The end-of-year is not the only time to reflect on how well your career is advancing, whether you should continue in it for the next year, or do something else. You can perform a career check-up at any time during the year, and you can perform multiple check-ups within the year. Similar to an annual physical, an eye or dental check-up, and even your vehicle’s annual maintenance, your career needs a close inspection to determine if you are on the right track, if you need to make some minor tweaks, or perhaps to decide that you need a major overhaul that could include re-careering. Like the other check-ups mentioned above, you can ask yourself some straightforward questions to figure out what your next step may be. It may mean that you can make the adjustments yourself, or it might mean you need a professional career expert to help you along the way.
Regardless, there are five important areas that should be assessed: Interests, Competencies, Motivation, Capabilities, and Fit. Here are key questions for each of these five areas to start out with as you check up on your career:
1. Interests: Are you still interested in your present career or has your interest dropped?
2. Competencies: Are you still skilled in the areas you need to be skilled in or do you need improved or new skills?
3. Motivation: Do you have the motivation and drive to be the best you can be in your career, or have you lost the passion and are not sure what motivates you any longer?
4. Capabilities: Do you see growth opportunities, or do you feel stuck in the same type of work, unable to find advancement opportunities?
5. Fit: Do you fit in the current environment you are in, or do you no longer think you fit in the way things are being done, or feel as good about the people and company as you once did?
If your responses to these five questions are generally positive, then you probably only need to keep reminding yourself that for the short term all you need to do is stay on track, monitor yourself, and make minor adjustments. In a way, your annual Career Check-Up is good, so stay the course, until your next regularly scheduled Career Check-Up.
However, if your responses to any of the questions are not positive, then it might be time to make some major overhauls in your career. Your annual Career Check-Up is telling you it might be time for a change. For example, if you are no longer interested in what you’ve been doing, then ask yourself what you would like to see as part of your next career. If your skills are not up to par, then you need to determine what you need to improve or what new skills you need to acquire. If your motivation is low, then you need to ask yourself what motivates you; perhaps your motivational needs have changed. If there are no advancement opportunities on the horizon, then perhaps you need to make a career or company switch. If you feel you no longer fit into how the company operates, how it makes its decisions, what its values are, then perhaps you need to consider changing companies.
So, if you believe a career switch or adjustment is needed, here is an easy and fun way to brainstorm for ideas for your next career. No self-criticism is allowed in this exercise. Completing the exercise will most likely take several hours, so take your time. You might work on the exercise in half-hour chunks of time until you believe you are done. While this exercise is applicable to all five areas of your career, the example below is only for Interests. So, here is how the exercise works.
Identify any word/phrase that seems to generate interest for you. The word/phrase might be from an advertisement, a song, a movie, a television show, or just a word/phrase that pops into your head, as for example “playing chess.” Write “playing chess” on a piece of paper and circle the phrase. After you circle “playing chess,” freely think of other words/phrases that come to mind when you think of “playing chess.” Write those words/phrases on the same piece of paper placing them around the phrase “playing chess.” Circle all those words/phrases. Then connect all the circled words/phrases with lines, sort of like a web. Not every circled word/phrase will be connected to all the other circled words/phrases, just those that in your opinion most relate to one another. Keep identifying new words/phrases that come to mind for each previously written word/phrase; write the words/phrases on the paper; circle the words/phrases; connect the circles with lines as noted above. Eventually you will have many circled words/phrases with lines connecting them. Again, not all circles will be connected to every other circle. If you do this enough times you will see a pattern, sort of like a thread of thoughts. Your “Career Path of Interests” might also look like a highway map, with each circle representing a city or hub, and the lines represent the roads connecting the cities or hubs.
For example, “playing chess” might cause you to think of “strategy” and “winning.” However, “strategy” causes you to think of “planning” while “winning” causes you to think of “losing.” So, you forget about “winning” and “losing” and go with “strategy” which may cause you to think of “detail” which may cause you to think of “investigation” which may cause you to think of “being a reporter” which may cause you to think of “following the law” which may cause you to think of “being an attorney” which may cause you to think of…. You get the idea.
When you are done brainstorming, you have a career path for your Interests. Repeat the same exercise for Competencies, Motivation, Capabilities, and Fit. Then, analyze all five career paths. It will guide you to a career or several career possibilities. Then, you need to further investigate these career possibilities for more information. Perhaps you need to attend college, or to talk with someone in the career field. There are many other ways of learning more about different careers.
This exercise is based on the functioning of your brain. Your brain has stored millions of pieces of data, some of which you are fully aware of while some of which is in hidden compartments ready to be accessed when prompted. This is what you have actually done in the exercise, prompted your subconscious to tell you what you already know, but are not fully aware of. Further, writing the words/phrases with freedom, seeing the words/phrases with your own eyes, and then verbalizing aloud the words/phrases causes your brain to make these important connections and alerts you to them. It is amazing how this works.
Small things usually lead to big things. So, repeating the same simple question for different words/phrases, “What does xyz mean to me?” for example, starts you thinking in simple words/phrases that later turns into more important words/phrases. Further, the repetition of the question prompts your brain to access information that is stored away in the hidden compartments previously mentioned because repeating the same question over and over again forces you to think more thoroughly. Repetition also facilitates repeated behavior and increased memory.
While you may get “thinker’s block” and not be able to think of words/phrases at first, do not give up. Motivation and persistence pays off, and that is crucial for learning more about your next career. Also, if you notice that the process becomes easier each time you repeat the process for each of the five areas, consider challenging yourself to think of more complex words/phrases.