As a career coach, the question I’m most often asked is, “how do I find my ideal role?” Many clients make the assumption that many people are working in their dream jobs and that those people have proactively chosen their career paths. The truth is that many of us fall into our roles by accident and often we don’t always love what we do. While you may not need a professional career coach to help you find your ideal role, the following tips will move you in the right direction.
Most of us choose careers that we know
Research tells us that our career choices are significantly influenced by the careers we’re exposed to as children. If your parents were lawyers, you’re more likely to choose law. If they worked in government, you may be inclined to follow. And if they were entrepreneurial, you’ll be either start your own business (if their experience was positive) or avoid it at all costs.
Equally, if as a child, you had a meaningful encounter with a medical professional or a friendship with the son or daughter of an artist and you made a strong connection with one of those people, you’re more likely to consider a career in these areas.
In many cases, this means we choose our roles by default rather than accessing career assessments and evaluations that help us to find our ideal role.
If you’re currently working in a role you don’t love, don’t let these factors stop you from formulating your ideal role. It’s never too late to change – I’ve worked with clients who’ve begun new careers in their 60’s. I also know from my own experience that there’s nothing in the world that will make you happier than spending your days doing what you love.
Identify your strengths
Your strengths are most easily described as the characteristics, skills and tasks you perform well. Engaging your strengths in your ideal role will feel make your work feel more effortless. Most people say that they’re energised and motivated when they have the chance to use their natural strengths.
- Discover your strengths by taking the Positive Psychology VIA strengths test.
- Make a list of the things you’re naturally good at. Include anything that other people compliment you on or activities that you can spend hours on without feeling tired.
- Email five friends and ask them to list your top five strengths.
Once you know your strengths, think about whether you can use these more in your existing role or is there a role that you’d be better suited to?
What are your passions or interests?
The most interesting people I know are interested in something. While some people find it daunting to make a list of passions, most of us can at least identify some interests.
If you’re stuck to name your interests, answer the following questions.
- What are the articles you’re drawn to when you open the newspaper?
- What magazine would you subscribe to if you had your choice?
- Who do you admire or envy and for what aspects of their life?
- What activities do you enjoy when you’re working?
- What do you look forward to doing when you’re not working?
- What did you love doing as a child?
- What do you naturally do well?
Once you have a list of interests, think about how these might impact the kind of work that you do or the type of organisation you would ideally like to work for.
Map out your values
Your values are the guiding principles by which you live your life. You might also think of them as the measures by which you can determine whether your life is currently going well. Unlike your goals, you don’t achieve a value but rather, a value is something that you’ll continue aligning with, right throughout your life and regardless of what you’re doing.
Most people find that their values stay fairly static across a lifetime. Many are influenced by our upbringing but some we don’t discover until later in life.
Once you’ve identified your values, you may find that there are times in life where you’re not fully aligned with them. My top value, for example, is ‘inner harmony’ while another is ‘achievement’. When I’m overly focused on the achievement value and working long hours, I can become less focused on taking good care of my mental and physical wellbeing, which is an important aspect of inner harmony for me.
If you’re unclear about your values, try mapping them out by following the instructions in this article. Once you know your values, make a note of how aligned you are in your current role and consider how your organisation’s values match with your own.
Review your career history
Look back across your career history and make a note of the skills, strengths and achievements you’ve engaged and look for any that are transferable (e.g. being a good negotiator, the ability to think strategically, customer service).
Consider how those qualities can help you to find your ideal role.
- Which role did you love the most and why?
- Who did you enjoy working with most?
- What was the organisation culture you found most appealing?
- What team size do you love?
- Do you prefer working in teams or alone?
- How have you felt about leading others?
- What are the skills you’ve loved using at work?
Make a list of at least ten potential ideal roles
This might sound like a stretch but the purpose of this exercise is to push you out of your comfort zone and get you thinking a little more creatively. If you’re stuck for ideas, here’s a long list of potential careers to choose from.
Once you have your long list, choose the three most appealing roles and get to work researching them using Google, LinkedIn, job search sites and by talking to people who work in those roles.
Talk to people who work in your dream role
Reach out to people in the roles you’re interested in and ask them about the aspects of the role that they love. Find out which parts of the role were surprising or challenging.
If you’re keen to start your own business, listen to podcasts people who have taken the entrepreneurial path and learn about how they achieved this.
Start with the end in mind
Envisage yourself as a fit and healthy 65-year-old and think about the kind of life you would love to be living. As you engage with this question, imagine that confidence and opportunities aren’t barriers and importantly, imagine that you still love your work enough not to want to retire. You may want to work part-time to allow for other interests but equally, imagine that you’re in your ideal role.
Once you have clarity about this, write out your vision in detail, being as specific as you can. Visualise where you’d be working, what your days would involve, who you’d be working with and create a clear picture of yourself in this setting. Imagine the clothes you’d wear, the kind of person you’d be and how you’d feel if you were in that role.
If you’re still unclear about your ideal role
If you’re still unclear about your ideal role after completing the exercises above, save your answers somewhere and make a note in your diary to come back to them in a month’s time. Sometimes by just letting the idea simmer away in the background, you discover your unconscious mind does some of the work for you.
And if you still feel stuck, you’ll find some extra tips in this article. You may also want to talk to someone about your career aspirations (or your career confusion). If you’re not ready to engage a professional career coach or career counsellor, ask a friend if they can spare an hour of their time to let you run through your concerns. Often just hearing yourself talk it through out loud gives you some clarity.