Choosing Your Career Direction

by Pam Lassiter

When others say, "What do you want to do?" do you give them enough info so they can actually help you move forward? Do you give yourself enough info so you know how to make decisions about the next steps in your career?

Photo courtesy of Eddie S
Photo courtesy of Eddie S

All you need are two main points to give yourself and others clarity on your career direction:

  • What you want to do (your function)

  • Where you want to do it (your industry)

A statement that Evan is using, a smart 32 year old who plans logistics for a freight delivery company, is "I do operations analysis for companies that want their deliveries to arrive on time." Simple and intriguing. Don't we all want our deliveries to arrive on time? "Wow, you should hear what happened to my cousin's birthday present," it will elicit in your listener. And you're now off and running on a story, gathering market research about a delivery company that probably needs you to fix problems.

Notice the crafty thing that Evan did? He didn't nail down the industry where he has been, freight delivery, he spoke in outcomes, i.e. on-time deliveries, that many industries need. Evan wanted to broaden his search from what he had been doing into a broader range of industries that need deliveries, everything from manufacturing to e-commerce to utility line repairs to drones…he's deciding. As he gathers more information, he can narrow his search to specific industries and become more of an expert in them. Common outcomes will give him his transferability.

Want to do something that's totally different, changing both your function and your industry? This is the toughest change of all, but it's totally do-able if you think of the needs of your future industry and function, then speak in their language. Evan is also interested in leading bike tours for an adventure biking company. He's an avid biker, is highly sociable, has been on bike trips with several companies and (bingo) he's really strong in logistics, designing optimum routes and getting "deliveries" (people on bikes, now) to their destinations on time. Can you hear how his conversation would evolve?

To get started on your own planning, just brainstorm. Draw a big "T" on a sheet of paper with "function" over one column and "industry" over the other.

What functions have you had so far? Write them down. What industries do you know fairly well? Add them to the list. Add in any dreams, too. Evan's leading biking tours is still a dream, but he's working on it. As you look at your emerging list, you just may see some "mixes and matches" by connecting the dots that will increase your career choices while allowing you to argue that you have some experience in your "new" direction.

Making this "function-industry" list that describes what you want to do and where you want to do it is a way to take control of your career's direction and give focus to your conversations so other people can help. Who knew that clarity could feel so good?

Download this PDF to help you plan your career direction.