If You Don’t Know, I Don’t Know

Through the course of my career I’ve frequently encountered the job seeker who doesn’t know what he wants to do professionally. “What do you think I should do?” That is the question inevitably tossed my way. Lovely. What do I think a relative stranger who I’ve known a grand total of an hour or two should do professionally? What’s going to bring them satisfaction? What’s going to be in line with their skills and challenge them to grow? What’s going to meet their financial needs and better position them for the next path they’d like to take in life? The answers to these questions are the same. I haven’t a clue. Not a one. I could guess, just as the candidate could guess. Who is more likely to have the better guess, the recruiter or the job seeker? I’d say the job seeker.

There are a number of reasons why people find themselves with no clear idea of where they should go in their job search. Below are the most common offenders.

Just Graduated: Those entering the working world at a professional level are often trying to figure out how to use the brand spanking new degree they paid so much money for. They either have a background they don’t know how to translate into a job or they’ve made the unfortunate discovery the degree they poured so much of themselves into doesn’t really interest them or go along with a job they’d like to do. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

Need a Career Change: Others have established careers but they have a desire to try something new. The ‘new something’ is a mystery. They know more what they don’t want to do than the contrary. This is a tricky bunch because they often get caught up in the negatives of where they’ve been and why they don’t want to go that route again. Disappointments and frustrations tend to dominate the conversation. This isn’t always the case, but it happens enough it is worth a mention. If they don’t have a good edit button or an awareness when the conversation has slanted too far to the’ why my former employer was an idiot’ column, they end up being the people you can’t wait to break free from. Their lack of direction coupled with their negative disposition drain you down to the very last drop. It breaks my heart at times because I know there isn’t an intention to be toxic. They are simply so lost in their situation they haven’t a clue they are emitting so much ick.

I’ll Take Anything: Bringing up the rear are those whose uncertainty of what to do next stems more from a desire to please and appear flexible than indecision. This would be the “I’ll take anything” crowd. I love the eager attitude and opened mindedness, but it does come off more as unfocused than flexible. It also puts those on the sidelines who are trying to give direction the impossible task of pointing the way to some unknown destination. Never mind that it’s not exactly true, either. I’m pretty sure I could list a few ‘anythings’ that would be a no-go. Just a hunch. The “I’ll take anything” angle is just as much of an extreme as the person who outlines what they are looking for to the extent they’ve limited their options to about .05% of the jobs that exist on the planet. Extremes are best avoided in the job hunting process. Landing squarely in the middle is ideal.

How do those who struggle with what to do next find an answer? The best way to solve the mystery is to stop trying to come up with a job title and focus more on what functions, conditions and responsibilities are bell ringers. Dedicate less time to outlining what you don’t want. Instead, cling to the things that appeal and see where they take you. Start broad and narrow down. Do you want to be in front of customers or behind the scenes? Are you an idea person or an implementer? Is leading your passion or would you prefer to support another? Are you technical or do you lean more to the creative side? Do you want a lot of responsibility or would you prefer something where you simply show up, work and go home with out much to worry about? When candidates answer some of these basic questions it helps them narrow the playing feel and it allows them the ability to paint a better picture of what they are looking for to others without having to go into what they don’t like. It shows a better sense of what they want and what they are prepared to do, even if they can’t specifically commit to a job title.

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