Proven Strategies to Figure Out Your Career Direction + Stop Wasting Time, Money and Energy!
Like many people today, you may be yearning for more purpose and happiness in your work-life. Yet finding a career direction that will fit you as an individual is inherently more challenging than identifying a career path that will fit an objective criteria, like a particular salary level or schedule requirement. As a result, you may be seeking support with clarifying your career direction.
Unfortunately, the level of professionalism in the career services industry varies wildly. Anyone can claim to be a career expert, yet very few have the experience and knowledge base to back it up. In general (with some notable exceptions), people working in the career services field are kind and well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean they’re effective.
In addition, individuals looking for career help are all too often unclear about what type of help they need and vague on how to assess a potential service provider.
This guide is designed to give you a fuller understanding of the career services industry, so that you can make an intelligent, informed decision and avoid wasting time, energy, and money en route to finding a career direction you love.
5 Costly Attempts to Gain Career Clarity That Result in Frustration and Wasted Money
Costly Attempt #1: Going Back To School
What costs thousands of dollars, a year or more of your life, and will not necessarily clarify what it is you want to be doing with your career? Returning to school for a new degree.
Despite requiring a tremendous investment of financial and personal resources, going back to school is often an “easy” route to take. More schooling is so seductive because it is familiar, structured, and prestigious.
While you may happen upon an attractive career path while in school, all too often this mammoth resource pops people out just as confused as when they entered.
Why? The collegiate system is meant to train, educate, and prepare you for a specific path. It is not designed to check if the path that you’ve picked is a good fit for you.
Costly Attempt #2: Taking Time Off or Traveling the World
Have you ever thought of taking some time off or traveling the world to finally find yourself?
Here’s the good news. By taking a break you could very well recover from burnout. You could create memories that last a lifetime. You might meet new friends. You could have a very enjoyable experience.
Here’s the bad news. You might accidentally be perfecting work’s complement, vacation, and make zero to nil strides on clarifying your career direction, while simultaneously draining your savings.
There’s a universal process to figuring out your career direction. This process has specific steps that need to be taken.
Surprise! Enjoying the beauty of a sunrise in a novel location is not one of the necessary steps.
Giving yourself a huge swath of unstructured time is a gamble with extremely poor odds if you don’t approach that time with clear understanding and intentionality.
Costly Attempt #3: Using the Wrong Type of Career Service
There are three main categories of career services: “Find Your Path” services, “Land a Job” services, and “Thrive In Your Career” services.
People often attempt to utilize the wrong service type for their situation, which results in frustration and wasted money.
The most common example of this is engaging with a “Land a Job” service professional, like a resume writer, before you’ve clearly identified your desired career direction.
A polished, eye-catching resume is pretty much worthless if it is untargeted, or worse, aimed in a direction that you do not ultimately want to go in.
Save yourself from months of fruitless job searching by taking the time to hone in on what you’re searching for career-wise by using a “Find Your Path” career service first.
Costly Attempt #4: Buying Biased Advice
Imagine a clothing salesperson who has an abundance of a particular type of shirt. They may push that shirt on a customer, even if it is the wrong style or color for that person. They have a clear agenda when they enter the transaction, and they are offering biased advice.
Contrast this with a salesperson who does a full assessment of the body type and coloring of the person in front of them and offers a tailored solution that would be a good fit for that person.
Which type of service would you want to engage with as you’re “shopping” for a career? Obviously the one who helps you to find a custom solution that actually works for you.
Well, there’s a lot of biased advice in the career world. Credentialing programs, start a business trainings, and buy a franchise informational sessions are just a few examples. These services have their place, but if you are looking to clarify what you want to be doing, engaging with these groups too soon is problematic.
These services’ role is to sell you on their specific solution to your problem, independent of whether it is a good fit for who you are and what you want.
Costly Attempt #5: Trying to Figure Out a Loved One’s Career Path For Them
Caught ya! I know you care about your loved one and want them to get onto a better career path, but doing so is their responsibility, not yours.
