Career change: If you don't know what you want to do next - gather some data on yourself
Reflections from our recent Women Discuss Work event on career change and a useful exercise to help you start to figure out what you should do with your life.
Last night we hosted another great event for women to discuss all things career change. We had a real range of experiences and industries represented in the group and women at very different stages of their careers. Many were happy in their roles but wanted to keep their minds open to what they could learn from others, some were in between jobs looking for their next challenge and others knew they would want to move on soon but weren't in any rush to do so.
Our Women Discuss Work events run on a very simple but effective model - everyone submits a question and a piece of advice in advance, these are anonymised and put in a hat (or sometimes a biscuit tin if a hat isn't handy). Everyone picks one out of the pool and then discusses it with another person in the group. That process is repeated about three times then everyone comes back together and shares their reflections and thoughts with the whole group. It's great - honestly, fills me with joy every time we run one.
We discussed some pretty great questions submitted by attendees this time around, a few examples below:
"How do you measure career progression other than through promotion or pay?"
"How do I develop enough confidence to take the leap into a new field?"
"How do you know when you're 'ready' to promote?"
"Where should I start to look for a new job?"
And there were some great pieces of advice shared too:
"Take time out of your day to reflect on something that happened that was good (or bad) - we easily move on without ever stopping to learn"
"File your nice emails (i.e. ones you've been sent that tell you you're doing a great job) so you can find them quickly on a bad day"
"Talk to people about your career aspirations, you'll be amazed how much people will help you and put you in touch with interesting people you can learn from."
The most common piece of feedback from the group following an hour of conversation was that taking time to reflect on your experiences at work is really valuable and most of us don't spend enough time doing it. So true.
Data = power but most of us don't collect data on ourselves so when it comes to making big decisions we don't have a lot to go on that feels grounded.
To try to address this, one of the things I get the women I coach to do is complete a daily diary about their work. When I say 'daily diary' that's a bit of an overstatement. If there's one thing I know it's that to introduce a new habit you've got to make it as easy and painless as possible so this data collection can be extremely light touch.
Here's a great exercise that can help you get real insight into what you like and don't like in your work:
When you get on the tube/train/bike/car home ask yourself two questions:
1. How am I feeling RIGHT NOW? If you can do this in one word, it gives perspective and clarity and stops you equivocating. There is no judgement here - your word can be 'furious' or 'meah' and that's fine.
2. Think back through your day and try to identify what triggered this feeling - more often than not you can trace it back to one interaction or event - and note that down as briefly as you can. You can do it on your phone or, if you're a stationary junky like me, buy yourself a special and beautiful new notebook to write it down in - either way, make a note of it because you will forget otherwise.
That takes about 2 minutes and if you do it in 'dead time' like your commute it doesn't eat into your day either.
If you get on a roll and end up writing three pages - great, if all you write is two words, also great. Just make sure whatever you write you will be able to remember and identify clearly when you come to read it back weeks later.
Do this for about three weeks and you'll have a pretty good data set to look back on. There are normally very interesting patterns that start to emerge from even this very brief sample. The results can surprise you.
I did this myself when I was considering changing careers. As a result I managed to clearly separate what I thought I was good at from what I actually enjoyed doing. Very often those things are the same, but sometimes they aren't. For me, my big realisation was that I loved spending time with people, one to one, solving problems AND I loved facilitating workshops and running training. Any day I'd done that I went home buzzing and with slightly too much energy. If you'd asked me before doing this exercise what made me happy at work, it would probably have involved a spreadsheet. I'm not kidding. I happen to be very good at spreadsheets, I derive great satisfaction from a beautifully crafted one that gives me an answer to a problem, but it didn't give me the buzz that other things did. I only knew that from data gathering. I am now a coach and trainer rather than an analyst and this is a very good thing.
Data - geeky, but golly it helps.