Finding the right career involves self-exploration

Dear Joan:
I've read many of your articles about finding a job with great interest. However, my problem has me really stuck about which job to go after. I've had several positions in my career but now I want to change direction and I don't know which way to go. It's confusing when I look in the want ads at all the jobs because I'm not even sure which ones I'd like or I'd be good at-or qualified for. Can you suggest some direction for me?

Isn't it paralyzing to be all motivated with no where to go? The frustration of not knowing where to put your focus can cause you to do nothing or jump from job to job, hoping you'll stumble on the right one eventually. The problem with the latter approach, is that by the time you eventually figure out what you want to do, you've wasted a lot of time and your record looks like a patchwork quilt.

Often, we spend more time planning a vacation than we do planning our career. Why not take some time now to go on a little career journey? Explore what's out there and see if it matches your talents and interests-before making one more futile move. If you're interested in taking this trip, I guarantee you it will help you save years of frustration. Why can I speak with such confidence? I took this journey myself!

I call it the 3-3-3-3 approach to career exploration. Here's how it works: First, fill 3 sheets (both sides) of notebook paper with the names and work places of everyone you know. This list of friends, family and colleagues is going to help launch you toward other people in fields that interest you.

Next, examine every job or volunteer experience you've ever had and identify at least 3 specific skills or talents you have. These things must be well-articulated. For example, saying, "I'm good with people," isn't enough. What kind of people? In what situations? Using what skills? Then write down examples of results/accomplishments you've had in each of those 3 areas.

Now you're ready to contact the people on your list and tell each of them that you are searching for a new career direction. Explain the 3 talents you have and ask them if they know any fields/jobs that require those skills and abilities. From each person, get 3 names of people who do the jobs they told you about and ask them if you can use them as a referral when you call these people for information.

Now you're ready to call or write to the people who do jobs that interest you. Using the name of your referral, introduce yourself and explain that you would love to meet them and ask them what their job is like, and how they got to where they are. Most people like to talk about themselves, and depending on who referred you, will probably spend some time with you.

If you contact at least 3 people per week, you're likely to figure out what you want to do in very little time. Ask these people questions such as, what kinds of things do you do all day? What percentage of time do you spend on each? What are the special challenges you face? What results are you expected to produce? What do you like least about your job? What skills and abilities are most important in this job? What kind of qualifications and experience are needed for a job like yours? What is the salary range in this field? If you were me, how would you enter this field?

The beauty of the 3-3-3 system (3 pages of contacts, 3 skills, 3 names, 3 people a week), is that you are learning and networking at the same time. The more people you meet, the more names you will collect and you will be exposed to more jobs that could be right for you. This journey is a wonderful adventure and an investment in yourself. Because if you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up someplace else.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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