I’ve heard too many stories from colleagues who describe spouses or parents who have paid for career support for a loved one that didn’t go anywhere because the individual in question never showed up. It’s a big waste of time and money to try to help someone who isn’t looking for help. Our company’s policy is to screen for and refuse these cases.
8 Misconceptions that Will Keep You Stuck and Waste Your Time
Misconception #1: Finding a New Job in My Current Industry Will Fix Everything
Let’s say Nancy is working at a big law firm and feeling miserable. In an effort to improve her circumstances, she works on landing a job at a different big law firm. After going through the effort of landing and getting situated in her new job she finds that she is still miserable.
Learning her lesson, she concludes that working at a big law firm isn’t for her, so she expends time and energy transitioning to a mid-size firm. Again, she gets settled in her new job and notices that she still is unhappy.
She concludes that working at a law firm isn’t the right thing for her and begins looking at in-house legal positions (working directly for a company). A few months after landing an in-house gig, something still feels off…
You’re beginning to get the idea, right?
Perhaps Nancy should consider a role that does not involve her being a lawyer at all.
There’s a distinction between being unhappy because of an ill-fitting environment and being unhappy because of an ill-fitting career path.
When the environment is the main issue, changing jobs could improve your situation.
When the career path is the issue, changing jobs within the same industry is a waste of time. It robs you of years that you could be using to develop a career path that you actually enjoy.
Misconception #2: I Should Be Able to Figure This Out By Myself
This may sound harsh, but here’s the real deal. You’re too close to this problem. As a result, your thinking on it is muddled and you lack perspective. You’re either missing a path that is right in front of you or you’re missing the possibility of other opportunities. There are so many more career paths than you realize, and you simply don’t know what you don’t know.
When I asked former clients to describe the difference between trying to figure their career out on their own as compared to getting 1-1 help with it their consistent answer was, “I needed an expert perspective”.
An expert is someone who has seen many cases and is more knowledgeable and objective than you. As a result, they can provide a better diagnosis of what’s going on and what needs to be done.
The truth is we use expert help all the time in the form of doctors, fitness instructors, mechanics, and tailors. Why would getting expert help with your career, where you dedicate a majority of your time and energy, be any different?
And for those of you who are thinking, but so-and-so seemed to figure out their career by themselves, and at such a young age too! Why hasn’t that happened to me? Know this.
So-and-so went through the same universal process of figuring out a career path as everyone else. It did not just fall into their lap. And they did get help along the way.
In fact, the help they received was so readily available that they went through the process of figuring out their career path fairly unconsciously (which is why they can’t really explain how they did it). Their social environment facilitated the process for them.
Clearly your social environment has not done the same for you (see the next point), so you’re going to need to go through this process consciously.
Please stop believing that you’re lacking. The only thing you’ve been missing is a guide.
Misconception #3: My Family and Friends Know Me, So They Should Be Able to Help Me with My Career Direction
Here are several common, real-world responses from friends and family when asked for help with figuring out career direction.
They may share what they think you should be doing with your career, which will usually have a lot more to do with what they value or what they think would impress other people, rather than leading you towards a path that would be a good fit for you.
They may set you back by sharing their own fears or limited understanding of what’s possible for you career-wise.
They may support you in staying in analysis paralysis by unintentionally feeding the exact wrong type of thinking you need to be doing to figure your career direction out.
They may give you well-intentioned, lofty advice, like, “Do what makes you happy”, but provide no concrete direction on how to implement this advice.
They may question your desire to improve your career and encourage you to stay stuck exactly where you are.
They may discourage you from your dreams because of their own agenda of wanting you to stay “safe”.
Or they may inherently resist any change that you attempt because your change may affect them and change is often uncomfortable.
In the best of cases your social environment wants good things for you, but may not know the specifics of how to help you with it. In the worst of cases your social environment is actually part of what is keeping you stuck. Either way, they are not an optimal resource for effective career advice.
