Pulse Check: A self-reflection checklist to pursuing your next career move

As a management consultant, my job was to provide knowledge and expertise to my clients on how to solve a problem or challenge and usually involved giving them a set of recommendations on how to proceed. In my experience, even when we were really familiar with the client or problem, the recommendation on what to do did not magically drop into our brains one day in a flash of insight. Instead, it’s something we would discover, through a rapid but thoughtful process of gathering insight, testing, getting feedback, and then coming up with a recommendation on how to best proceed.

This notion is similar when it comes to making career decisions. As a Career Coach, a common question I get when working with my clients on building their careers is “How do you balance doing your everyday work with thinking about the next career move, or, how do you know when to look (or not look) for a new job?”

These are important and thoughtful concerns – we are not certainly defined by our jobs but they make up a significant portion of how we spend our time each week. And like anything important, putting in time to think and reflect before making a decision is a good thing to do. Over the years, to help me answer these questions I’ve built a framework to help me answer some of these questions and figure out how I am feeling about work, which helps inform if I need to make changes.

With that, I like to think of my career as 2-year sprints. During that sprint, I do a major check-in once every six months. During the check-in, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Am I learning everyday? – I am at my best when I’m most engaged/immersed in my work, and that happens when I’m challenged or when I have to learn something in order to do my job
  • Do I like and respect the people that I am working for and with? – I get my energy by working on high-performing teams, and I do my best work in a supportive and collaborative environment. Furthermore, I value and respect people who treat others with respect. This environment ensures I can do my best work
  • Am I committed 100% to doing my best work? – I do my best work and exceed my expectations when I’m fully committed to what I’m doing. I don’t meet my expectations when I’m sort of committed or ambivalent.
  • What have I improved, or strengthened since my last check-in? – As someone who believes in the growth mindset, I believe its important to continue growing both strengths and weaknesses. If I can accurately pinpoint skills I’ve developed or development areas that I’ve improved since my last check in, I know that I’m probably happy where I am.
  • Is there something else that’s taking a significant portion of my mindshare or attention? – I think about the things that are on my mind, and pay attention to my thoughts. Can I identify a specific problem, challenge, or topic that I’m constantly thinking about? If my time is spend on what is currently in front of me, I know I’m probably progressing down the right path. But if it’s on something else, I’ll need to revisit what that is, and understand why I’m focusing on it so much.

For me, it’s about doing a check-in every once in awhile to take stock of what I am doing, how I am doing, and to get a sense of if I need to make changes. Changes can mean anything from adding some more social events to my calendar to help with my well-being, to starting the process of finding a new job, and anything in between. The focus for me is getting clarity on what’s currently going on, and figuring out the best way to keep going. In some cases, nothing needs to be done, but in others, changes are needed.

As I’ve conducted these check-ins numerous times over my career, I’ve learned a few things along the way:

There are always ups and downs – That’s okay, and it’s part of life and your career. Work is just that – Work! Which mens, there are ups and downs and stressful weeks. This happens and is part of life

You need to give it time – In my experience both as a professional and career coach, I’ve come to believe you need at least 6-8 months to get a first set of hypotheses/feedback on a job. If you stay for anything less, you might not get the full cycle (save for a few exceptions)

Considering The Future is a good thing – It can be easy to put your blinders on and execute on the tasks in front of you, so thinking about what’s next is a good thing to do. However, it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand. Try to time box your future planning, or, save it for times when you have more energy/time to devote to other things

If I can answer yes with supporting evidence for all those questions, that’s usually a green light to keep going. If there is a no, or a lack of supporting evidence to any of those questions it means I need to do some additional probing to understand the root cause.

In some cases, there are factors that cause me to answer no that I recognize and appreciate but am OK with moving forward on. In other cases, I need to either A) dig further, B) create an action plan for how I am going to work through it or C) it’s time for me to put the wheels in motion for moving on to my next opportunity

It’s not a binary decision of Yes/No, but it’s a simple framework for how I like to evaluate my job in the arc of my career. The main takeaway here is not the questions or the check-ins but the ability to dig deeper into understanding what’s causing my feelings and to do something about it, whether that means keeping up the great work or starting to search for something new.

I encourage everyone to come up with their own framework and series of questions that they can reflect on every few months. I think you’ll find it will help you figure out what’s going on, what the root of it is, and what actions you can take to make the right next move.

For Career Success, Find These 3 People

Three Amigos. Three Ghosts. Father Son and Holy Spirit. Rule of three. Everything comes in threes, even when it comes to your own personal development.

The MMA trainer Frank Shamrock has a system he trains fighters in that he calls plus, minus and equal. He believes that every great fighter needs three people in order to become great:

“Each fighter, to become great, he said, needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lessor who they can teach and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against.”

The better fighter teaches you the ropes, and helps you find new techniques and strategies. The equal challenges you and pushes you to be your best, and the lessor enables you to demonstrate what you’ve learned and help someone else.

