You’ve decided it’s time to return to the workforce. But you haven’t decided on the type of job you want to pursue. It’s “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up” and is more common than you might think!
The reasons vary. Perhaps you see this as a chance to pivot into an entirely different career than the one you had before. Or maybe your previous field is no longer in-demand or has changed radically.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when the path isn’t clear.
One key piece of advice: avoid blindly applying to any job you see. Your job search will be more successful if you pause to get a better idea of what you want, what the job market wants, and where the overlap might be.
In the long run, getting clarity up front will save you time, energy, and discouragement by helping you to narrow your search, revamp your resume, and decide which skills to refresh as you determine the best post-break direction for you.
1. Consider your why.
The first step in any career restart journey is “finding your why.” For most returners, the motivations for returning to work are a mix of financial considerations and personal fulfillment. Try to identify your primary reason for jumping back into the workforce. What do you hope to accomplish through your career restart?
If your primary motivator for returning to work is financial, then your priority is probably returning to work as quickly as possible. This will mean looking for jobs in your original field (where you can flex your existing experience and skills) or finding jobs that have a clear path towards promotion and growth.
If your financial situation is relatively stable and your primary motivator is personal fulfillment, you have more time to explore various career options. If the idea of going back to your previous career field doesn’t fill you with excitement, you might want to think about a career pivot, and the skills you’d need to acquire or brush up on to accomplish such a change.
2. Consider your skills.
Think about your current skills – both technical skills and soft skills – and list them out. Don’t worry about how recent they are or how long it has been since you used them. You can always refresh your skills with practice or online courses.
These skills don’t have to be solely gleaned from your professional experience. Also include on your list skills you developed during your career break through volunteering or contract work. The same goes for soft skills such as communication, organizational, and time management that you may have gained during your career pause.
3. Make a list of your interests.
Now that you have a better sense of your current skills, make a second list of what you’d like to focus on in your next career.
Think back to your previous career, and what types of professionals you interacted with. Perhaps you previously had a technical job, but worked with project managers and realized that could be an interesting field to move into. Maybe you had a career in marketing, but always thought you’d be great at recruiting.
Feel free to think broadly. Do you want a job that’s more analytical? One that flexes your written communication skills?
You can also make a second list of things you disliked about your previous jobs. What was something you hated doing and would like to avoid in your next position?
Once you have your list of job interests and dislikes, you might realize they form the core of a job description. Knowledge of this will come in handy when you start browsing job listings. Keep in mind that you might not find a role that fits every single point on your list, but you will have a better idea of which roles to float to the top and which to ignore.
4. Take an assessment.
If you’re feeling stuck, there are a variety of free skills assessments on the internet that may help you pinpoint your knowledge and interests in ways that match job fields.
Careeronestop, a career exploration site sponsored by the US Department of Labor, has a skills assessment and interest assessment to help you identify potential job types. For an even more comprehensive assessment, try the 60-question O*Net Interest Profiler.
5. Try an online course.
If you are thinking about pivoting into a new field, sites like Udemy and Coursera offer many free and low-cost online courses and certifications.
By taking an online course, you can test drive a possible job focus without making a major time or financial commitment. Search for “Intro to [career field]” or “[career field] for Beginners” for courses and introductory videos that will help you get your feet wet. YouTube also has tutorial videos of varying quality.
If you’re thinking about a role that will require you to re-skill or up-skill, try taking a training course preferably with certification attached. You can include this on your resume as a way to showcase your new skillset and signal to employers that you’re serious about building your abilities and contributing to a team.
6. Flex your skills volunteering.
If you have an interest and the skills to contribute in an area, consider offering your abilities to an organization through strategic volunteering. Doing so will provide you with real-world experience you can include on your resume while at the same time benefiting an organization that needs your skills.
If you have some web development abilities, for example, and an interest in that field, find opportunities to help nonprofit organizations or community groups create a new website. If you’re considering a communications-based career, help an organization create a social strategy or put together a grant proposal.
Catchafire is one source for finding strategic volunteer opportunities. You can search by skill set and time commitment, and Catchafire will even help you put together a portfolio of your work after you’re done.
7. Review the current job market.
You’ve probably visited a few job search sites, only to get overwhelmed sifting through hundreds of listings. There are so many types of jobs and the latest job titles may be unfamiliar to you. Plus, the number of specializations and options within the same field has only grown.
Now, remember that list of interests (and job dislikes) you made? Keep referring to that. Most of the popular job sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn allow you to search for keywords and not just specific roles. Try inputting some of the responsibilities you’d like to have in your next career, and see what kind of positions pop up.
8. Consider a career coach.
You may want to consider engaging the services of a career coach. There is usually a fee involved and for this and other reasons, coaching is not the right option for everyone.
A good career coach, though, can help you reflect on where you are on your career journey, create a job search strategy based on your specific interests and goals, and keep you accountable.
9. Talk to as many people as you can.
Set aside some time to grab coffee with friends, neighbors, and former colleagues to talk about their jobs. Done correctly, informational interviews are a great way to gain inside knowledge about what types of jobs are out there, what certain roles entail, and in what areas companies are hiring.
You might be surprised how much you can learn through a casual chat with people you already know.
Anna Khomina is a content writer and marketing coordinator at Path Forward.