Misconception #4: Why Pay For Help When I Can Get it For Free From My University’s Career Services Department or Other Free Career Resources?
If you start looking, you will find a ton of free career resources. These run the gamut from university career service departments to volunteer-run career support organizations (often associated with religious institutions) to non-profit or government run services. So why pay for help when you can get it for free?
First, I want to acknowledge that many of the people delivering these resources mean well and are aiming to be helpful. That being said, there are many inherent problems with relying solely on free resources.
They’re largely focused on job search help, which doesn’t do you much good if you aren’t sure what type of job you want to be targeting.
Additionally, because these resources have the focus of helping people to land jobs, they will put you in contact with a large pool of people who do not have jobs. This can provide a nice feeling of support and camaraderie. But if you’re going to be spending time with people, you know who it would be a lot better to hang out with? People who have jobs and are working in the field you want to enter. In other words, people who might actually be in a position to give you a job. People who do not have jobs are the pits in terms of their ability to hire you.
When utilizing a free resource you might hit on an extraordinary experience, but it’s not a sure thing. Many resources are volunteer run or offered because of donors or grants, which means there isn’t a market quality control check on the services that are being offered. Inconsistency in the delivery of their service is common.
Lastly, think about your relationship with your high school counselor or college advisor. Unless you were in a particularly small school environment, there was likely a one to many dynamic going on, which meant you got 15-30 minutes once a semester (if that) to discuss your life and plans.
Free resources are similar, usually offered en masse, and the amount of individual attention you receive will be limited. There’s probably not one person directly overseeing your case who is really taking the time to understand you and to help you to get what you need.
Free resources may be a helpful tool to have in your back pocket as a supplement to more targeted support, but they will never take the place of focused, professional, individualized support.
Misconception #5: I Can Get What I Need From A Career Book or Career Course, Right?
Books and courses are often low investment, which means they are particularly easy to ignore. How many books have you purchased and never read, much less implemented? How many courses have you started and never finished? If the answer is, quite a few, then you are not alone.
The statistics on how many people make it past the first chapter of a book or through an online course are strikingly abysmal.
This is largely because these resources put the onus of accountability on you. And you are likely working a job, taking care of your health, spending time with loved ones, running errands, getting some fresh air, and vegging on the couch a bit on weekends. You already have a lot going on! The willpower to follow-through consistently on yet another demand on your time is not going to be all that high.
The book or course content might be great, but if you aren’t able to follow through, it doesn’t really matter. You’re not going to get results.
And in too many cases the content is not great. It’s a hodge podge of ideas from multiple guest instructors or it offers some conceptually helpful ideas, but never takes into account the human doubts and worries that stall people out in the real world.
The best way to figure out your career direction is to work one on one with an experienced professional. With this arrangement there is someone involved who can spot you on your blind spots, which are going to be unique to you. Not only does this arrangement provide greater accountability, figuring out your career direction is an inherently personal and individual task, which means having personal, 1-1 attention is a critical component of the process.
Misconception #6: Once I Know More About Myself, I’ll Definitely Be Able to Pick a Career Path
There are testing services that will help you to connect to your strengths, aptitude, and personality. Engaging with these services can feel productive (and very comfortable). You’d think that obtaining more self-knowledge would directly translate into career path clarity. It doesn’t.
What will probably happen if you buy into this misconception is that you’ll just keep taking tests, hoping that the next one will have the answer.
The real answer is that self-knowledge alone is not enough to get onto a great career path.
Career paths rarely drop from the sky or a test result. And if you don’t know how to translate self-knowledge into productive action, it’s not going to do you much good.
Misconception #7: Anyone Who Says They Can Help Me Figure Out My Career Direction Will Be Able to Help Me
There’s a wide range of career help in the marketplace.
