what’s next, and reduce financial pressure while you gain real-world experience and build new skills.

You can also set your own schedule and workload, giving you time to reflect on your career goals and interests. And, it provides opportunities to develop and diversify your skill set, which can make you more marketable for future opportunities.

Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, TaskRabbit, and more can help you find clients and job opportunities to gain experience and get started testing a career change.

Freelancing adds valuable experience to showcase on your resume, and it demonstrates your ability to manage projects, solve problems, work independently, and adapt to different roles.

Finding clarity and taking charge of your career journey involves embracing uncertainty, exploring your interests, and acting despite fears. By easing the pressure on yourself, assessing your strengths and interests, and utilizing available resources and opportunities, you can gradually uncover your next steps.

Start Building Your New Career

The key to a successful, happy career change is to remain proactive and open-minded while continuing to refine your understanding of what you want and need. Remember, it's okay to not have all the answers immediately. Stay curious and open to new career opportunities and ideas.

With patience and persistence, you will find a career path that resonates with who you are and what you aspire to achieve. Embrace the process, trust yourself, and keep moving forward. You never know what will happen.

If you’d like guidance and support along the way, consider consulting a career coach. Sign up for a complimentary consultation today to get started!

Establishing relationships with industry professionals through mentorship and networking can greatly enhance your career development.

Mentorship provides personalized feedback and support, practical advice and guidance to develop relevant skills, a supportive system for encouragement, and increased confidence in your job search.

Informational interviews with professionals can provide invaluable insights and help you understand the day-to-day realities of the job. Leverage online platforms like LinkedIn to join industry groups and connect with professionals you admire, learning from their experiences. Networking can sometimes be more beneficial than formal education, providing valuable insights and opportunities.

Through mentorship and networking, you can gain critical industry knowledge and build relationships that support your career growth.

Volunteer Work

Volunteering in your desired field is an excellent way to gain relevant experience while contributing to meaningful causes.

Through volunteer work, you can acquire and hone relevant skills, connect with professionals and organizations in your field of interest, and test different roles and industries that align with your passion and career direction. Volunteering enhances your resume, helps you develop new skills, and allows you to form valuable connections. This can be especially helpful if you're looking for jobs that don't require a degree or experience. Explore sites like GreatNonprofits.org and VolunteerMatch.org for suggestions and immediately available volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering not only benefits the community but also significantly enhances your job prospects and personal growth.

Volunteers handing hot drinks to people experience homelessness

Freelancing and Gig Economy

Exploring freelancing or the gig economy can provide valuable experience and flexibility in your career.

Freelance work is another way to build your skills when you're making a career change. If you want to move into a particular field or hope to own your own business, freelancing can be very useful. Not only does it allow you to build your own book of business, but often it is easier to get started because there is lower commitment by the person hiring you since you are not a full-time employee.

Freelancing allows you to gain practical experience through projects and build a portfolio without formal education. Many jobs that don't require a degree or experience value such hands-on learning. Trying out your new career on a part-time basis can help you gauge your interest and the need for further education. Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and TaskRabbit offer numerous opportunities for freelancers and gig workers.

By participating in the gig economy, you can develop your skills, build a professional portfolio, and gain valuable experience in your area of interest.

Start Building Your New Career

The key to a successful, happy career change is to remain proactive and open-minded while continuing to refine your understanding of what you want and need. Remember, it's okay to not have all the answers immediately. Stay curious and open to new career opportunities and ideas.

With patience and persistence, you will find a career path that resonates with who you are and what you aspire to achieve. Embrace the process, trust yourself, and keep moving forward. You never know what will happen.

If you’d like guidance and support along the way, consider consulting a career coach. Sign up for a complimentary consultation today to get started!

Continued Learning

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