In my 10 years of professional experience, at least five moments come to mind when I think of making big career moves. If I factor in minor, less large-scale changes, that number continues to grow. In those 10 years, I’ve worked at five different companies in six different roles across varying industries and skill sets, all while changing careers from an aspiring certified public accountant to a communications professional, freelance writer, and podcast host. All that to say, I have a lot of experience making career moves.
Throughout those years, I’ve honed in on a list of go-to questions I ask myself when considering a career move, whether because I’m feeling stuck workwise or because I’ve found myself at a career crossroads. Making changes in your life can be both exhilarating and terrifying, and career moves are no exception. The key is to assess where you’ve been, where you currently are, and where you want to go so you can be strategic about your next move. Ellen Taaffe, leadership coach, Kellogg Professor, former Fortune 500 executive, and TEDx speaker, agrees. She shares, “When thinking about a career move, consider what matters most in your career and life currently and in the next few years. Start with where you are and where you want to go.”
If you’re facing uncertainty in your career and trying to determine what’s next, ask yourself these 10 questions.
1. How am I feeling?
Before making any decisions, take a moment to check in with yourself. Taking a pulse check of where you currently are will help you determine your next best move. Sometimes, it’s necessary to slow down so we can move forward. Consider things like your satisfaction with your current role. Ask yourself questions like: Are you burned out by your workload or unsatisfied with your job? Are you being challenged by your work? Feeling underutilized or overutilized? Are you overwhelmed, happy, or content with your current situation? Pausing to get a clear picture of where you stand will help you decide where to go.
2. What am I really good at?
While we’re reflecting, take a moment to identify your strengths. These are the tasks and responsibilities you excel at in your current role and any previous positions. We’re not considering whether you like the task just yet (we’ll do that soon). Write down everything people turn to you to do because you’re the best of the best, whether it’s in your job description or not.
3. What work brings me joy?
Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you like it. I’m exceptional at doing the dishes, but does that bring me joy? Not exactly. Take inventory of the work and responsibilities that fulfill you and give you purpose in the workplace. What are you passionate about and absolutely love to do? Get clear on these items so you know which direction you should take in your career. And note, it’s okay if the things that once gave you joy don’t anymore. Our interests are sure to change throughout our careers.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to slow down so we can move forward.
4. Where do my strengths and fulfillment align?
You know what you’re good at and what brings you joy. Now, figure out where the tasks cross paths. Do your strengths and passions align with your current role and responsibilities? If not, are there opportunities for improvement? Understanding where your strengths and purpose intersect helps you appreciate your sweet spot and know what superpower you bring to the table. This is key to determining your next career move and where you can add value at work.
5. What are my non-negotiables?
Gone are the days when work was just a paycheck. There are a lot of aspects that make up an ideal working situation. Determine your non-negotiables and how many your current company and role check. Then, do your research to see if some other roles or companies could meet your needs.
Some non-negotiables to consider include:
Work Location: Do you want to work in-person, hybrid, or remotely?
Benefits and Perks: What benefits are an absolute must? (i.e., medical, dental, vision, 401(k), paid time off, gym reimbursement, mental health days, tuition assistance, parental leave, etc.)
Work Environment: What’s your preferred industry (i.e., tech, financial services, retail), company size (i.e., small, medium, large), physical location (i.e., close to your current address, in a different state), company culture, etc.?
Team Environment: Do you want to manage others or work as an individual contributor? Do you prefer a large team, a small team, collaborative work, or asynchronous work? Do you want coworkers you can relate to? Do you have preferred team dynamics?
Finances: What’s your preferred salary, bonus potential, stock options, etc.? What financial situations (i.e., student loans, debt, saving for a down payment on a house) do you need to consider?
Growth Opportunities: Are you looking for the potential to advance at a company, professional development opportunities, ability to grow a team, etc.?
Responsibilities: What are the tasks that absolutely need to be included in your role or that you absolutely don’t want to do?
Title: Is there a specific title you’ve set your sights on?
Work-Life Balance: How do you want work to integrate into your life?
Risk Tolerance: Are you a risky or risk-averse person? What risk level are you comfortable with? Taaffe recommends asking yourself, “In six to twelve months, would you regret staying or leaving more?” This helps identify the risk to our careers and mindset of staying in a questionable situation or leaving as we leap into the unknown.
6. What are my values?
We often hear about company mission statements and values, but what about your personal values? What do you value in your life and career? Maybe you’re passionate about helping others or the environment. Or perhaps you want to drive diversity and be a female leader in a male-dominated industry. There is no right or wrong answer. Values are personal to everyone. If it helps, take a moment to draft a personal mission statement that can serve as your guidepost when determining your next move.
7. What are my career aspirations?
Up to this point, we’ve gotten a good picture of where you’ve been and where you currently are. Now, it’s time to focus on where you want to go. Are you an individual contributor wanting to move into a management role? Do you want to change industries? Have you been thinking about starting your own business? Maybe you want to go back to school. Dream big here. There are no limits to what you want to achieve in your career. Aim high. You may not get there in your next role, but it’ll help you be strategic to figure out the next best career move for you.
8. What do I need to support my career advancement?
Once you know where you want your career to go, it’s time to assess what you need to get there. Do you need more exposure or opportunities in your current role to land a promotion? Would you benefit from having a mentor? What about joining a professional organization or volunteering? Or maybe you need to identify learning opportunities to upskill and further your career. “As technology continues to evolve, it’s essential that everyone develops skills to adapt,” shares Amanda Brophy, Director of Grow with Google. “Today, 92% of jobs require digital skills, and this percentage is only expected to grow. Proactively upskilling helps employees keep their skills current and makes them more marketable internally and externally.”
Keep in mind you don’t need to solve the entirety of your career equation right now. You just need to identify what the next one or two steps might look like. So, while a big promotion might be your goal, your next move might look like asking to get on a new project to demonstrate your leadership skills. Or, if you’re looking to break into a new industry or sharpen your skills, obtaining a certificate or taking classes can be the differentiator between you and another candidate.
9. What’s next?
Up until this point, you’ve done a lot of reflection. You’ve taken inventory of where you are and where you want to go, and now it’s time to decide what’s next. “The decision to change companies or roles is an individual one,” Taafee shares. “I suggest you reflect on your progression, learning, and motivation to determine if it’s time to move on.” After assessing your current situation, desires, and other data points, it’s time to determine if your current situation and company align with where you want to go. You’ll likely be met with one of these four main paths:
Growing in your current role at your current company,
Finding a new role at your current company,
Looking for a similar role at a new company, or
Moving into a new role at a new company.
That’s not to say there aren’t other options available to you but to help you simplify it, those four paths are a good place to start. Also, whatever path you choose, know that other opportunities are available to meet your needs. You can start a side hustle, take up a new hobby, go back to school to obtain a degree or learn new skills via a certificate program, among other things.
10. What’s my gut telling me?
We can aspire to make logical decisions based on data and pros and cons lists, and I wholeheartedly agree that data serves as a guiding light. But something else can also steer us on the right path: our guts. What direction is your gut telling you to take in your career? It may be completely different from what the data tells you and contradict everything you thought you wanted. But I’m here to tell you that’s okay.
I believe we have gut reactions to choices because we’ve acquired a million data points from other situations in our lives. So, while a gut reaction might feel nonsensical, it’s our body’s way of steering us in the right direction for us. At the end of the day, you need to lay your head on your pillow at night and be happy with the choices you make. So, assess the data, listen to your gut, and be prepared for amazing things. More