On the amateur end of the spectrum, some people dabble in providing career support on the side, but are really employed by a separate full-time job. Others temporarily claim to be career coaches during stretches of unemployment. There are people who write about career topics, but don’t actually work with individuals. Then there are those who have foundational helping skills, but no expertise in the career field.
It’s all too easy to find someone who is willing to help you figure out your career direction who doesn’t actually know what they’re doing.
These amateur service providers may wind up being helpful, but they’re unlikely to be efficient. Useless exercises, wandering threads of questioning, improperly timed assignments, and a lack of tried and true procedures will wind up wasting your precious time and energy.
Why take six to nine months to accomplish something that can be done in one to three? You’ll get faster and higher quality results by working with a professional organization with many years of experience, a clear system, and a track record of generating results for their clients in a timely fashion.
Misconception #8: I Need to Work with Someone Who is Local and Knows My Industry
Nope! Figuring out your career direction is a universal, human process that holds true across locations and industries. You’d be better off working with an expert miles away rather than an amateur in your hometown. This work can be accomplished virtually.
How to Vet A Career Coach… Questions to Ask Before, During, and After
Any career coaching service worth their salt will talk with you before formally engaging in working with you to ensure you get the right fit of service for your situation.
Here are things to consider before, during, and after this conversation.
Is this the right type of service for me?
Be sure to match up what you’re looking for in terms of the three career service categories, “Find Your Path”, “Land a Job”, and “Thrive in Your Career” with what the service provider offers.
Do they use a process?
A process is a replicable procedure that consistently moves you to a desired result. It is often developed over time through knowledge and experience.
It is much better to be working through a powerful process than to be working with an individual who is feeling their way through. Individuals have off days. Processes do not.
- Are there defined, structured programs (an indication of a process) or are there offers of random session increments or one-off sessions (an indication of winging it)?
- Is there a team? A team indicates that not only is there a process, but it is good enough to replicate.
Has the process worked for other people?
Look for testimonials, online reviews, and other forms of feedback from former clients.
Will you receive the needed 1-1 attention this process requires?
Watch out for content dumps and group programs. Verify that any service you work with will give you the needed 1-1 attention this process requires.
How much experience do they bring to the table?
Ideally you’ll want to work with someone who has already been through the bulk of the learning curve of this type of work. They should have at least a few years of full-time client work under their belt.
Do they participate in industry events?
In the United States the professional affiliation for career services is the National Career Development Association (NCDA). There are corresponding local chapters. You’ll want to work with someone who is engaged and learning from the industry, not a lone wolf.
Is this your primary work?
It’s better to work with a full-time professional than a part-timer.
How many clients are you (or your team) currently working with?
A minimum of 5 clients at a time is a good sign. You’ll want to watch out for someone who is stressed and stretched to the limit though. For example, if one person is carrying a client load of twenty or more individuals, they may not have the bandwidth to fully support you.
Is this advice-giving or coaching?
Coaching, when done well, helps you to overcome blind spots and erroneous thinking. It is individualized and tremendously helpful. It is better to work with a coach who will work with you specifically rather than someone who offers general, nuts and bolts advice.
Did they take the time to listen and understand you? Did you feel a rapport? Were they kind and compassionate?
In an individual helping relationship it’s important to feel comfortable and safe with anyone you engage with. Trust your gut on this one.
Did they feel objective or did they have an agenda?
You want to work with someone who does not have an agenda or bias as to what you should be doing.
Was there a positive, non-needy, growth oriented energy present?
When it comes down to it, picking a well-fitting career direction is a form of growth. Your best bet of being in good hands is to work with an individual or organization that leads by example by courageously pursuing their own growth.
Assess Your Coaching Readiness
Here’s a brief quiz to assess whether or not you are ready to successfully work with a career coaching program.
1. Are you committed to improving your career? And are you going to take full responsibility for your results in a coaching program?
A track coach can’t run wind sprints for you. The coach can set out the training program, help you to mentally prepare, and cheer you on. But you have to do the actual running. And even in running, you could choose to show up and try your best or put in a half-hearted effort. The way you show up will have a big impact on your results.
