3 Questions To Ask If You're Not Sure What's Next In Your Career

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
The average professional woman between the age of 25 and 34 will change jobs about every three years. There can be a number of reasons why she decides to make a change — she’s plateaued in her current role, lost passion for her work, had a baby, is caring for aging parents, or simply itching to experience a new city or industry altogether.
As co-founder of The Second Shift, I am committed to the empowerment of women through work. I am fiercely dedicated to shifting the path forward for women, encouraging them to forge their own career paths with confidence, intention, and optimism. As we match independent, professional women with part-time or project work, I have interviewed and coached thousands of women at various stages of their careers. Inevitably at some point in the conversation, I ask, “What is your dream job?” Some answer with clarity, detailing the industry they’d like to be in and professional goals they have set for themselves, while others aren’t quite as sure of the exact “dream” position, but know specific job functions they do and do not want to have in their next role. Regardless of where they are on the career spectrum, each consistently responds with the importance of flexibility in the workplace. For some flexibility might mean less or zero commute time with a remote position; for others, it might mean the freedom to get work completed by a specific deadline, not in an office between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Flexibility enables better choices and smarter work, so that we can be present for our families and achieve greater balance in our lives.
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To help talented women stay engaged in the workforce and figure out “what’s next,” I encourage them to go through this exercise. Asking these questions of yourself and using these guidelines can help identify the path and lead you closer to the job that works for you.
Be Open
Once you’ve identified what interests you, put yourself out there! Network with old colleagues, friends, family friends, friends of friends. Nine out of ten people I speak with start off with, “I never imagined I’d be doing this,” or “I fell into this because,” whether it’s finance, technology, or pharma. A career path doesn’t have to be neat and tidy. Sometimes you take on new responsibilities at work and learn you like a different part of the business, Other times you apply your skills to a new industry and experience your role from a different lens. We have a member who was in a product marketing role at a beauty brand. She was asked by her employer to take on merchandising responsibilities for their own stores, giving her exposure to working with third-party retailers. After the beauty brand, she took a job with a consumer technology product company, transferring her knowledge of successful product launches from one industry to another. Be open to opportunities, you never know where they will take you.
Be Confident
I was shocked when I first learned the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet just 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. While the finding is from a Hewlett Packard internal report a few years ago, it continues to be referenced (including in Lean In and The Confidence Code) and something I have seen repeatedly with female applicants. Just as you need to be open to new opportunities, be confident in how you can apply your skill set, experience, and smarts to a job that interests you. For example, if a job posting seeks strong analytical skills and you are an excellent writer, but your modeling skills are more basic, focus on your ability to offer thoughtful qualitative analysis, supported by quantitative findings. Without question, there are mandatory skills some jobs require, but being confident in your ability and what you bring to the table, with meaningful, measurable examples of your accomplishments that are relevant to the company and position. Show them you have the ability, work ethic, and commitment, and with proper direction and guidance, you can learn the additional skills and be successful.
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Break the Rules
It has been a long time coming, but thankfully the world is changing and the old rules don’t apply. There is a heightened awareness for the need for more women in the workplace and compelling data supporting the value we add to the economy and society — achieving gender parity in the workforce would represent a $2.1 trillion increase to the U.S. GDP by 2025. Yet today women are making 81.9 percent of what men make, on average. We need to continue to push for change and work outside of the box. Go for the job that you want, demand fair pay, and deliver the superior results you are capable of, regardless of location, industry, or role.
Whether you are considering a transition from fashion to finance, full-time to part-time, agency to in-house, or something in between, be bold, be brave, and go for it. Get what you want to make work work for you.
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