Q: After many years of going with the flow career-wise, I've decided that having always previously been chosen, it's time I did the choosing for my next job. Trouble is, never having done it before, I'm not sure where to start.
A: Most 'careers' are more like a series of jobs than a planned, orderly progression to a pre-determined goal. Serendipity plays a part in most people's working lives: an introduction from a friend, a random call from a headhunter. Even promotion within a firm can be a case of moving to an available job rather than the role that would best suit an individual's talents and aspirations.
Quite a few of my clients have found themselves in jobs that they're perfectly capable of doing but don't provide the satisfaction they demand in a pursuit that takes up more than half their waking hours. Often, they're engaged in activities valued by their organisation but which they themselves don't particularly relish. Or perhaps they've been in one role for too long.
So your decision to make a deliberate choice for your next job is sensible. Handled right, this could be the route to a more rewarding working life. However, like an underused muscle, your mental mechanism for making choices has been dormant these past years and needs to be exercised to reach full efficiency.
Start by constructing a balance sheet of all you enjoy about your working life and the things you dislike or find irritating. This will give you pointers as to what to look out for and avoid in your next job and, incidentally, to what would be likely to extract the best performance from you - the happier we are at work, the more likely we are to be motivated and effective.
Next, make a list of your skills, qualities and experience, including elements that have been ignored or underused in your working life to date. Do you have a creative streak that has never been allowed to flourish? Would you like your caring nature to be relevant in your next role? Would you prefer not to have management responsibilities, so you can concentrate on your area of professional interest? The only right answers are the ones that correspond to what you suspect will lead to greater job satisfaction.
While sculpting your ideal job, factor in practicalities as well as content and context. Is your commute bringing you down, and, if so, would you sacrifice salary or status to work closer to home? How many days a week would you like to work? Would you prefer a small or larger company? Do you need to increase your salary or can you afford to stay at your present level? Try to identify the most important variables for you.
Once you've done these choice-enhancing exercises, start looking at the job ads, in newspapers, trade press and professional journals and online, to see what sort of jobs are available to fit the template of your ideal job. If you find any that seem suitable in most respects, pay attention to the language used to describe the vacancy - you'll need to reflect this when you put your CV together. And make a note of which recruitment agencies and websites work for the sectors you're most attracted to.
You may strike lucky first time and see a job advertised that you want to apply for. Probably, though, you'll need to do some sleuthing to track down the opportunities that come close to your ideal, and not all of them may be advertised. Make a shortlist of potential organisations, and find out as much as you can about them - by word of mouth and by visiting their websites - to check for vacancies and the names of the gate-keepers for jobs, be they in HR or recruitment agencies, or heading specific departments.
Construct a CV that reflects your capability to excel in the kind of job you think will suit you best. Describe yourself and your achievements in ways that will help recruiters understand your aptness for the new role. Be selective as to whom you send your CV: the clearer you are about what you want and what you offer that's relevant to a prospective employer, the greater your chances of gaining attention.
Actively choosing involves more work than passively waiting for the next opportunity to present itself, and success is not guaranteed. You may discover that your ideal isn't achievable in every detail. However, you'll have created a useful template against which any roles offered can be measured, and this can form the basis of negotiations on the specifics of a new job and your terms of employment.
Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org