Three people. More than three is great, but that’s all you need to start.

So, who is in your plus, minus, and equal?

How self-reflection can fuel Job Search Success

I work with a lot of professionals who are looking to make job transitions, whether that’s from school to the workforce or from one job to another job. While some of my clients know exactly what they want to do, there are many others who know they want a change but are not exactly sure what kind of change they are looking for.

I think one of the most important factors to a successful job search strategy is a self-reflection of where you are today and where you want to go in the future. For some people, self-reflection and assessment is fairly simple, but for others, it’s ambiguous, so I wanted to lay out a step by step process for how to use a self-reflection process to identify where you are and where you want to go.

 

Identify what you’ve done

First, you need to understand what you have done and what skills and experiences you’ve achieved from your past work experience. This may seem like a simple statement, but it’s easy to get so laser focused on doing your job that you forget to take stock of the projects, tasks, assignments and actual responsibilities you’ve had as well as the impact of what you’ve done. Sit down, and literally write out all the things you did in your job(s) Go through your emails, your laptop, ask your co-workers or your friends, go through all means necessary to understand the scope of what you’ve done.

Identify your strengths

Once you’ve clearly laid out and understood what you’ve done and the valuable skills and experiences you’ve obtained, start identifying your strengths and the things that you are good at doing. Maybe you are a great communicator, or, really great with analyzing data and drawing insights. Everyone has a set of strengths that when utilized properly, make a contribution to your organization. Your goal in this exercise is to identify the ones you bring to the table. Same as last time, write these things out so you can start to see what strengths your bring to the table.

Identify your interests

Additionally, you’ll also want to identify the things that you enjoy doing. While not every job will have 100% enjoyment, it’s important to know the types of things you like to do and want to do. This is because many of us are more engaged and excited by things we enjoy doing, and we tend to exert my energy, enthusiasm and are equipped to do these things well.

So why do you need to do all these things? In a very simplistic view, when you look for a job, you’ll probably want to look for jobs that have opportunities for you to use your experience, strengths, and things you enjoy doing.

Identify the future

Once you understand the present, you’ll want to identify what’s in store for you in the future. What type of job do you want to do? The goal here, is to develop some hypotheses about different jobs you think you’d like. The goal here is not to be 100% correct, but rather, to come to a few hypotheses about what potential paths might be desirable for you to pursue. So, how do you go about doing this?

Research – Using your skills/experiences, interests, and strengths, start looking at future jobs or roles and evaluate if they are a good fit. Sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor are a great place to start. Does the job you’re evaluating make use of the strengths and experiences you bring to the table? If so, that might be a potential good fit

Network – Talk to people who are already doing the jobs you might be interested in. Get to know what their day is like, and get to know the strengths they use everyday and what they like/dislike about their job

Learn – Learning something new has never been easier. Take an online class, watch YouTubevideos, or read articles to determine if that job you think you might want is something you want to pursue.

To summarize, here’s what you can do:

  • Write out your past skills and experiences
  • Identify your strengths
  • Identify your interests
  • Identify a few paths you want to pursue

If you can do these things, you will be ready to start your job search on the right foot.

Pro Tip: If you really want to do some serious self reflection, here are two resources below that might help

Myers Briggs Test – A test to determine your personality type, and how you best engage and interact with other people

StrengthsFinder – A tool developed by Gallup Consulting to help people understand their unique strengths, and to help them identify opportunities to use these strengths

Choosing a Career Strategy that Works For You

Last Week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released it’s monthly report, and noted there were 6.6M job openings and reported the unemployment rate in the U.S was at 3.9%, the lowest level since 2000. Despite these promising numbers, many individuals, especially young professionals are concerned about their career prospects. As a career driven individual and career coach, I spend a lot of time talking about careers with my clients and friends.  In light of these statistics, a common question I get over and over again is “how do I know how to pick the right career or job?”

Many of my generation have been told to “Do what we love.” While there are plenty of people who follow this strategy there are plenty who don’t. It works for some people, but not for others. Fortunately, doing what you love is not the only right career strategy. So for people who don’t like this strategy, don’t know what they love, or are just struggling to proceed, how do you know how to choose the right job?

Just as no two people are exactly the alike, the same goes with selecting the right career strategy. Throughout my work with my clients, I’ve encountered four main career strategies that tend to lead to successful outcomes.

 

Strategy 1: Do something you love

A common phrase we hear in society today. If we take a job or career we love, we’ll commit ourselves fully and deeply engage with the work we do. A phrase we often hear is “find a job you love and you’ll never feel like you worked a day in your life.” And working a job that you love and getting paid to do it – Who wouldn’t want that?

Unfortunately, not everything we love is directly translatable into a job or career. Furthermore, not everything we love pays a salary/wage that enables us to live at the lifestyle we desire. Finally, not everyone has the means or opportunity to truly do what we love – creativity is evenly distributed but opportunity is not.  We live in a world with constraints (financial, educational, experience etc.) and sometimes those constraints permit people from following this mantra.

