Where to Start When You Don’t Know Where to Start

Mar 27, 2023
Let me tell you a secret.
Pretty much no-one that’s been through a successful career change from a role where they felt institutionalised knew exactly what their eventual destination was when they started. No-one calls and says “I’ve been a police officer for 15 years, and I definitely know I want to be an Operations Manager at Company X in their Y Department at the Z office”.
Even the people who call and say “I’d like to get into Project Management” often can’t answer the World’s best yet most annoying question…Why? Simple answer: they may well just be saying Project Manager because it’s a trend (see also becoming a Train Driver circa 2019); because someone else from their station went down that route; because an advert on social media said the salary in PM was great; because their neighbour does it and so on.
Deeper answer: they haven’t properly thought through the true reasons why they’re making this change in the first place.
Looking through the “wrong” end of the telescope.
Sounds weird but stay with me.
Even on Google Maps, you can’t get a decent route if you don’t know the destination. Sure, Google is clever, so if you say “pubs in Worthing with a beer garden” you will get a shortlist, but even then how do you know which is the one for you?
“Read the reviews!” I hear you shout. Good point, but those reviews are based on what other people wanted in a pub, which might not be what you want. Use them as part of your evidence-gathering process, but don’t take them as gospel.
So to get the fastest and simplest route to your destination, you need to know quite a lot before you even get to opening the Maps app. It’s no different with career change: this can sound a little counterintuitive, but by the time you start typing anything into a job search engine, or sitting down to write a CV, you should ideally know what you’re going to write and why.
At this point I want to flag that, just like visiting several different pubs before you find your favourite, you should expect to redraft your CV and refine your search terms several times through the process. That’s natural and each iteration takes you closer to the right outcome.
Building the Ideal Destination
A far better approach is to start at the end and work backwards. Imagine it’s 12 months from now and you’re ensconced in your new role in a new setting. In an ideal World:
How do you feel?
How do you notice those feelings?
What are you spending your time and energy on?
What are you getting in return for that time and energy?
Start to make a list of these things – or a mind map if you prefer to visualise it that way. Next, you can begin to quantify them where possible. For example, if you said you want to feel closer to your family and notice that you know more about home life than work life, does that mean being present at a minimum of 3 school runs per week? Or never working weekends perhaps? These start to become tangible things we can factor into the way you filter your job search (but hold your horses and step away from Indeed for a little while longer).
That’s all, to some extent, still quite outward-looking. I would strongly encourage you to bring some introspection to this part of the process too. Which might come from questions like:
When are you happiest at work?
When are you happiest?
What would you like people to say about you when you’re not in the room?
I believe that this will start to lead you to a deeper answer to the inevitable job interview question of “tell us about yourself”. Because if you get that far and don’t know why you ever wanted to be a Project Manager to begin with, it will come across. Or, even worse, you’ll get the Project Management job and have to do this whole career change process again from the beginning, with a lot of wasted time and energy.
Where to start?
With challenging yet compassionate questioning of yourself and your destination.
Ready to make a successful move?
Join our community or dive straight into the courses and coaching we offer to make that a reality.

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