How to Find Your True Career Direction

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

“No wind favors s/he who has no destined port.”

“One never goes so far as when one doesn’t know where one is going.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Life is short. You deserve the very best.

My purpose is to help you find a job that is a 95%-98% good fit. In the real world, that’s nearly perfect. The journey begins with creating a blueprint or vision for your career, and gaining sharp focus.

The biggest reason for failure in a career transition is lack of focus. The candidate is riding their horse in all directions, keeping their options open. This may result in a job offer, but not usually in the 95%-98% good fit. Often it results in punishing, lingering unemployment.

Several people have asked for my help after having failed in the job market. They were unemployed for a year, two years, even three years. Why hadn’t they been hired? Did they lack skills or experience? No. Were they uneducated? No. Were they otherwise unappealing? No. Was it the job market’s fault? No.

The reason they weren’t hired is that they didn’t know where they belonged. They didn’t know their strengths. They lacked focus, a clear direction, a clear purpose.

In every case, I took them through the following three simple exercises, and they achieved sharp focus. Clarity. We launched a marketing campaign and they were hired quickly. Not in a matter of days, but soon.

I’ve learned this lesson repeatedly. For seven years CareerLab® hosted a monthly networking breakfast for business leaders and professionals in career transition. Each month 50-60 high-achievers showed up in our suite.

After a speaker took the stage, I asked the attendees to take one minute to introduce themselves and tell the group who they were and how we could help. Not one in twenty could do it. Most launched into a 500-to-5,000-word ramble that left the group glassy-eyed. Their ramble sounded something like this:

“I’ve been here, I’ve been there, I’ve done this, and I’ve done that. I can do these things and I can do those things. But maybe some of this, too. In other words, I’m open to anything.”

They had no focus whatsoever. Their message was so murky no one could grasp it. It’s hard to help someone if you don’t know where they’re going. These “wandering generalities,” as one client called himself, didn’t get much help.

So when someone asks what you do, The Undercover Recruiter suggests that you “Think of yourself as a movie trailer and not the whole film.”

A sharp message sounds like this:

“My greatest gift is financial wizardry. I work magic with numbers and see opportunities others don’t, usually as CFO or VP of Finance. I’m cause-driven, so can add great value to a $100M-$300M company that wants to ‘do good and make a difference.’ Healthcare and education are my target industries. And I need to stay in San Diego because my aging parents are here.”

If you sharpen your focus, you’ll achieve the 95%-98% good fit nearly every time.

I’m confident you can do it, and we can achieve it together. The reason I’m confident is that I’ve used these same exercises for 35 years with hundreds of job candidates. Some hired me themselves, and some were sponsored by their former employers in outplacement.

The results are the same. Most everyone I work with ends up in a career position that’s 95%-98% ideal. Those who don’t either don’t follow the process, or drop out midway. The process itself works.

You’re thinking, “This may not work for me, I’m different?” or “This may not work for me, I’m a special case.” You are different. You are a special case. That’s the point: to learn and describe what that is.

In my experience, the exercises work for everyone, from the blue collar laborer on the loading dock to the residents of the C-suite (the executives, including the CEO), and everything in between. They work for attorneys, physicians, CPAs, and physicists with three Phds. They apply in every function and industry. They inspire high school and college students with limited work experience. They work in small businesses, brand-name corporations, non-profits, and educational institutions.

In short, I’ve never met a person yet who didn’t benefit immensely from these simply self-discovery exercises.

Yet they take time and effort to complete. And that’s where we get into a bind. We feel that career planning should be quick, so we can get on with real life. And we tend to career-plan in a crisis, just after we’ve lost a job. But let’s give planning its due. Peter F. Drucker taught us that “The best way to predict the future is to plan it.”

In working with hundreds of candidates, I’ve learned that Effort Equals Results (E=R). BIG effort produces BIG results, and sketchy effort yields sketchy results. This is hard to communicate, but A-students get A’s and C-students get C’s. The same thing happens here.

Looking to the past is instructive. This concept isn’t new. In 100 A.D. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes.”

I want you to end up with a job that’s the 95%-98% good fit, but to do that, you need to put a lot of heart into these exercises. Blood, sweat, and tears. They can’t be taken lightly. This doesn’t mean they’re painful. In fact, they’re rather fun. But they do take time and concentration.

All my life my mother taught me that “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” She didn’t just teach it, she hammered it into me. And legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” He also said, “Winning isn’t a sometime thing. Winning is an all the time thing.”

One of my clients was the grandson of the famous Denver architect, Temple Buell. Buell designed and built 300 buildings here. He’s a legend. When I asked the grandson if he might consider part-time work, he blurted, “No, absolutely not. My grandfather said that ‘With part-time effort you get part-time results.'” 

I’ve always liked that quote.

Think of the blueprint for a commercial office tower; it’s very complex and intricate. If the plan is accurate, the building is near-perfect. A career blueprint is similar; it’s highly detailed. That’s why the results are predictable, almost guaranteed to be good.

A detailed career blueprint accomplishes two things: 1) it helps us chart our direction and communicate our vision to our audiences, and 2) it helps us screen opportunities in and out, so we end up with the ideal. In other words, we say no to situations that don’t fit.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett said it this way: “The difference between the successful person and the very successful person is that the very successful person says no to almost everything.” 

Bookstores today carry hundreds of books to help one focus and choose a career path. Websites literally host millions of exercises, but many of the exercises result in more confusion, rather than less. They help you learn little pieces about what you like, want, and value—they just have trouble assembling the individual pieces into a clear, complete picture: a blueprint or vision.

The exercises, which do create a clear blueprint or vision, are designed to build on each other, so complete them in exactly this order. Resist the urge to jump to the final exercise too soon. Doing so can only frustrate you and delay your results.

To use an analogy: If we were making meatloaf for dinner, exercises one and two help us get the hamburger, green peppers, onions and bread crumbs out on the table. In exercise three we get our hands dirty and mix the ingredients together into a meatloaf. There’s no use trying to make the meatloaf without having the best ingredients in place.

When I see your work, I’m going to grade it. I’ll know immediately whether it’s A-B-C-D or F, and so will you. This is a case where your grade in class does affect your future.

Ready to have some fun? Let’s tackle the first exercise: Likes and Dislikes

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“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
                                                                ~Alice in Wonderland
, Lewis Carroll