3 Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Questioning Your Career Path was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
You’re not completely sold that you’re on the right career path, but the idea of making a change is daunting. There are so many unknowns, and we all know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Plus, if you do decide to change course, you may have to take a step back to develop necessary skills.
The time and energy required to transition into the right career path may be valid concerns, but they shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a path you love. Several years ago, I went from working in finance to being on a human resources team—unconventional to say the least. The decision wasn’t easy. I knew that I would be unsatisfied if I stayed in finance, but I wasn’t 100% sure HR would be the right fit. After hours of conversations with friends, family, and people in my network and months of introspection, I finally worked up enough courage to make the leap. I haven’t looked back.
Before you make a switch of your own, ask yourself the following three questions.
1. Are You Developing a Competitive Advantage?
In The Start-up of You, authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha teach that we’re all entrepreneurs of our own careers. They argue that to become competitive in today’s global market, it’s critical to understand your assets (what you’re good at), your aspirations (what you want to do), and the market realities (what people will pay you for).
As you look at your work history, think of these three areas as puzzle pieces. Having only one or two isn’t enough. You need all three to develop a true competitive advantage.
You’ve likely heard the axiom, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This may be true for some, but blindly following passion can lead to an unsustainable career. I’ve found Hoffman and Casnocha’s framework more practical. Know your assets and aspirations in light of the market realities—then pursue a path that maximizes all three.
2. How Often Do You Think About Work Outside of Work?
The importance of this question is best illustrated through a story. Henry Eyring, a former business professor at Stanford University, tells how he ended up choosing his path. His father, who was a renowned scientist and professor, hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. In Eyring’s words: “My father was [teaching physics] at a blackboard we kept in the basement…Suddenly he stopped. ‘Hal,’ he said, ‘we were working the same kind of problem a week ago. You don’t seem to understand it any better now than you did then. Haven’t you been working on it?’”
Eyring admitted he had not. His father then said: “When you walk down the street, when you’re in the shower, when you don’t have to be thinking about anything else, isn’t this what you think about?”
“When I told him no,” Eyring concludes, “my father paused…then said, ‘Hal, I think you’d better get out of physics. You ought to find something that you love so much that when you don’t have to think about anything, that’s what you think about.’”
I found this true in my life. When I was in finance, I rarely thought about work outside the office. Rather, I thought about people-related challenges my team faced and how I could improve the company culture. To be successful you don’t need to obsess about your job 24/7, but if you’re only thinking about your job during the hours of 9 to 5, it may be a sign you’re on the wrong path.
3. What Does Your Career Path Look Like 10 Years Down the Road?
Think of those in your company or industry who are more senior than you. Do you eventually want to be doing the type of work they’re doing?
This long-term view on your career is critical because many jobs change as you advance in your field. For example, junior investment bankers spend most of their time building financial models and client presentations, while senior bankers focus largely on sourcing deals and maintaining relationships. Even if you don’t love your current job, it may be a necessary step to develop skills that’ll help you get where you ultimately want to be.
If you don’t know what your current path looks like, schedule an informational interview with someone more experienced. These informal meetings are a great way to find out what you can expect in the future. Consider asking people what they like most about their job, the types of projects they work on, and what advice they’d give to someone in your shoes. I had a lot of informational interviews when I was in finance, and they’re what ultimately influenced me to take my career in another direction.
Determining whether to change industries is no small task, but asking yourself the three questions I’ve shared will help you make an informed decision. Are you developing a competitive advantage by maximizing your assets, your aspirations, and the market realities? How often do you think about work outside of the office? What does your career path look like in the future?
Your answers to these questions will help you understand whether you should double your efforts in your current job or start figuring out your next move.