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  • Writer's pictureTracey Orosz

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

When you were a child, you probably were asked this question quite often: What do you want to be when you grow up? As you got older, you were expected to know the answer. But with the number of career changes in the average jobseeker’s life, you might find yourself wondering again: What does the future hold for me?

In one study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. During this same time, these individuals experienced an average of 5.6 periods of unemployment. With re-employment, some jobseekers made minor or major career changes. A construction worker may decide to start his own home-remodeling business. A newspaper reporter may become a TV news anchor. Or a physician may quit to become a comedian.

Having “career clarity” about where you are headed will not only help you identify what type of job you want to pursue, but it can also give you insight into the specific skills and qualifications you need in order to be looked at as a candidate for the role, and it may even help you identify who is hiring for the type of position you are seeking. Once you’re ready to apply for a position (or contact an organization about an unadvertised opportunity), your professional résumé writer will need your clarity about your future career direction in order to help you create effective career documents to secure job interviews and offers.

Your résumé and LinkedIn profile are not a “career obituary” of where you’ve been — they should be a forward-looking marketing document that showcases your skills, education, and experience in the context of where you are headed — with a strong emphasis on the value you can deliver to your prospective employer.

An effective professional résumé writer can take a diverse work history — for example, a 30-something who has worked in television news, as editor of a sports magazine, has experience in public relations at a small, local university, and who worked in an ad agency — and create a cohesive, compelling career story showcasing his qualifications as a press officer for an international sports team.

It’s finding the thread to sew together an eclectic work history — or finding a pattern in your previous positions within the same field — that can help set you — and your career documents — apart. Helping a prospective employer understand who you are — and, more important, what you can do for him or her — is the key. So deciding what you want to be “when you grow up” or even just “next” is critical.

How often have you been talking to a colleague about their job search and they say, “I’m not picky. I just want a job that pays more.” It’s not about being picky — or not being picky — it’s about being focused.

If you wanted a different car, and you were asked, “What kind of car do you want?,” you would benefit from being specific with your description. Two doors, or four? Sedan or SUV? Cloth seats or leather? New or used? What color? What make and model?

If you know what you want — whether that’s cars or careers — not only is it much easier to find it, but if you have clarity about the job you’re seeking, you can also tailor your résumé and cover letter to showcase how you are the ideal candidate for the position — cutting through the clutter of hundreds of other applicants.

There are two paths to achieving “career clarity” — otherwise known as a crystal clear job target.

The first is through self-exploration. There are numerous online resources you can use to identify what you want in your next job — or your next career. The second is to enlist the assistance of a professional. You can hire a career coach to help you work through the process.

The Self-Help Route

The federal government has several excellent, free resources to help guide your research. These include:

The Occupational Outlook Handbook:

The OOH provides career information on job responsibilities, education and training, pay, and outlook for hundreds of occupations.

O*NET Online:

O*NET Online provides detailed descriptions of the world of work, including the daily aspects of a particular job and the qualifications and interests of the typical worker in that field.

My Next Move:

My Next Move is a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is an interactive tool for jobseekers to learn more about their career options. The website identifies tasks, skills, salary information, and more for over 900 different careers. It also integrates the O*NET Interest Profiler, which offers personalized career suggestions based on a person’s interests and level of work experience.

CareerOneStop Toolkit (Formerly America’s Career InfoNet)

The Toolkit is a “one stop shop” to find information about careers, training, skills, jobs, wages, state and local resources, and more.

You can also take a variety of online assessments and career inventories to discern your career path. Keep in mind, however, that these many not be scientifically valid. However, they may help remind you of areas of interest that could potentially lead you in a new career direction.

Getting Professional Help

If you want to go beyond your own research, consider engaging a professional to help you identify your career direction.

Career coaches (also sometimes referred to as “career counselors”) can help you assess your interests, skills, and values, investigate career options, and define a career path. Some provinces and states require individuals to be licensed in order to call themselves a career counselor. Career coaches may have a counseling degree or may be certified in life coaching. Others may be certified through professional organizations. The key is finding a fit for your particular needs — ask people you know for recommendations. Talk to several coaches and make sure it’s the right fit.

Your career coach may use a variety of tools and methods to help guide you through the career exploration process. These can include career testing, guided assessments and exercises, and interviews.

You can find career coaches in university alumni centers, community agencies, and in private practice. The cost may range from nothing to several thousand dollars to work with a clinically trained professional in private practice over the course of several weeks or months.

What’s Next?

Whether through self-exploration, professional assistance, or a combination of both, your goal is to create a profile of your ideal job.

Once you figure out 3-4 types of jobs you’re qualified to do, that you want to do, and that pay what you’re looking for (either now, or that you could get the experience to move up to that pay level within the next 12-24 months), then you can look and see who is hiring for those jobs (whether they are being advertised or not — many jobs in the $50,000+ range are not advertised; they are filled through recruiters or networking/direct contact).

Investing the time — and/or money — to achieve career clarity can pay off with a shorter job search, potentially higher starting salary, and satisfaction with deliberately choosing your career path, instead of hoping you stumble across the perfect job.


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