6 Steps to Take When You Can’t Figure Out Your Next Career Move

By Katie Wolf

Something needs to change. Maybe you don’t feel fulfilled anymore, you can’t stand your boss, or you’re bored with your industry. Maybe you were laid off, and you have no choice but to make a change. Whatever the situation, you’re starting to plot your next career move.

It’s an exciting place to be—the possibilities are endless! But when you’re not exactly sure what you want, it’s also disconcerting. How can you be sure you’re making the right decision?

SoFi career coaches Alexandra Dickinson and Gabby Bill recommend stepping away from the job boards for a second and taking the time to think about your next move strategically. Start with these six steps.

1. Don’t think “change” means “change everything”
When you’re unhappy in your current position, it’s easy to jump to extreme conclusions.

“People often think that if they’re going to make a change, it has to be enormous, like going back to school, changing fields, or moving to a new city,” explains Dickinson. For some, those options might be right, but “think long and hard about it,” she advises. Getting another degree, for example, can mean incurring debt and putting career advancement on hold—which can cause a different kind of anxiety and discontent.

Before making any radical changes, Bill recommends considering if there’s a simpler move that could be just as effective. “There are lots of ways to make small changes that might make you happier,” she says. “But first, you have to know what’s driving your unhappiness.” On that note:

2. Reflect on the past to plan the future
To gain insight into your next move, Bill recommends analyzing what you liked and disliked about your past jobs. From there, make a prioritized list of what’s most important to you in your next role.

One word of advice: “It’s easy to get hung up on what you experienced most recently,” says Dickinson. “If you can take yourself outside of your most recent job, you can focus on the goals that really matter.” For example, aside from getting away from your bad boss or upgrading your title, you may realize you have an ideal type of team or company culture.

“Asking yourself some questions about culture fit can help you narrow down your options,” says Dickinson.

3. Determine what you’re good at
People who are looking to make a move often feel one of two ways: You may browse job postings and think there are way too many options, or you might feel like you can only do one thing because you’ve done it your entire career.

Either way, a good strategy is to home in on what you’re great at. “Being able to identify and articulate your strengths can help you narrow down your options or diversify, depending on what you’re feeling,” says Dickinson.

Not quite sure what your top abilities are? That’s normal. “In a moment of transition, people can get extra modest or give into self doubt,” Dickinson adds. If your list is coming up short, she suggests asking your close friends and colleagues to describe your strengths. Their outside perspective can give you fresh insight into your options.

4. Focus on what you care about—and why
The question, “What are your passions?” comes up often when people are considering a career transition—but it’s not the only thing to consider, recommends Bill. In addition, “Dig deeper into why you’re passionate about those things.”

For example, perhaps you’ve always loved singing, in part because you enjoy performing in front of a crowd. Take that element and apply it to your job search: Maybe you would enjoy a career that provides the opportunity to speak at conferences or present to panels of executives.

“Most of the time, you can pull out transferable skills from almost anything,” says Bill.

5. Dream, then research
Bill has noticed that “sometimes, people are afraid to dream or imagine the possibilities.” And that’s fair—it can be intimidating to think about about pursuing something new. But there’s one step you can take that requires no commitment: research.

“If you have all these ideas and aren’t sure if they’re right, there’s nothing wrong with going out and speaking with people who are doing the things you’re interested in,” explains Bill. “You are never too old or too far in your career to do informational interviews.”

Talking to people who are in the types of positions you’re considering can make it easier to envision how that role may look and feel for you, which can help you understand whether it would be a good fit—no commitment required.

6. Remember you don’t have to have it all figured out
“The biggest mistake people make is trying to crystal ball themselves too far into the future,” Bill advises. “They try to make choices based on where they think they should be 20 years from now.”

Instead, Dickinson recommends identifying just one small step that can help you get started on your career move: “What is one action that you can take today, and one you can take tomorrow?” Starting with something manageable—like researching one new position or scheduling one informational interview—can help you ditch the feeling of overwhelm and move forward with confidence.

Still feeling unsure? Job changes can be stressful, but you don’t have to go it alone. If you’re a SoFi member, sign up for a complimentary one on one session with a career advisor, who can help you plot your next move. Not a SoFi member yet? Head to SoFi.com to learn more.

Knowing you want to pivot your career is a big step, but knowing what to do next is a whole different challenge. Ashley Stahl has two tips on navigating this decision.

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