For a generation, workers would decide on a career and stick with it until retirement. Today, it's very common for people to change their careers as many as four to seven times in a lifetime. And as many as half of all employees in this country say they'd love to make a job change if they could.
The reasons for changing careers vary from displeasure with initial choices and boredom to new values and dreams for yourself or even the desire to make more money.
When people ask me to help them get a job, my first question is, "What kind of job do you want?" The most common answer: "Tell me who's hiring...I'm interested in all sorts of things." The job-seeker thinks it sounds flexible, which can be a good thing, but in reality, it looks desperate and unfocused.
Ask yourself, "What are my strengths?" And when answering that question, it's important to get beyond the basics -- I often hear the phrase, "I'm a people person." That's too generic and doesn't speak to your knowledge, skills and abilities. You want to ask yourself: "What am I really good at?" "What do I love doing?" "What excites me?"
Ask your friends and colleagues for their opinions of your strengths. Sometimes friends and colleagues think of you as the "go to" person anytime they have to write a letter because your writing and editing skills are exceptional. Or maybe you're a computer whiz who can fix any bug. Those could be cues for a potential career path.
So What Are Your Options?
Sometimes it's easier to figure out what you want by seeing what other people have. There are a few easy ways to do that:
- Talk to other people about what they do, which can open your eyes to a myriad of possibilities. Ask for an informational interview -- even by e-mail if it's not possible to meet in-person. You can pose a few key questions about their career and the skills required to be successful in a particular line of work.
- Window shop at career fairs. Many attendees to my company's career expos are very focused on what they're looking for. Other people, however, attend to get a sense of who's hiring and what's out there.
- Scan the Sunday "Help Wanted" section of the newspaper. Use this section to identify key words that grab your attention on first impression. This helps you identify potential areas of interest that you might not have thought about. For example, maybe you're a poetry writer who can't find work -- and you're drawn to positions that reference writing skills…PR, copywriting, editing, fact-checking.
Make Your Dreams Real
Think of people or positions that cause you to say, "Wow! I'd love to do that!" -- and then scale it back to something tangible.
Maybe you dream about being the next Maria Sharapova or Roger Federer, but you're a terrible tennis player. How about working in sports marketing or for a major league team or stadium? Your dream job could be found in as a sports agent or event organizer.
Maybe you can't be a ballerina, but that shouldn't stop you from pursuing a career in the arts. With a passion for ballet, perhaps you're well-suited for a position in administration at a performing arts center or within a company that manufactures or sells tutus.
Passion for a particular industry counts for a lot. Don't settle for any old job; be sure you're seeking a position with the potential for forging a lasting and fulfilling career.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. To connect directly with Johnson, visit www.womenforhire.com.