Figuring out your next career move can be confusing. Here are some tips on making your first move…
Many of my career coaching clients come to me looking to get clarity on where they should take their career.
The options usually boil down to three choices:
- Look for a similar position to what they have at their current firm
- Look for a similar position at a different firm
- Look to do something totally different but more in line with their passions
Each of these options has its pros and cons.
Looking for a new position at their current firm implies staying with what they know and is generally not very risky, but means they have to stay at a firm which (frequently) has its share of dysfunction.
Looking for a similar position at a different firm means the opportunity for a new work situation but the challenges of beginning a job search and the need to prove oneself once again.
Looking to do something totally different has the potential for being amazing, but offers a much higher chance of failure.
The challenge is that the pros and cons of these options tend to swirl around in your head, which most people (without coaching) will then mull over for a while and then ultimately work to put out of their heads so as to prolong making a decision and taking action.
If you find yourself in that situation, here are a few things I would advise you to consider:
How much is enough?
I’m going to start with the elephant in the room amongst all the typical career coach talk of following your passion. For most of my coaching clients, financial constraints live large on their minds.
Whether a mortgage, kids in school, or an expensive lifestyle, the number of people who live below their means are relatively few. This means many people are constrained and unable to take the risks associated with making a significant career transition.
Now, this does not mean that you need to take a pay cut to switch industries/roles to something you are more passionate about. In fact, I have had clients do switch careers to roles they are passionate about and get paid more. However, this is not easily done.
In fact, if this is the type of transition you are looking to make, networking is critical (see Career Coaching: Networking Questions) among other key steps.
My point in mentioning this is two fold, first if you are looking to make a significant career transition it pays to get your financial house in order.
When I was in business school we talked about “Go to hell money.” Basically, the idea was that you should always have enough savings on hand that you can walk out on a job if your boss or the role pisses you off.
How much money this is depends on your situation, but it is generally considered enough savings to meet your expenses for as long as it will take you to find a new job (often 3 to 9 months).
Having subscribed to this approach without knowing the name of it from my very first job out of college, I can tell you that this is very, very comforting. Nothing gives you more power in a job than knowing that if you get fired or just don’t like it, you can walk away.
So, if you don’t have “Go to Hell money,” accumulating that savings is a great first step to opening more career options to you.
Beware the sunk-cost effect
I’ve written about the sunk cost effect in the past (see Career Coaching: How sunk costs are destroying your career), but the mistake is unbelievably common.
If you’ve worked at a firm for a while, you probably have things going on in your head like, “I don’t want to leave because…
- I’m due for promotion next year
- I know everyone at this firm and have great relationships
- I’ve put so much effort in here
- I don’t want to upset X,Y,Z
- I have stock options vesting next year
- Etc, etc
Despite the fact that all of these things may be true, what they do is value the past more than the future.
Now, logically this makes no sense. After all, we live in the present and we can change our future… but the past is just memories.
Said differently, how you would like to live tomorrow is probably more important than how you have lived in the past.
To borrow an idea from Zig Ziglar, there are things we know that we can do today to make our lives worse (e.g. telling off our boss publicly and positing the video of it on LinkedIn), and that means there are also things we can do today to make our lives better.
I find this enormously empowering. It points to the power we have to influence the future through our decisions in the present.
So, when it comes to making a decision and taking action, look to the future rather than dwell on the past.
Consider what really matters to you
What does a life well lived look like to you? I don’t mean living on the water and driving a Tesla (the San Diego dream), I mean what really matters to you.
Research tells us that it is relationships and experiences that matter far more. Have the courage to think about which experiences matter to you and who you want to invest time with and make changes accordingly (See Executive Coaching: How are you investing your time?).
Whether the right move for you is staying put, moving to a different firm, or pursuing a big transition, the decision is deeply personal.
Career coaching works by bringing objectivity and process to the ideas that you have likely long contemplated, so that you can move forward confidently and with clear direction.