Finding Direction for your Job Search

How do you approach job search? Finding direction can help you be purposeful in your actions and have a clear message for others; but more often than not, the rush to be decisive about direction comes from a desire to avoid the doubt, confusion and stuckness of the job search process. As Timothy Butler asserts in Getting Unstuck, there is much to gain from that period of uncertainty if you can take time to develop awareness and allow a vision to emerge that is true to where you can thrive.

When I ask people about how they are directing their job search, I often hear it framed in one of two ways: Either they know the qualities of what they want – like developing people or having an innovative culture – but aren’t clear on the actual jobs that would be possible; or they have some specific targets in mind – like clean tech or marketing –but haven’t articulated the qualitative aspects that would help them sort through the opportunities. It is important to understand both frames in order to drive the necessary awareness for an effective job search:

The conventional advice is you need focus for an effective job search. As such, many people tend to focus around specific Destinations. That approach may make it easy to implement but can lack the flexibility to make sense of and adapt to what you learn in the process.

Jack Welch said, (with reference to Moltke the Elder, one of the great military strategists in history):

“Strategy is not a lengthy action plan. It is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.” (Thanks Paul for the quote!)

If you focus your job search strategy around your Orientation, it can serve as the central idea that allows you to discover new possibilities in the market and in yourself, and deal effectively with changing information. You must regularly re-evaluate what is important to you and check your assumptions.

Figuring out your Orientation is a dance of introspection and deduction. You can reflect on what is important to you and come up with one set of criteria; and you can analyse the choices you really make, which might reveal another set of criteria. You can start by looking at what choices might interest you, and making sense of why.

Brainstorming Destinations

In Herminia Ibarra’s Working Identity, she talks about Possible Selves – (defined by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius as: “the selves we hope to become, think we should become, or even fear becoming in the future”). How do we come up with the ideas of our possible selves? In many cases, we just stumble along them based on the exposure we have had to others – through personal interactions with friends and family; or professional interactions with colleagues, clients or suppliers. Since you get your ideas based on exposure, then to expand the possibilities you are considering, arguably you need to expand your exposure. You can do that either passively – through blogs, stories, magazines, news and other media; or actively – through professional networking, increased social activity, hobbies and interests.

I attended a webinar years ago (that I see is still offered in fact) by Neisendorf & Associates about career ‘serendipity’ – creating your own career good luck. Among their various pearls of wisdom, they emphasised how getting involved beyond your job and having life experiences outside of work can be key to making discoveries and opening opportunities. This had really resonated with me at the time because when I started off as a facilitator and coach, many of my client leads had in fact come from my activities as a singer (lots of people to meet in a choir!). The critical thing in brainstorming Destinations is to look for inspiration, not just job postings. Allow yourself to be surprised where you might find it.

Clarifying your Orientation

Take your list of tempting Destinations and use that information to articulate and test your assumptions about your Orientation. Look at each possibility and think what it is about that opportunity that interests you. If you map these qualities on to the Triple-E venn diagram (in my article on Career Choice), you can check if you are taking all of the dimensions into account: What is the expertise you want to be using and developing? What are the values and interests you want to honour? What are the professional and personal conditions you want to meet? It is an iterative process that requires curiosity, not conviction; testing, not assuming.

Deriving your orientation from the possibilities that interest you can help you identify those key themes – not based on an ‘ideal’ of how you wish you were, but grounded in the clarity of what is really important to you – the enthusiasm, expertise and external factors that come together to make you thrive.

As an example, if you were to focus on Consulting for your job search, you might apply to any job in the category. But do your interests lie in a category? There are many differences from one role to the next or within the same role at different companies. If what interests you about Consulting is doing analytical work and having a variety of projects then focusing on that qualitative Orientation will better ensure you are creating the right options and will allow you to look beyond the category. Sure there are tradeoffs when faced with the reality of job options but by centring your search around the ‘dream’, you are more likely to land close to the mark.

Discovering through Action

  1. Signal your Network. By communicating to others in your network the key attributes of where you want to go next in your career, they can help you expand your knowledge of possible destinations. If you tell people, “I’m looking for a job in Banking”, they make their own associations about what that means and often recommend options that don’t match what interest you. If you tell them you are looking for a finance job in which you are negotiating deals, working in a high pressure environment, with a team of dedicated professionals they are more likely to come back with relevant leads and ideas.
  2. Craft Experiments. In Working Identity, Ibarra shows the iterative process of testing and learning through the crafting of experiments to try out possible identities. Whether you are trying to reinvent yourself or just looking for positive change in your career, crafting experiments can help you discover untried interests and expand your network. This can be through courses, activities, and temporary assignments. Social media has opened up new ways to dabble, through Twitter, blogs and online communities.
  3. Create Options. I encounter many a job searcher stressed about Destination choices at an early stage in the process, when those choices are not even real options in the form of a job offer. Being overly decisive about your Destinations can paint yourself into a corner where you have to start all over again if things don’t work out as planned. Focusing your job search around your Orientation puts the emphasis on creating options, constantly revealing new possibilities while staying true to your goal. Just get started and see what you find.

Becoming You

Destinations come and go but Orientations endure. As Butler observed in ‘Getting Unstuck’:

Each of us has a “pattern in the carpet”. Certain recurring themes signal what is vital for us. From these themes we can discern the types of activities, work environment, and close relationships that make our lives most satisfying. As we grow, we more easily see these patterns and make better choices for ourselves.”

When I started as a facilitator 10 years ago, in lieu of my title on my business card I had put:

Facilitating idea generation and evaluation

Since that time I taught business simulations; trained as a coach for careers, teams and leadership; provided experiential learning in executive programmes; and have now created an online platform to enable educators and coaches to enhance learning through feedback and review. Each of these activities have been different Destinations on my career path but as I look back, I see that they all share, somewhat unwittingly at the time, the central idea of my original Orientation: Facilitating idea generation and evaluation.

How has a central idea emerged (or been planned) in your career and how has it helped you evolve?

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