April 3, 2012
Brainstorming new career options: my favorite trick
In the old days -- I mean the REALLY old days -- it probably wasn't all that complicated to figure out what to be when you grew up. You were likely either born into a family profession, such as farming, soldiering or carpentry, or you got picked up as an apprentice somewhere and that became the calling for the rest of your days.
In the modern world, however, things operate differently. There are virtually no barriers (at least in this country) to the job or career paths to which you can aspire. You can choose to be a doctor. A lawyer. A waiter. A polysomnographer. A flight attendant. Whatever strikes your fancy.
Sure, there are varying degrees of difficulty involved in these choices. But there's no law stopping or inhibiting you from pursuing them. A few years back, Michigan State University graduated a 61-year-old medical student. Think that guy was ever told he was crazy, making a bad decision or pursuing the impossible? Guess he had the last laugh, with his freshly minted doctorate in hand.
And yet, as much freedom as we have in choosing our employment futures, the process can be a real challenge. If nothing else, the sheer number of career options available today (around 100,000, according to one estimate) can confuse, intimidate and overwhelm many people who have decided the time has come to shift into a new line of work.
Making matters worse, very few good tools have been developed to help people with the career-exploration process. While there are tons of books out there on the subject, most of them, in my humble opinion, simply tell you to "follow your heart" and "pursue your passions" without any real consideration of practical realities.
Career-assessment tests aren't much better. While it's tempting to answer a few questions and receive a list of your "top 20 best career fits" and so forth, alas -- most of these tests are painfully superficial and out of date.
Ultimately, many mid-career professionals flounder when it comes to figuring out some new options for themselves. Among the creative methods I've used with my clients over the years, however, there's one approach that stands above the rest in terms of helping people explore where else they might fit in today's dynamic, increasingly specialized world of work.
That tool is Indeed.com. Or any other large Internet job board, for that matter. Although these sites are sitting right under our noses, most people don't usually think of them as a way to creatively explore new occupational alternatives.
When you think about it, though, any large job website (especially an "aggregator" site such as Indeed) contains hundreds of thousands of positions open across the country -- making it a de facto database of virtually all the career possibilities that currently exist. What's more, these sites don't operate in hypotheticals. They tell you exactly what problems companies need solved, what job titles are assigned to the people who solve these problems, and what qualifications are typically required to compete effectively for these roles.
This is powerful stuff for those seeking to reinvent themselves.
Visit Indeed and try running a search for any assignments that would combine some of your core skills, strengths and passions. For example, you could punch in a phrase like "writing AND sustainability" and see what comes up. In that case, you'd turn up some funky niches like "Sustainability Federal Programs Manager" or "Strategist, Sustainability Communications."
Wow. Who knew? These kinds of jobs are probably too new to show up on any assessment test, but they are real jobs that companies are seeking to fill. And with commitment and research, they might be the perfect option for somebody to target going forward.
If you're feeling uninspired by your career path and want to brainstorm some fresh alternatives, give this approach a try. You'll have to move fast and try different keyword combinations for best results, but it's worth a shot, since these sites are free. Best of all, they're not limited solely to occupations that existed 10 years ago. They'll tell you what options are out there right now, in real time.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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