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.

Don’t just think about Passion

When it comes to careers, it’s hard not to ignore phrases such as “do what you love” or “follow your passion.” While those sayings are well intended and provide great aspirations, if you’re embarking on your job search journey I encourage you to also consider another question that is equally important:

Where are you going to do your best work?”

Answering this question honestly and truthfully will generate insight into what makes you tick and how you produce high quality work. If you can determine the conditions that will enable you to do great work, you can use that information figure out the type of job and type of company that will be a good fit for your next role.

I don’t mean to belittle or underscore passion. Passion can still be important, as can finding a job you like or that uses your strengths. After all most people who like there job will probably be more motivated to do it each day, and research suggests that those that use their strengths everyday report higher levels of engagement, so having an eager interest in your next job is still an important factor.

But figuring out where you are going to do your best work is going to help you find a job where you’ll have the best chance to succeed. And if that goes well, you’ll have plenty of chances and opportunities to punch your own ticket to finding something you’re passionate about.

The other reason you should consider where you do your best work is one of career longevity. Assuming that your next job is not going to be your last one, you’re going to have to change roles eventually, so trying to optimize for the “perfect job” is admirable but perhaps futile if you know that you’re eventually going to have to find another one down the road.

Instead, if you can find an opportunity that enables you to do your best work, you’ll set yourself up to succeed on projects and tasks that are interesting and enjoyable.

It may not be your passion, but odds are, it will be engaging and meaningful work. And when you can perform at a high level and do your best work, you’ll probably also open doors for future jobs and career opportunities.

So how do you figure out where you are going to do your best work? Here are some tactical steps to find the answer to this question:

1.Start with past experience

Figure out in your career where you performed the best and were most engaged in your work. Identify the jobs, specific projects, tasks and deliverables where you were able to do your best and write them down. Was it a great relationship with a boss? Creative projects? Work that was intellectually stimulating? Dig deeper by determining the what and the why behind your best work.

2.Figure out your Superpower

All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to understand your own. There are tests out there (ex: StrenghsfinderBusiness ChemistryMBTI) that help identify and pinpoint strengths as well as types of roles or assignments that pair best with a specific strength, but in the absence of that, look at your work experience and identify what people turned to you for advice on, or types of projects that people asked you to help with because of your expertise. And lastly, check your last performance review and see what your manager believes are your strengths.

3.Identify what matters

All of us have priorities, and using those priorities to help in our job search can help is identify and zero in on what jobs to select versus which ones to pass on. For some of us, work-life balance is important. For others, it’s the perks, and for others, it’s meaningful work, or collaborative colleagues.

The key is to identifying and prioritizing the things that are important to you. When you begin searching for job postings, you can use these criteria to identify the right roles, and eventually select your next job.

I’m sure most of us have at least one friend who is very passionate about their job and believes they are doing exactly what they want to do. But while most of us know of those people who seem to be in the job they absolutely love and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, that’s most likely not true for the majority of us.

So for the rest of us, when it comes to finding that next role, consider identifying where you are going to do your best work, and finding a company and role that enables just that. And if you do that, I’m confident you’ll find something you’re passionate about soon enough.