How to help take control of your career
By Steven Starks, Sr. Manager, Career Advising Programs & Operations, University of Phoenix
Lost, stuck, bored and unhappy – these are some of the most common words I hear from advising clients who aren’t yet where they want to be in their career. They know they want something more, something better, but they don’t always know what that is or how to get there.
Taking control of your career is about intentionally moving in the direction of your goals. Sometimes work is just about survival – paying the bills, taking care of your family and putting food on the table. Responsibilities and life circumstances can have a way of taking us down career paths that we never consciously chose. But whether you fell into a line of work or simply did what was necessary to survive, it’s never too late to create your own path.
Clarifying your career goals starts with understanding yourself – the wants, needs and preferences that guide your decisions. Start small and reflect on past experiences from school, work and life in general. Ask yourself hard questions like:
- What topics spark my interest? What causes do I feel passionate about? What type of problems do I like to solve?
- What moments in my life and work was I at my best? What was I doing and how did I feel during those moments?
- What activities (work tasks, hobbies, etc.) energize me and which ones drain my energy?
- What do I want more of in my career and what would I like to avoid altogether?
By paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and reactions to your experiences, you can build greater awareness of what’s important to you in a career. Look for themes, not definite answers. Themes act as clues about your interests, strengths, values and workplace preferences – the building blocks of a clear career vision.
Another important step in taking control of your career is raising your awareness of career options. Career databases like O*NET and the Occupational Outlook Handbook provide hundreds of career descriptions. You can explore careers broadly by industry and occupational groups or look up specific occupations to learn details of the profession, the job outlook and more.
Talking to others and learning about the nature of the work they do can also increase your awareness of career options. Speaking to people you already know can be helpful, but developing relationships outside your existing social circle will expose you to new career ideas. Through self-reflection, research and conversations, you might discover a new interest. Follow that hunch and pursue conversations by attending meetups, local chapter meetings of relevant professional associations or alumni association events.
Taking consistent action to clarify your goals is the key to making this process work for you, but you don’t have to do it alone. Seek out help from mentors, supervisors or the new network of professionals you’ve met in your desired career. University of Phoenix students and alumni can enlist the help of a credentialed career advisor for guidance and support. Having a professional career advisor in your corner can give you the motivation and know-how to navigate this career discovery process.
With clear career goals, you can identify the skills, experiences and credentials to be competitive in the market. Seek out opportunities to practice and apply the skills you want to be known for, so you’ll have tangible experience, not just theoretical knowledge. Document your successes by treating your resume and LinkedIn profile as a living record, updating them at least twice a year with concrete, quantifiable achievements.
If you’re already clear on what you want to achieve, cultivate opportunities instead of waiting for them via online job postings. That means proactively researching companies, building strategic relationships with people who work there (including hiring managers) and turning these strangers into advocates. Through networking conversations, seek to understand their pain points and identify a business problem you can solve or a goal you can help them achieve. Keep in touch with contacts and develop “professional friendships” rooted in authenticity, mutual interests and reciprocity.
Finally, treat every job as a temporary assignment because there’s no guarantee that it will last forever. I’ve worked with people who after 20 years in the same role, suddenly lost their job due to corporate downsizing or disruptive changes in the industry that led to automation. Never stop learning or you run the risk of your skills becoming obsolete. If you stay ready for change by developing good career habits like those mentioned above, you will be prepared for that unexpected opportunity that presents itself or changes you can’t always see coming.