By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners
Originally published by Forbes.
Very few of my career transition clients are 100% sure of what they want to do next. Most people either take their transition as an opportunity to take a step back and explore what would be a more meaningful or fulfilling career for them or they come to the coaching with a few potential paths in mind, unsure which would be best for them.
If you fall into either of these categories, there are several exercises you might do to help point you towards the right path. Among these is conducting a “mini-360” to get feedback from friends and colleagues who know you well. Keep in mind that no assessment—including this one—will ever provide the ultimate answer to the question “What should I do next?” Instead, this exercise will give you data to consider and incorporate with all of the other data that you are collecting that may highlight certain themes for you to explore further in determining what might be next for you. I often compare the career transition process to a treasure hunt, and the answers to this mini-360 can provide both interesting and compelling clues to help you get more clarity and move forward in your search.
Download an excerpt on how to identify your next career move from the latest edition of The Career Handbook for Working Professionals.
This is an easy but powerful exercise you can do in requesting feedback from as few as 3-5 people or 10-20 or more with a brief email. Recognizing that some people will not reply, I recommend reaching out to at least 10-15 people. The more responses you have, the more likely common themes will emerge.
To be clear, I am not advocating letting other people decide your professional path for you—in fact, you want to stay away from what my colleagues and I call “the should’s.” For example, “My parents say I should find something more stable than a startup,” or “I got a law degree, so I should really do something in the legal field since I spent all that money on law school.” Feedback from others can be helpful since they are more likely to be objective in identifying your gifts and talents that you have either taken for granted or have a blindspot around and don’t recognize the extent to which you are really good at something in particular, whether that’s communication, creativity, or coaching others. This might help you identify jobs or career paths that play to your strengths.
Below are some questions to ask in your mini-360. You can, of course, customize this as you wish.
If most people mention adjectives such as “creative, innovative, and forward-looking,” one might infer that data analytics might not be a good career for you, but perhaps product design or marketing might be. Likewise, if the adjectives are along the lines of “caring, compassionate, and helpful,” perhaps something in the helping professions like teaching, medicine, counseling, or coaching would play to your strengths.
Answers to this question will either make you feel seen, understood, and appreciated or they may shed light on strengths you didn’t even realize you had. For example, someone once told me that I was a risk-taker. I looked at them very puzzled, as I didn’t think of myself that way. I asked them what it was about me that had them see me this way. They responded with actions or decisions I had made that I had never thought of as risky, because they were things that I wanted to do. But they were, in fact, risk-taking. They pointed out that I moved to a foreign country not knowing anyone with only a rudimentary knowledge of the language and left a high-status job in investment banking to do so. I also co-founded a leadership development firm two decades before that was a popular thing to do, while taking zero salary each year, relying solely on my business development skills to earn a living. Sometimes, it takes someone else to show us what we can’t see. We can have blind spots around strengths as much as development areas. Given my appetite for risk, I probably wouldn’t be happy in an opportunity that had limited financial upside.
Sometimes, a fulfilling career is just around the corner, but there might be a competency—defined as an area of knowledge, a skill, or a trait—that is underdeveloped or missing, the presence of which, would expand your options and make you a more compelling candidate for a particular role or career path. This might involve learning a software program, understanding the regulatory environment in a particular sector, or learning to speak up more. These competencies may also be driven by market trends like digital transformation and the increasing applications of artificial intelligence across sectors.
Getting feedback on the situations where you are at your best is also helpful to know in thinking about what’s next. Are you at your best presenting to small groups, solving complex problems, or when you’re engaging with clients? The answer to this question can also inform the type of work that would allow you to be in these situations most often. For example, if you’re at your best when engaging with clients, this might point to the professional services sector or a business development or client service role.
To be fully engaged in your work, it needs to align with your values and interests. If others see you get excited by projects that are global in scale and the latest consumer technology, these interests may point to various target employers. Likewise, if you value collaboration and variety, these values may point to careers in consulting where the work is typically project-based and done in teams.
These last two questions asks the feedback provider to “put it all together” and suggest positions or career paths that might (or might not) be a good match for you based on what they know about you. Hold these suggestions lightly—this is where some projections or “shoulds” may emerge, or if it’s a longtime contact or close family member, they may be stuck in an old image of you. But there can be some good ideas found among these answers for you to explore as well.
The benefit to asking a number of people these questions is being able to step back and identify the patterns and themes that emerge. Notice how they resonate with you. Do they intrigue you, excite you, or repel you? Which ones warrant further exploration? And what additional questions do these responses raise for you? The data you collect here can inform the next step of your exploration that ultimately leads you to your next career move.