If you feel a tinge of dread every time you see your extended family over the holidays because you know they’re going to ask, “so, what do you want to do with your life?” you’re not alone.
This question, in addition to questions about your career plans, dream jobs, grad school applications, or even your relationship status are incredibly stressful. The stress is exacerbated when you’re actively trying to figure out the answers to these questions yourself.
And by the way, how is anyone supposed to know what they want to do with their lives? We at Placement sometimes struggle to know what we want to eat for dinner ;)
These big questions are important, though. They’re particularly important when you’re on the job search and thinking through career paths.
The good news is that you absolutely can figure out what you’re really good at, and in turn, what new job to apply to or career options to consider. And, you might be surprised to know that the process of figuring it out can actually be incredibly rewarding and enlightening.
To figure out what you’re good at, and therefore what jobs to target, we recommend the following:
Map out your prior roles and experiences
Consider what you naturally did well at in those roles
Ask your friends, family, and network for their thoughts on what your skill set is
Look for patterns and consistencies
Let’s dive into each of these steps in more detail.
Start the process by finding yourself some spare time and opening up a blank Google Doc (or go old school with a pen and paper!). Write out all of the companies you’ve worked at, roles you’ve had, and groups you’ve been involved with. If you have a completed resume, this can be a good place to start because many of your prior work experiences are already listed.
After you’ve written down all of the many positions you’ve held, it’s time to get down to the next level of detail. For each experience you listed, write down what you accomplished. This can be in bullet point format rather than complete sentences.
Don’t agonize over what to write - anything that pops into your head should be written down.
A few questions to ask yourself for each position:
What was my biggest accomplishment?
What impact did I have?
What did people compliment me on?
What was I better at than most people?
What did people come to me for advice on?
How did I stand out from others in this role?
What did I love doing?
You should have a long list of responses and reflections at this point. If you’re early in your career, consider including roles you held in college organizations or internships. Any experience where you added value to a team or company is fair game.
After you have this list filled with the positive results you’ve achieved, take a step back and think about the qualities you have that allowed you to do this. One-word adjectives are the goal here. Write down the adjectives that align with each bullet point.
Let’s look at an example.
Assume you were a project manager for the launch of an app and you ensured the team delivered the final product a full week ahead of schedule. You might write down that your qualities of organization, collaboration, and problem-solving allowed you to achieve this.
Once you go through each bullet point to determine your unique qualities in the format of one-word adjectives, you’ll start to see what the consistent themes are across all of your prior experiences.
This will come in handy in Step 4!
Now, this is the fun part! You’ve done the hard work of reflecting on all of the incredible things you’ve done over the course of your career.
Step 3 is to ask those who know you best to share their thoughts on what they think you’re innately, naturally, and genuinely great at. This is an incredibly helpful exercise to get a sense of what your reputation is. Oftentimes, people are pleasantly surprised to learn how others would describe them.
So, who should you ask? A few ideas:
Current and former colleagues
Current and former managers
Current and former classmates
Current and former professors
All it takes is a simple email, text, or phone call to gather their thoughts. You should give them some time to think about it before responding, so consider sending them a note like this:
I’m exploring different career paths and am thinking through what my skills are to help me narrow down my job search. You know me so well, and your insight into what you think I’m good at would be extremely helpful.
Can you think about what you think my skills and qualities are and send me your thoughts?
Once you’ve received responses from a handful of people, take a step back and think about the high-level themes that emerged.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Are there any consistent words people used?
What are the unique qualities they used to describe me?
What am I surprised by?
What do I disagree with?
How do I feel after receiving these responses?
You should know have two lists - the strengths you came up with for yourself and the strengths others shared with you.
The final step in the process is to look for the overlap. It’s helpful to have both lists of strengths written down so you can circle the consistent adjectives.
You’ll likely find at least one or two consistencies. These are your magic answers. The skills that you know you’re great at and that others recognize in you are what to focus on. This is the answer to the question “What am I good at?”
Feel confident and proud of the skills you have and the qualities that make you a valued friend, colleague, and person.
Use this information to narrow down your job search by researching opportunities that list those same strengths, skills, qualities as important for that role.
Once you find the jobs that highly value what you’re naturally good at, you’ll be set up for success in the interview process and ultimately in the job itself! This is how you take a proactive approach to a career change.
If you want more support with this, we have expert Career Coaches who specialize in helping job seekers transition from their current job to their dream job. They'll work with you to discover your strengths, loop in your family members to ask for their thoughts, and uncover your innate talents. They'll also help you break down your hard skills versus soft skills to ultimately identify your unique and amazing superpowers!