Part of the joy of asking children what they want to be when they grow up is hearing some of their innocent and sometimes nonsensical answers. If you have ever watched the Simpson's, you may recall an 8-year-old character named Ralph Wiggum. Ralph is a bit off an oddball known for eating paste, having imaginary friends, and his slow grasp of what is going on around him. One day another character Lisa asks Ralph about his journalism experience to which he replies, "I want to be a fire truck." Have you ever noticed that kids BELIEVE they can be anything they want? Ask an adult what they want to do and more often than not will reply, "I don't know."
But, when you find yourself out of work and job searching, you will be asked, "What do you want to do?" over and over again. And you need to have an answer. The reason that adults don't know what they want to do are many, but I have a theory. I think adults don't know what they want to do is because there is a gap between what they WANT to do and what they HAVE to do. The good news is when you are job searching you have a chance to reinvent yourself and close that gap.
Figuring Out What You Like
If you are one of the many people who are unclear about what you want to do, I want to take you through a little job search exercise. Think back to the last 3 jobs that you have had and think about the times you felt great about your job. Next, write down the tasks, the departments, and the people that helped to make you feel great. Next, make a list of the things that you learned. Maybe you learned how to use Salesforce, or how to create a Snapchat filter, there is nothing too small just write it down.
Next look for trends. Were your favorite moments times when you worked as part of a team or as an individual contributor? Did you enjoy working with spreadsheets or more creative work? Did you prefer times in the office or when you went to remote locations? Remember, the good news when you are job searching is that you can reinvent yourself. So, think about the things you like. These reasons are your 'why.'
Now we want to think about potential jobs where you can do the tasks you like and the skills you have built over the years and combine it with the trends to create your what. For example, maybe you would like to work with a team to create social media campaigns. Maybe you enjoyed working in a large enterprise environment but would rather build reports as an individual. This is your 'what.' Now we are going to put it all together so when you are job searching you can tell people what you want to do when you 'grow up.'
Hard Stops vs. Preferences
One more thing before you start putting this all together. I am sure while you were creating this list of things you enjoyed, you thought about some of the things you for sure did not like, make a note of that as well. Knowing what you don't want to do is just as important as knowing what you want to do when job searching. Make sure that you differentiate between 'hard stops' like, "I do NOT want to work with children." and preferences like, "I would prefer working from home but now opposed to going into an office."
The next time someone asks you what kind of job you are looking for, remember this exercise and tell them, what you want to do, why you want to do it, and where. Get specific. For example, "I want to analyze data at a large company that is in the event industry." Or, I want to use my marketing skills to work at a startup that develops software for the real estate industry." When you have a clear picture of what you want to do, as well as why and where you want to do it, you will be better able to tell people what you want to do. As a bonus, everyone you tell will become an ambassador for your job search.
Read on for more ways to make your job search a success: You got Skills! (They're Multiplying!)
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