For Career Direction, Use Your Imagination
by Bill Barnett | 1:30 PM June 28, 201
Do you know what you want to do with your career? What if you don’t? The quest for the right career field frustrates students both before and after graduation. It frustrates people who are unhappy with their jobs and want something very different.
If that’s your situation, you first must imagine what that field might be. That’s easy to say, but hard to do. People sometimes throw up their hands in despair and take whatever opportunity presents itself. Don’t settle for that. There are productive ways to look for clues about what might work for you.
Tommy (name has been changed) shifted career direction after doing imagination exercises. With a full-time job, he was pursuing an MBA on nights and weekends. If he stayed with his employer after graduating, he would not only move onto a management track, but the company would also refund his tuition cost. He had assumed he would take full advantage of this deal, but when he went through what he called the “dream job exercise,” he realized that was wrong for him. He wasn’t excited about the institution and didn’t want to move into management there.
What Tommy discovered through his dream job exercise were fields that emphasized intellectual exploration. He’d felt some of that the first year or two in his current job, but not as much now. He recalled his earlier interest in pursuing a PhD and becoming a professor. That’s ultimately what he decided to do.
If you need ideas about your future direction, create your own dream job exercise. Follow these three steps:
1. Imagine extreme jobs. Spend 10 minutes describing the perfect position — one that fully fills your needs and is plausible for you. Think of a vivid, concrete example (like electronics product management or starting a restaurant). Describe the job’s characteristics: what you’d do each day, how the organization would work, your impact, and so on. Be expansive. Do it again for one or two other “perfect” jobs.
Then, imagine the opposite — a job you’d feel was horrible, even though others might disagree. Describe it in the same way.
2. Leverage extreme strengths. Look to your own capabilities for inspiration. Take your top strength, and imagine a few fields where it would be the right fit. What might be possible? For this moment at least, the sky’s the limit. Take a second strength and go through the same process. Do it a third time.
3. Recall past interests. Go back to your time in high school, college, or your first job. What did you enjoy most? How did you spend your time off? Look back to pivotal career decisions, how and why you made them, and how they turned out. These are personal case studies. Why did you make those decisions? How important are those criteria now?
As you develop new skills and knowledge in school and at work, you may discard things along the way. That’s natural, often a sign of maturity. But you may also be leaving talents behind that belong in your future.
These three steps bring to mind what you care most about in your work. Take a look at your lists and see where they align with different fields of work. Once you have a promising idea, research that field and talk to people who know it. Find out what it’s like and if it matches your interests.
Once you’ve found something that sounds right to you, ensure you’re the right fit. Develop yourpersonal value proposition for your target position in that field. If you’re not equipped for that position but you’re determined to make it happen, figure out how to upgrade your qualifications to create that opportunity, whether it’s starting with a lower position in the field, going back to school, or advancing your skill-set using online resources.
Keep in mind that this is an early exercise, fit for those who don’t know where to start or who may want to change careers. The answer isn’t black and white. You’re looking for ideas to consider, not absolute proof. But if you put effort into these steps, I’d be surprised if you don’t come up with good ideas for fields to explore.
How have you imagined new opportunities?