Whether you long to scale the corporate ladder, be a successful solopreneur, or build the next mega organization, success starts with direction – a focal point for your energy, talent, and skills. Unfortunately, to avoid being pigeonholed, many professionals chase a generalist career-track, leave this journey to chance, or simply guess when they come to a fork in the road. At best their efforts have them succeeding in the wrong direction and at worst, many find themselves fruitlessly chasing the wrong goal.
But all is not lost. With a little research and some thoughtful introspection you can have the inspiration of the open road while dramatically increasing your chances of identifying and navigating your ideal career path. To jump-start your adventure use the following four steps.
- Listen: Whether you call it finding your vocation, identifying the perfect career, or optimizing your work/life meaning, the first step is to listen, really listen to the right voices. No, not to your inner child or the whispers of your long hidden passion. You have to listen to career stakeholders such as potential clients, former managers and mentors, colleagues, and family. The answer to “what should I do?” is all around you and it comes in the form of your Personal Brand: What you’re known for. What people say about you when you’re not in the room. Simply listening to feedback can give you clues as to how others perceive you.
- Identify Your Ideal Brand: You can ask for feedback, but honesty, especially when it demands an unpleasant truth, can be hard to come by. To ensure you get the real picture of your current brand, you’ll need to dig deeper by noticing trends. The easiest way to do so is to consider why people call you. Are you the data guy, the tech whiz, or the voice of reason who can shift through various opinions to come to an optimal solution? One off requests might seem important, but trends mean more. This pattern will give you insight as to your skills.
- Consider the Gaps: When it comes to personal brands, there is usually a difference between the status quo and the ideal state. Whether your transition requires a subtle adjustment or an overt and pronounced change, you need to be purposeful. Perhaps you want to be better known for a skill you’ve recently developed, erase an infamous brand you’ve outgrown, or simply adjust pros and cons to achieve a more balanced and accurate view of your current skillset. Regardless of the desired end state there are usually two gaps to consider:
- A Marketing Gap: This is the difference between what people know about your skillset and what it actually is? For example, maybe you transitioned to HR through training so people who “knew you when” initially only see you as an instructor. Without a complete storyline or appropriate context, they would be unaware of your new skills and equally oblivious to career experiences obtained before they met you. Sharing your current skills and backstory if appropriate will widen your career opportunities and altered your brand. Soon the phone will ring for different reasons….the ones you want.
- A Skill Gap: This is the difference between your current skills and what you’d like to do. This comes in two varieties. Sometimes there are elements of our past careers that, even if we are good at, we’d like to stop doing. And sometimes we desire to build a brand around a skill we’ve yet to acquire. For example, consider a c-suite executive who wants to become a speaker. He may get calls for business consulting, a skill he has, but no longer wants to pursue and at the same time, struggle to secure an audience as a speaker, for although he has the knowledge, he hasn’t proven himself in that area.
- Craft a Plan: Various assessments can provide insights on potential career direction. Some are helpful, but none should make the decision for you. Listen to yourself and your audience. People usually know what they want to do. The hard part is constantly advancing skills in that area and then making sure people know about it.
Need a career coach? Contact me via www.PlotlineLeadership.com.
Be sure to check out my latest book The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi