Dear Career Angel: I want a new career but I don't know what I'm good at!

In the second of our Career Angel series, MT agony aunt Penny Davenport explains how to recognise and exploit your skills to start a new career.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Dear Career Angel,

Like many people I know, I have been re-evaluating my career options this January as I feel a bit stale. I think it may be a good time to move jobs but I don’t know what I should do. I have been in my current job for so long, I don’t even know what I am good at any more. Please help.

Paul, Edinburgh

Dear Paul,


It is very normal to get wrapped up in our day-to-day routines and to lose sight of the bigger picture. I commend you for being so focused on your job. It is also great that you have the opportunity to take some time to work out what you want to do. Sometimes people do not have this option if they leave their job suddenly, due to redundancy, for example.

As for working out which career path to take, there are many  techniques that may work for someone in your position but try these two. First, complete a career SWOT analysis. You will have done many SWOT analyses for your businesses during your career but now try it on yourself.

A SWOT analysis stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  Sit somewhere quietly, at a clear desk or table, with a timer set for 20 minutes. Divide a sheet of A4 paper into four quadrants, one for strengths, one for weaknesses and one for each of opportunities and threats.

At the start of your 20 minutes, write about yourself in the four boxes. What are you good at? You don’t have to limit yourself to your current role. Examples would be, 'good with numbers' or 'organised'. Weaknesses might be 'easily distracted' or 'not good with Excel'. Opportunities might include 'keen to learn a language' or 'friend wants to start own business'. Threats could include things like, 'in a shrinking sector' or 'not keeping up with technology'.

Write freely and without censure. The idea is to brainstorm as many thoughts as possible. When your timer goes, walk away from your paper. Come back to it 24 hours later and highlight any themes, ideas or thoughts that you find interesting. I am sure this will trigger some actions in you, and we can discuss this in more detail if you would like.

In parallel with this SWOT exercise, try '20 dials' which I have adapted from a sales technique courtesy of Luke Davies at Sandler. Write down the names of 20 interesting people in your network. They could be colleagues, friends, old managers or business associates. Select people who are interesting, I emphasise, and not necessarily people you think can help you in your career. Simply call them or send them email asking to meet for a catch up. Say it has been too long and you would like to find out what they have been up to.

Out of your 20 dials (calls or emails), you will probably have about 10 lunches or coffee meetings. At the meetings, pay full attention to the other person. Spend a lot of energy actively listening to their news . That is your only agenda item, you have no other objective. From the 10 meetings, my guess is you will end up with 3 to 5 interesting ideas to think about or opportunities to pursue. Your results will be markedly different, I assure you, than if you followed the soulless route of hard-core networking all about yourself.

Paul, this process could take you about two months but you are not in hurry to change jobs and I think you will uncover a lot of interesting information about yourself. Please keep in touch!

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