When you work with a career coach, there’s a similar distribution of responsibility. Your coach can guide you through the process, spot you when you get stuck, and celebrate your wins. But you have to show up and do the work to get the job done.
Make sure you are “ready to run” before engaging with a program.
2. Are you willing to honestly share the good, the bad, and the ugly of your experience with your career in a safe environment with a non-judgemental individual?
Your career problems aren’t really that unique. Good coaches have heard and seen them all before. But you still need to being willing to share openly to get the most out of a coaching relationship.
If someone were trying to clean your house and you barricaded off a few rooms, the cleaner wouldn’t be able to do a very good job. Similarly, if you barricade your “mental house”, the coaching won’t be very effective.
You don’t have to jump right to the most painful thing in the first minute. Use your judgment and open up as it feels safe to do so. Just know that your overall willingness to be vulnerable is needed.
It’s ok to struggle with your career. It’s ok to feel doubts. It’s ok to be imperfect. And it’s an extremely strong life strategy to share all of these things with a compassionate and non-judgemental coach who knows how to help you work through things.
3. Are you someone who is capable of sticking with a process even when it feels uncomfortable?
There’s a messy middle to most things in life. Whether putting together furniture or figuring out a career direction, there’s going to be a rough spot along the way. You need to have the persistence and personal strength to stick with the process all the way through to get to a career path that is a terrific fit for you.
If you are someone who will give up on the process at the first sign of difficulty, then don’t bother signing up. You’ll just create a string of interventions that “don’t work”, which will affect your level of career optimism negatively.
The people who get the best results are the people who show up for the whole process.
4. Are you open to new perspectives and ways of doing things that could work better than the way you’re currently doing things?
Look, we all love to be right. And it would feel very gratifying if your coach looked at everything you were thinking and doing and said, “Yup, you’re totally right about everything“. It would also be terribly ineffective. Because your current approach is clearly not getting you the results you’re wanting.
One of the very best attitudes you can take when entering into a coaching relationship is actually a willingness to be wrong. When you can actively acknowledge and embrace the places where your mental map isn’t working for you, you’re empowered to make positive changes.
Conversely, when you lock onto your current way of looking at things with a death grip, well, there’s not a whole lot of room for positive change.
Be humble. Be open to learning a better way. Be mentally flexible. And you will give yourself the opportunity to soar.
5. Do you currently have the time and energy to put towards a coaching program?
If you are already maxed to the limit and really don’t have a spare minute to put towards a coaching program, don’t sign up. First clear out a small corner of mental space and energy, so that you can really get the benefit of the program.
There’s never a perfect time to engage in a coaching program though. Waiting until the stars are in alignment and the kid’s schedules are all in perfect harmony and you’re totally ready means you’ll be waiting a lifetime.
You made it to the end! Thank you for educating yourself on “Proven Strategies to Figure Out Your Career Direction + Stop Wasting Time, Money and Energy!”. Hopefully the brief time this took to read through has saved you some costly mis-steps.
If you are ready to kick your career clarity into gear, click the link below to begin the process of working with us. We’d be delighted to support you in improving your life and career.
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About Cardy Career Coaching
Cardy Career Coaching is an international coaching team specializing in helping well-educated, good-hearted men and women around the world find more purpose and happiness by figuring out their career direction.
They are led by Alison Cardy, author of Career Grease: How to Get Unstuck and Pivot Your Career. Alison developed a systematic process that successfully guides people to career direction clarity. Her work has been showcased by many alumni associations, including Georgetown, Duke, Harvard, MIT, University of Chicago, and University of Maryland. She has also been featured in The Washington Post, Forbes, Fast Company, Monster, and The Huffington Post. Alison is an active member of the Maryland Career Development Association and has spoken at their annual conference.
The Cardy Career Coaching team has guided thousands of individuals on their career since 2009. Their home on the web is www.cardycareercoaching.com.