Finding your direction

First published in 2020

The events of 2020 have led many of us to reflect on our careers and how we wish to earn a living going forward. It’s always useful to keep one eye on how you are progressing towards your next career goal, and make adjustments as you go along, but how often do we really get a chance to review whether our chosen career path suits our skills, makes us happy or fits in with our values?

Let’s be honest, we spend more time working than we do sleeping, enjoying our hobbies or spending time with our loved ones. So why not use this time wisely and discover whether you’re currently on the right career path?

How we work

2020 has seen how we work change, whether that be working from home 5 days a week, interacting with colleagues on Zoom, or volunteering in our communities whilst we’ve been on furlough. For most of us this has brought challenges, particularly to young professionals living in shared houses who are working, eating, relaxing and sleeping in a single room day in day out. However, it is worth remembering that the longer we spend working remotely the better we’ll get at it: technology will improve, we’ll get better at switching off at the end of the day and we’ll finally get used to operating the mute button.

COVID-19 restrictions have also opened up new opportunities for those living outside the main commercial centres and for those for whom working in an office 5 days a week isn’t feasible. Not to mention the benefits of avoiding the commute, being able to flex our working patterns around family commitments and work when we are feeling most productive.

At the time of writing, it is still unclear where we will end up in the debate on remote working. Employers are testing the waters with employee preference surveys, figuring out how they can incorporate physical distancing and, of course, trying to save money wherever possible. For the short-to-medium term, some corporations will want to return to a traditional office set-up, some have already taken the bold step and gone full remote, while the remainder will inevitably limp along in the middle-ground until there’s a clear way forward. Personally, I have the internal debate as to whether I need the noise, pollution and astronomical house prices of London, or if I would be happier with just a bit of land somewhere with an internet connection on an almost daily basis.

What we do

I can’t be the only person who, seeing the efforts of nurses, shelf-stackers and rubbish collectors over the course of this year, realised they have a ‘bullshit’ job. Whilst I know there is value in what I do, I certainly don’t save lives or make anything essential for society to function.

Figuring out how we can best contribute is a complicated business. Firstly, there’s natural talent – for most jobs you either have what it takes, or you don’t. Childhood dreams of footballer/popstar spring to mind, but it’s also rather tricky to become an accountant if you just can’t get your head around numbers. Then there’s the skills you’ve developed so far in life, those all important ‘soft skills’ that everyone talks about, but also any industry knowledge, programming or spoken languages, and the often underestimated ‘I’ve tried this before and it didn’t work’ category. Lastly, and most importantly, there’s whether you actually enjoy what you do. Everyone has tough periods in their career and mistakes they’d rather not mention, but if you don’t find your role interesting or rewarding you are going to be pretty miserable.

How to get there

  • 2020 has been completely unprecedented for job seekers and there is so much uncertainty in the world right now – to prevent becoming overwhelmed, focus on the things you can control
  • In order to give yourself the best chance of finding the right career for you, start with the longest term, widest possible universe of options and use a structured approach – such as that outlined in What color is your parachute?, by Richard N. Bolles – to narrow these down to a select shortlist. For example, you can start off with your passion being the environment, recognise your existing organisation and communication skills, and realise that while money isn’t that important to you, the culture of the organisation is. After speaking to people you realise this points to a project management role in a global environmental charity, such as Greenpeace.
  • By undergoing a process of thinking about your employment preferences, such as the types of people you want to work with and the environment which helps you operate at your best, you’ll be able to develop a deep understanding of your wants and needs; this will help you reclaim power during your job search as it will be an exploratory process for both you and the employer
  • Whether it’s being a parent, friend, volunteer or neighbour, every one of us plays a number of roles on a day-to-day basis; some people like these roles overlap, whereas others prefer to keep them separate. Understanding your feelings about work-life separation will impact the industries and roles available to you and, more importantly, how happy you are in your future career
  • The further you are into your career, and the more organisations you work for, the better your understanding will be of your professional likes and dislikes. If you are just starting out as a graduate, be prepared to ‘try on’ different types of workplaces until you find somewhere that fits
  • When thinking about the knowledge you have developed don’t restrict yourself to your employment history, you can also include your hobbies, volunteering and any reading you like to do
  • Even with all the digital tools at our disposal, the most successful job searches are still the ones that leverage human connections; make sure you are reaching out to people in your network and asking for introductions to help you find the information you need to achieve your dream role
  • There are no right or wrong answers, and your results will change over time – don’t worry about getting it perfect!

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