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Making a career shift is always daunting, but for many of my clients in the Beltway, moving on from a current position now feels urgent and necessary. The political climate and unknown future of many government agencies is leaving people unfulfilled, uncertain, and uneasy.
So how does one start searching for a new career when the luxury of time might not be present? How do you narrow down the vast landscape to find something that fits? How do you position yourself to be attractive to potential employers when the playing field might be saturated? The key is to be purposeful in your search and honest with yourself. This starts with asking the right questions, and not being afraid to explore them.
Question 1: When you are given the resources and space to perform at your absolute best, what are three things you are able to contribute better than anyone else?
Start thinking about yourself in terms of what it is you can uniquely bring to your new work place. Don't think in terms of "What I've done" but "What I've contributed." What did you bring to your past work experiences that set you apart. Are you gifted in relationship skills? Do you immediately put people at ease? Do you thrive when put up against a writing deadline? Do you have an uncanny ability to put disparate ideas together? If you're having a hard time pulling out those soft skills, consider an assessment tool like Clifton Strengthsfinder (my preferred assessment), or Hogan. These assessments look at your contributions from a deeper level of what motivates you and where you draw strength. Understanding who you are at your best can help you identify the right environment to bring out that person.
Question 2: Do you care more about the INDUSTRY or the POSITION?
Are you in a highly technical field and feeling trapped in the limit of jobs available to you? Ask yourself the big question: is it more important to work in this exact field, or is it the daily duties of the job that matters more? Switching technical areas can seem like a huge leap, but if you are confident in your work skills (management, project design, team-building, communication, writing, analysis...) it may be worth exploring a new area. Think about which of your skills are transferable (hint: I bet it's just about all of them!) and then set up your resume to a skills-based resume, focusing on how you get things done versus the context in which you got them done. There is a learning curve for any new position, even in the same field. You need to navigate a new organizational culture, new policies, etc. Figure
out what you need to know to get a good understanding of the new industry and make a plan to educate yourself. Your best resource is a friend in another industry. Ask them to share their favorite books, research, and lectures in the new field, so you have a good baseline for continued learning.
Question 3: What's keeping you in your current location?
A job search is always daunting, but trying to find the perfect job in your city can be especially frustrating, as the same kinds of jobs keep popping up, or jobs are filled internally before you really have a chance to be considered (this may sound familiar to DC job seekers). Look at a career shift as an opportunity to take a deeper look at your big picture life vision. Have a conversation with your partner or anyone with a stake in your location decision. Often, we move to a city with a life plan to live, raise kids and grow old there, but we don't often go back and explore that decision to see if it's still relevant. Maybe the time is right to make a geographical shift? Maybe your partner is feeling a similar pull to make a change? Don't assume to know what they are thinking. Having regular conversations about your family vision is important. A coach can help you work through that conversation, keeping it purposeful and open to possibility. Sometimes just the act of visualizing something different, can help clarify what you really want.
The key to moving forward in your career search is being as open and honest with yourself as you can. Don't be afraid to ask yourself the big, difficult questions. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. And always start by bringing forward your strengths and your best self. Where does that person belong?