Doing something you love often gets the connotation that it will be rainbows and butterflies at all times. In reality, that’s not the case. With any job or career, there will be tough times and difficult moments, but for those who are truly doing what they love those difficult moments will be worth working through because it truly is worthwhile. Finally, doing something you love means knowing what you love. While some people know this, not everyone does, especially in your mid-20’s. If this is a path that you want to take, make sure you clearly identify what it is that you want to throw yourself into. Furthermore, investing heavily into something you love can bring you a lot of joy and excitement, but it can also be emotionally taxing. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally so you can be in it for the long haul.

Strategy 2: Do something that enables you to do something that you love

The classic means to an end strategy can help people balance both work and play. Work is a big portion of your life, but does not necessarily define all of who you are. For those who follow this strategy, they may not have a job or career they love, but they recognize it provides them with something worthwhile to do for the majority of the week while also enabling them to tackle other more meaningful pursuits. Whether it’s a chance to travel the world, the opportunity to provide for your family, or the ability to spend time with friends and loved ones, the people that follow this strategy often like what they do, but often have a higher desire or purpose that they use their paycheck on.

For people who follow the means to an end strategy, it may not be fun coming to work every day. It also can get really easy to get comfortable with a particular lifestyle which sometimes locks you into a job you may not like but you need. Without a deep emotional connection to you work, it can be hard to stay engaged for long periods of time or through challenging moments. You also may get envious of those who seem to be super excited about what they do each and every day. Finally, while work and life do not have to be tied to one another, how you are in your life is impacted by what happens at work. For instance, you may take a particular job so you can support your family (what you love) but if you’re stressed or unhappy at work it’s likely it will carry over to how you are at home.

For those who want to follow this strategy, find ways to engage and focus at work as much as you can, especially during mundane or difficult periods of work. When you aren’t working, be sure to truly enjoy and make the most of whatever else you are spending your time on. Accept that fact that you might not love what you do, but that you truly love and appreciate the other areas of your life that are really special.

You may not love your job, but following this strategy can give you a well-rounded and balanced life. Some try to separate work and life, but its important to be aware that one can easily impact the other. You’ll want to be mindful of this so you can make the most out of the time you have when you’re pursuing your interests, hobbies, etc.

Strategy 3: Do something you are good at

Pursuing a job or career in something we’re good at allows us to leverage our strengths, and people who report using their strengths at work often are more engaged and happier with their careers.  It helps us develop our personal brand, which leads to growth and opportunity. When you are good at something, people, and opportunities will follow. When we like what we are good at, and align a job to that strength, it can lead to fulfillment and enjoyment.

 

Just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean we want it to be our job or career. Furthermore, not all of our strengths are directly translatable into jobs and careers. For people looking for variety and challenge getting pigeon holed into a specific job is a real concern. However, if you happen to find a job that enables you to use your strengths it can be very rewarding, for yourself and your company.

For those who want to follow this strategy, take stock of your strengths and look to match them with a job or career that fits those strengths. Furthermore, the times are a changing, and technology is disrupting and upending each and every industry which is challenging but also presents opportunities. Prevent being pigeon-holed by continuously developing those strengths and picking up new ones.

When you find a job that enables you to use your strengths, there’s lots of potential and opportunity. This strategy favors the self-aware and self-starters who truly understand their gifts and talents. There are lots of things we are good at that don’t necessarily translate into jobs, but if you can find one that does you have a great opportunity.

Strategy 4: Do something that has a need

For this strategy, it’s about going where there is a need. When there is a shortage, there’s often opportunity – whether its in the form of a job, career, or in some cases, a job or career that comes with handsome compensation, following this strategy opens exciting new doors. Pursuing a need often means solving an unsolved problem.

Just because there is a need for something doesn’t mean that it’s something that’s a fit for you. Perhaps you don’t have the requisite skills or training to do the particular job. There’s a need for Software Devs/Engs’ but if you don’t know how to code it probably won’t serve you well to follow that path.

 

Before jumping into something, evaluate whether the need is fleeting or more temporary. Furthermore, you’ll also want to evaluate whether or not you have the current skillset for whatever you’re considering and what else you would need to adequately pursue a particular job or career.

Following needs presents exciting career opportunities. Taking a job that fits a really big need could enable you to make a significant and meaningful impact. Not all needs will be interesting, so if you do go down this route you’ll want to make sure its worthwhile to you.

There isn’t one strategy that is best, however,  depending on who you are, your interests, and how you operate best, there is a strategy that is best fit for you. Take time to evaluate your own circumstances and identify which of these makes most sense to follow. It may be a combination of these strategies or even one that’s not listed, but with some self-reflection and soul searching you can pick a strategy that will guide you to a successful and rewarding career on your own terms.