How to choose a new career: The 4-step system

The FlexJobs career coaching team works with dozens of FlexJobs members every week who are in the midst of job searching. One of the most common questions we hear is, “What jobs or career fields should I pursue?”

The reality is that each job seeker needs to answer this question for themselves. A career coach may not be able to give you a handy list of perfectly tailored ideas, but they can help you explore your options and come up with your own answers. And, we have a system for that!

By doing the exploratory work yourself, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of your professional wants and needs. You’ll also better understand how different jobs may or may not fit within your unique life. And you’ll be prepared and equipped to repeat this process in the future if you decide to choose a new career again.

By going through the four-step system outlined below, you’ll likely be happier in the long run with whatever choice you make because you’ve made it for yourself.

Four-Step System: How to Choose a New Career or Job

Overview of This System

  • Goal: One of the biggest phases of choosing a new career is the phase of self-assessment, research, and evaluation. A lot of the time, we’re trying to run away from a job we don’t like, rather than running towards one we do like. But to have a successful job search, you have to switch that around and focus on the jobs you might truly enjoy.
  • Timing: Give yourself a lot of time (2+ hours minimum) to go through this.

How: For each of the steps in this system, write down your answers/ideas. Or create a computer document. Either way, keep good records and take notes. You’ll revise your initial ideas and notes throughout the four steps.

Step 1. Get to know your motivations

In order to pick a new career, you should know what’s behind your desire to make this change in the first place. An ideal way to complete this step is to find a solid chunk of time to sit down and answer these questions, either by typing your answers or writing them out.

Questions for learning more about your motivation to change jobs or careers:

  • Do you really need a new career or just a new job?
  • What do you want work to feel like?
  • What are you trying to move away from or escape in your current job (or your most recent job)?
  • What’s the problem you’re actually trying to solve?

Finally, make a list of the things you want or need out of your next job or career. Questions like these might help:

  • What would your ideal day look like in your next job?
  • Where do you want to work—in an office, from your home, or a bit of both?
  • What do you want to keep doing, or do more of, in your next job?
  • What do you do at work that makes you feel great?
  • What do you think you’re really good at?
  • What do other people say you’re really good at?
  • When you’ve felt most confident at work, what have you been doing?
  • What work feels effortless to you, but you see other people struggle with?
  • What do you want your team to feel like? Or, what do you not want your team to feel like?
  • What’s your ideal relationship with a boss or manager?

If you know what you don’t want, turn that around to find out what you do want. Here are some examples:

  • My job is boring and uninteresting. >>> I want a job that I find interesting and exciting.
  • My career field is highly inflexible. >>> I need a job that lets me set my own hours.

Keep these notes, you’ll need them for step four.

Step 2. Make a list of all the job or career possibilities

Now it’s time to make a long list of your possibilities. This is the “throwing-spaghetti-on-the-wall” stage. It’s messy and, hopefully, fun.

Come up with any and all ideas for jobs or careers you want to learn more about: good ideas, bad ones, ideas that don’t quite make sense, parts of ideas. Whatever comes to you, just throw it on the wall (i.e., your notes). This will help you explore possibilities for choosing a new career.

Here are ways to start compiling your list of possibilities:

  • What jobs do you simply find interesting or think might be [fun / nice / low-stress / challenging (in a good way) / more flexible / more available / growth-oriented]?
  • What jobs do other people say you should do?
  • What jobs have you always thought might be interesting, or have you wanted to learn more about?
  • What jobs do you think would meet your lifestyle needs in terms of salary, work-life balance, flexibility, etc.?
  • Take a look at lists like CareerOneStop’s lists of fast-growing careers and careers with the most openings. Or FlexJobs’ “20 Most Popular Work-from-Home Job Titles.”
  • Take career assessments based on your skillsinterests, and personality to get even more job and career ideas.

Once you’ve got a list, assess your ideas:

  • What do all those jobs have in common? This helps you see what you do want in a new job (versus what you don’t want).
  • If you had to rank your job ideas, what would the list look like? What are your top five ideas? Why do you like each of them?

Armed with your list of five top jobs to consider, proceed to the third step in the system.

Step 3. Research your new ideas

Turn ideas to reality by researching the most desirable careers on your list. Start your research in small ways, such as:

  • Watching YouTube videos of people explaining what the work is and what it’s like to do it.
  • Reading content and viewing videos on CareerOneStop’s Occupational Profiles (search by keyword to find the jobs you want to know more about). It also offers videos profiling different jobs.
  • Reading job listings to learn more about what’s required in these roles.
  • Reading LinkedIn profiles of people who have these jobs to see what they do, what they like, where they come from.

Informational interviews

Career coaches highly recommend this research method for choosing a new career. Informational interviews involve talking or meeting with people who do the jobs you’re considering to see what the job is like in the real world.

Over the phone, on a video chat, or in person, informational interviews are typically short meetings, maybe 10-30 minutes, where you ask the person all sorts of questions about what they do, what a typical day is like, what they like/dislike about the job, etc.

Alumni associations, industry organizations, and your professional connections are all good places to turn to for introductions.

Learn more about informational interviewing with these resources:

Step 4. Evaluate and focus your list of potential jobs.

Start evaluating where things stand as you gather info about each job or career idea. The questions you ask yourself about each one should be based on the list of motivations and needs you created during step one.

For example, consider the following questions for each job on your list:

  • Does this job or career move you away from the things about work you dislike or no longer want to do?
  • Do you have the education/background needed for this career? If not, are you willing or able to invest the time and money to obtain it?
  • Does this career offer the flexible arrangements that you want or need?
  • Are the salary prospects for this career suitable to you?
  • What does your gut say about this career?
  • After all of this, which jobs or careers remain on your list?

Beyond the Four-Step System: The Next Phase

By the end of this process, you should have a short list of genuine job ideas that are truly good for you. To help you choose a new career, the next phase of your job search depends on your qualifications for those jobs.

Have most of the key qualifications?

If you believe you match 60-70% of the main qualifications for your new target job/career, it’s time to start searching for and applying to jobs. You can also explore ways to earn those remaining qualifications if you’re missing any.

Need some key qualifications?

You might be missing some important qualifications for a new job or career. Evaluate which qualifications you need and how you can obtain them:

  • Through some short-term experience?
  • Taking classes online or earning certifications?
  • Going back to school?
  • Learning new technology or programs?

Create a plan for earning those qualifications.

Choosing a New Career and Career Coaching at FlexJobs

The FlexJobs career coaching team created this system because we want to enable job seekers to make job and career choices that are personalized and strategic. Ultimately, we want you to feel confident in your next career move. Working your way through a process like this will help you gain that confidence and make better career decisions.

Have more career questions? FlexJobs members have exclusive access to job search support like one-on-one career coaching and resume review services. We invite you to learn more and if you’re interested, we’d be happy to partner with you!

This article first appeared on Flex Jobs.