I heard the above lament at a recent workshop of experienced professionals, and it neatly encapsulates one common mistake that job seekers make. Too many aspiring job seekers put off making a change because they are worried about choosing the wrong next job – even when the current job is itself a wrong fit. The status quo might be bad, but the unknown future could be even worse!
Unfortunately, this fear of making the wrong decision is also a decision (i.e., to do nothing). The energy you fritter away worrying is energy that could be better used on job search activity. The delay in moving forward is time you will never get back.
If I keep myself open to many options, I will be able to better identify what I really like
I’m a big fan of experimentation, and I do think you should follow your curiosity when you find something that interests you. However, from a career-building standpoint, the interests you should pursue professionally are not just curiosities. The interests you can turn into a career are things you like enough to commit to and learn deeply about . Therefore, if you flit from option to option, you never get enough clarity on whether you like something enough.
Instead, give yourself a time limit (e.g., a weekend or two weeks’ worth of evenings) and resolve to go deep on one of your interests. This could include reading in-depth articles from trade publications, not just the general news. You might also attend a Meetup or lecture on the subject. You could talk to people already in the field, or join online communities and follow the threads. Give yourself enough time to do more than a cursory look. If an area still holds your interest, then add it to your target list. But the weaker interests will fall away.
If I pick the wrong interest to start, I waste precious time
Let’s say you take my advice and spend two weeks on one area, but you find it doesn’t hold your interest. Now you’re two weeks behind! However, you have also eliminated one possibility and, depending on the reasons you’re not interested, you may be clearer on what you like and don’t like in a next career. Furthermore, the activities that you do to confirm or refute this budding interest are the same for other possibilities, so you at least get practice in deeper exploration that you can apply to other interests.
Instead of looking at possible dead-ends as a bad thing, reframe your thinking to recognize how useful it is to get clarity, even around what you don’t want. As long as you keep to a timeframe around how much you’ll dedicate to any one possible interest, you won’t waste all of your time. You’ll be moving through a checklist of possibilities, and the forward momentum will help, even if it takes you a few extra weeks to identify your true interests.
If I’m too narrow in my choices, I close myself off to better things
Once you do find an area of interest, it’s hard to go any deeper without targeted networking in the area – e.g., connecting to people in the field, even interviewing for related jobs. When you put yourself forward as someone who wants a particular industry or role, but it might not be the only industry or role you want, then you worry you won’t be considered for other things.
While it’s true that you may look scattered if one week you’re interested in marketing and two week later you’re interested in accounting, for most people, their interests aren’t that far afield. The more specific you are about one interest (any one), the easier it is for others to remember you for that. Once you have an established connection to someone for one thing, you can more easily work in a mention of related interests or expand how you define your next step. But that initial specificity is critical in giving people a clear and memorable picture of you.
If I pick the wrong job, I may be unhappier than I am now
This is a worry that I find keeps people stuck doing nothing at all. Even before researching a subject or talking to a few people, a paralyzed job seeker will jump right to landing a job that happens to be the wrong one. As we play this out, hopefully you can see the folly in this thinking – you are letting the possibility of something happening at the very end of a process derail you from ever getting started.
Instead, focus on just the step ahead of you. You’re not picking out your next job as the first step of a job search; you are initially just picking an interest (or possibly several). You are not committing to that interest; you are experimenting via a few days of research. You are not rebranding yourself entirely; you are networking with a select group of people to float some possibilities. You are not accepting a job if you agree to have an interview or a meeting. Remember that there are many stopping points along the way of your job search where you can course-correct.
If I land in an even unhappier situation and have to leave again, I become a job hopper
Finally, I hear the very paralyzed job seeker worry about two or more jobs from now – i.e., what happens if not liking the next job becomes a career of job hopping! While I don’t encourage job hopping, the reality is that you can’t make such a big mistake with your next job because you can always leave it.
As long as you don’t burn bridges in the exit interview from your last job, you might even go back, should you ever want to and minimize the gap in your transitions. Or you could launch into a fresh job search, and if you land quickly, you can decide whether or not to mention a job you didn’t like but only held for a short time. Or you might decide to stick it out with a company and try and change your role, move laterally to another group, or negotiate for changes in the things you don’t like. There are always lots of options to solve future problems. Don’t let future worries derail today’s possibilities.