This post originally appeared on Girlboss.
There’s no time like the New Year to tap into that fresh reserve of ambition and seek out a job you really, truly love.
Here we are, standing on the welcome mat of 2018 – how are things looking? No doubt you’re living your most hydrated and jazzercised life, and you actually have some functioning pens at your desk, because you’re that serious about getting your shit together.
So goes the New Year, when we’re brimming with fresh ambition and determined to make some changes for the better. And in the instance that you have one of those bigger undertakings on the horizon, like changing jobs because your current situation isn’t cutting it, there’s no time like now to tap into that bubbling initiative.
But of course, a dream job doesn’t simply fall in one’s lap. And a position that seems shiny and new from the outside might not always turn out to be what you had in mind (or what was advertised, for that matter).
Ahead of casting your lines, keep in mind the following expert advice from career coaches who’ve guided numerous clients to that coveted I’m-excited-to-go-to-work setup.
Mine your past experiences, and put that knowledge to work
Much like a video game or the aspirations of Napoleon Dynamite, you’re going to go through your life acquiring various skills. And while some of them are going to be in line with the career path you want to follow, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you must do something.
As career coach and Sayge co-founder Katie Stricker points out, in a moment of transition, reflecting on your past experiences and implementing that assessment is key: “Reflect back on your last few roles – even internships if you’re just starting out. List them all on the left side of a sheet, then create columns for ‘what I loved’ and ‘what I didn’t love,’” she says.
“Once you’ve completed the list, then outline the themes and key skills you really want to focus on during your day-to-day. You’re essentially starting to write your job description that you can then use as a match point when searching for your next role.”
And while it might seem like common sense to play to your strengths and preferences, looking past the potential of a new position and fully understanding what it entails is essential.
Emily Liou, career coach and founder of CultiVitae, puts it this way: “If you love creative work, you might want to avoid applying for that data-entry position. If working with a team is really important to you, you might want to reconsider that position where you’re the sole marketing person,” she says.
“As you learn more about the roles through the interview, you can dive deeper into your evaluation criterion and make sure the new position checks all of the boxes.”
Soak up knowledge from the person who has your dream career
’Tis the era of over-representing how #blessed we all are, all the time, including when it comes to how we bring home the bread. But there are people out there who actually love their jobs and don’t mind Mondays. And Stricker recommends seeking these people out and tapping into those positive vibes:
“There’s nothing better for career searching than talking to other women. It will give you new perspective and fresh ideas about your next move,” she says. Find friends, friends of friends, former colleagues and even LinkedIn connections; ask if you can take them out for a cup of coffee, and ask questions about why they love what they do and the path that led them there, Stricker recommends.
Author and career coach Adrean Turner expounds on that point: “Often times, you’ll find that it wasn’t a straight road for them, but skills and experiences they acquired over time that enabled them to determine their passion,” she says. “This will give you insights on pitfalls and shortcuts for success.”
And while it might seem intimidating to cold email someone or ask for an informational interview, Turner advises just going for it and being straight up: “You’d be surprised how responsive people are when you approach them with transparency,” she says.
Above all else, keep your focus on what’s important to you
If your values don’t align with the company you’re working for, you’re not going to be happy in the long run. “Our values are the ultimate bellwether for our happiness. If freedom and personal development are your highest values, but you’re stuck in a job that keeps you locked behind a desk with no room for growth, it’s no wonder you’re not happy,” Stricker says. “By defining your values, you give yourself a guide when looking at specific roles, and also evaluating a company and its culture.”
She recommends writing down five core values for yourself to use as a benchmark. Stricker cautions, however, that these values will inevitably evolve over time and will need a periodic refresh.
Liou likewise emphasises this need for something beyond a functional day-to-day, especially when a rough patch arrives: “When weeks or months go sour with negative team culture, upset clients, or major organisational changes, you need something bigger than yourself to drive motivation to see things through,” she says.
“This means you must know what the purpose of your work is. When people create and execute meaningful work, they feel more satisfied in their careers, which leads to healthier relationships and wellbeing in general.”
“Your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder”
Young people have (wrongly) gotten a bad rap for being habitual job hoppers, and rejecting the notion that we ought to stay on a straight and narrow career path isn’t necessarily unwise. As Liou points out, for instance, thinking about our career paths as a ladder to climb can narrow our perspective and put too much pressure on moving straight up.
“This leads us to resistance in pivoting, when sometimes it’s what we need the most,” she says. “If we can think about our careers as swinging in a flexible manner and still ending up where we ultimately need to be, it allows us to be more creative with career changes. Your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder.”
Don’t hold back when it comes to imagining what your future could look like
The dominant narrative most of us are fed is that eventually stepping into the career of your dreams is an elaborate game of chess, requiring you to “pay your dues” and “put the time in.” While there’s certainly merit to understanding commitment, challenging your skill set, and learning from every experience, Turner cautions against enlisting in a job at the expense of ignoring what you find genuinely fulfilling.
A time of transition is a perfect time to honestly assess what those big, audacious dreams of yours are. “What would you do if you couldn’t fail? What comes naturally to you? Think about times of ecstatic engagement,” she says.
“Those reflections will help you to find your ideal career. Knowing what excites you will motivate you, energise you and provide clarity for what you’re seeking. Being specific narrows your focus and enables you to target specific people and organisations. This will lead to you finding new opportunities more quickly.”