Most of us need money—and by extension, an income—to live. I’ve written a few times about the great resignation, why you should stay, and why you should move on. While it may be easy to leave an employer, it’s not always clear-cut where we should go next.
I have some advice for people at different stages in their careers. My experience spans the range of entry-level to senior leadership. But my experience is also my own, nothing more: I’m a cis man in a brown body who speaks English as a first language. My mobility and access needs are typical of the majority of people in the united states. People have different bodies with different abilities, interests, and aptitudes. Not everything below will work for everyone, so don’t stress out if it doesn’t seem to fit you. I’m categorizing three groups of people:
- people who are early or starting out in their career
- people who are looking to advance within their career
- people who are ready to make a leap into something new
for people who are starting out
“I’m not sure what my career path will look like.” Everyone starts somewhere! I started out by observing the jobs of people around me. What kind of tasks did they do for work most days? What interested them about their jobs? What about their jobs interested me? For people in that industry, what do they talk about with each other? What aspects of their work would I like to do? What aspects of my own jobs appeal to me?
I am a linear thinker so this next part came easy for me. I would think about the work I do and the skills I have. I would then think about what types of job interest me. Research those job descriptions at many different companies. How do those qualifications compare to my own. What would I have to learn or experience to meet those requirements? Some jobs do ask for specific degrees or certifications, but not every job. Most public health jobs ask for a Master’s Degree in that or a related field. I didn’t want to get a Master’s Degree (and couldn’t afford one). I found a pathway into public health where an MPH wasn’t required.
“I don’t know what career I should go into.” It took me a long time to find a career I liked. I’ve worked in a lot of different industries and jobs in my life. No matter the job, I learned something about myself. It’s as important to figure out what you don’t like as it is to figure out what you do. I worked in a science lab and learned that I liked group projects more than solo bench work. Working in foodservice, I loved talking about food but wasn’t a fan of serving rude customers. I loved leading teams but hated meetings. Loved making sense of chaos but hated doing the same tasks every day. In every job I’ve had, I learned a little more about what I like and what I don’t.
Allow yourself to gravitate to activities and tasks that appeal to you. You may find yourself, as I did, in more than one career you’d never expected to be in. Focus less on the industry at first and more on the people you work with. Do you enjoy being around them?
for people looking for a promotion
“I am not great at interviewing.” I love interviews! I know, this is not a popular sentiment. I love being on the panel. I love asking people about their experience and seeing how they might fit into a role. I enjoy reading job descriptions and imagining myself doing that work. I love when I can talk about my work history in the context of this job. I find that interviewing is about building a narrative about who you are, how you think, and how you would do the work.
People who are mid-level often have some ideas about where they might want their careers to go. If not, what are you looking for? What are you definitely not looking for? I once assisted on an evaluation project. I liked it so much I requested another project like it. I attended a few evaluation conferences to dig deeper into the field. Digging deeper helped me realize that evaluation was actually not something I enjoyed. I still learned a lot! After I moved on to a director role, I still used my experience to relate to the evaluators on my team. No experience has to be a wasted opportunity to learn something about yourself.
When I look at a new job I’m interested in, I look inward. What experiences, unique to me, would give me an advantage in this role? What will this job prepare me to do next? I might learn a new piece of software, or build my professional network, or work with a mentor I admire. For each line of the job description, think of a work example where you demonstrated that skill. If you don’t have an example, talk about a similar experience or how you would get up to speed on that activity. Not everyone will be good at everything. Focus on your strengths, what you can do, and what you’re willing to learn.
for people ready to make a leap
“I’m ready to move on.” This far into my career I find myself in a place I never imagined I’d be. I run my own company! I am accountable only to myself and my own expectations. My leap might not be for everyone, but everyone has a leap they can take. What are you really good at? What could you still be learning? Where do you want to go next?
Most important: how can you mentor people who are up and coming? No matter the stage of your career, I bet that someone wishes they were where you are. How can you support their goals? This goes beyond creating prototype versions of yourself. We make our way into this world to make things safer for the people who come after us. It’s not enough to create a world for younger generations that we wish we had. We need to work alongside them to create the world they need now.
Find a job that values you. While everyone is replaceable, every loss should hurt. Coming out of covid is a great time to ask an employer about the policies they created during the pandemic. How did they step up to support their employees? What support are they rolling back now?
Your employer needs you. You possess institutional knowledge that is hard to replace. This is experience that newcomers won’t have. Even with regular cost of living increases, your replacement will often cost more.
Career isn’t everything. There’s so much going on in the world. It’s okay to find fulfillment outside of your day job. That outside fulfillment doesn’t have to lead to anything for it to be worthwhile. Find a job you enjoy, find a job that is a means to an end, or find something else that helps you thrive.