Skip to main content

How to broaden your career options

June 29, 2024

I love a catch up with former clients to hear how they’re getting on. I had one the other day: coffee for her and a fragrant turmeric latte for me, on the shady patio of the Cherry Tree Café in Eynsham, one of my favourite meeting places a few miles west of Oxford.

We caught up on family and work news, then the conversation moved to the future as my client announced she was thinking of doing something different after many years in the same company. “The trouble is” she said, looking a little downcast, “I’ve got loads of ideas, I’m just not sure which one to follow.”

I asked her what these ideas were. 

“Well” she said, sheepishly pulling a notebook out of her bag “I made a list the other day in a rather dull meeting.” (Who hasn’t?) She proceeded to read out a dozen ideas. They were pretty far ranging from writing a book to using her languages more.

“Wow, that’s quite a list!” I replied enthusiastically when she finished. “Yes, but which one should I pursue?” she asked again.

“All of them!” was my response. Her eyes widened in surprise. “All of them?”  “Yes” I reassured her “you’re trying to jump to an answer you’re not ready for yet. You’re looking for ‘the one’ when you’ve got to play the field a bit first!”

The risks of filtering too soon

I explained that a common mistake in exploring next career steps is narrowing your options too soon. It’s understandable when we’re routinely told the key to progress is a clear focus.

Choosing one or two ideas to focus on is for later. Right now, quantity is king. If you’re unsure of your next move, you need to generate lots of ideas and then explore the ones that most appeal to get as accurate a picture as possible of what it’s like using that skill, doing that role, working for that company, or living that lifestyle, in order to assess its viability.

If you filter ideas too early, you risk rejecting a potentially good option based on assumptions that could be wrong, outdated, or formed from biased hearsay (“That wouldn’t pay enough”, “I’d have to have a qualification”, “John says they aren’t a good employer”).

Exploring a number of options before narrowing them down might take more time but you’ll be making a more informed decision, and save time and energy flip-flopping between options later on.

Tips to broaden your options in this early stage

Here are some tips to help broaden your options in this exploration stage:

  1. Step outside of your norms
    Do things to help you step beyond your usual spheres of experience so you get new perspectives that spark new ideas. If you’ve got a favourite café, try the one around the corner. Accept invitations to the parties where you’re worried you won’t know anyone so you get to meet new people. Watch a film or programme that everyone’s raving about that you wouldn’t normally choose. These sorts of actions cultivate a mindset that’s more receptive to novelty, newness, and possibilities.
  2. Ask questions
    Get curious about your career ideas, a passing daydream might turn out to be a breakthrough when you investigate it. What’s the easiest thing you could do to build your knowledge about an idea? Who do you know who’s written a book already? Ask them about their story. How might you start using your languages right now, in your job or elsewhere? These actions act as stepping stones. A good stepping stone at this point is often talking to someone. Most people are very happy to talk about themselves! I’m pretty sure you’d share your knowledge with someone if they asked about your experiences.
  3. Map your findings
    Write stuff down, like my client did. Seeing things on a page, rather than swirling in your head, lends helpful distance and objectivity when you’re weighing up your findings. I love a spreadsheet for this sort of thing, where I can add columns for notes, people I’ve spoken to, pros and cons as I discover them and so on, but you might be more motivated by collating your research into something colourful like a poster or mood board.
  4. Heed your feelings
    Notice your responses as you’re researching. Is what you’re discovering making this a more or less attractive option? Keep a note of your feelings as well as your findings. Feelings are transitory: when you come back to review things you might have a different perspective, but if the feeling persists, it’s worth listening to. Also, take note of thoughts that might suggest you’re dismissing something because of a fear of the unknown, uncertainty, judgement or failure (“People will think I’m arrogant going for such a big role”, “What if I can’t hack a job with sales targets?”). Check out my blog on setting fears to rest to deal with this.
  5. Know when to stop
    If you have perfectionist tendencies, this can be a hard one! A good tactic is to write down the key things you’d want to know to decide if an idea’s worth pursuing, and stop when you’ve discovered them. For example, what does a typical day look like for someone doing this job? What is job satisfaction like in this company? Is there funding for training to get into the sector?

As you put colour and substance around your ideas, one or two will emerge as the strongest contenders. Now you can focus on those, confident that you’re making an informed decision. 

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

Enjoyed reading? Sign up for my blog to get monthly insights and inspiration like this straight into your inbox