5 Tips for Making Big Career Decisions

Tough, career-altering choices (Should I leave my job? Should I switch careers?) are not to be taken lightly—but believe it or not, they won’t make or break you, either. Get expert advice on figuring out what you want, making big changes and creating a career you love.

Photography: Victor Demarchelier

Photography: Victor Demarchelier

1 | Check Yourself

Be aware about how you feel about your job—pay attention to your levels of passion and motivation, in particular. “The minute you lose interest in doing your job well, that’s the time to either re-engage in your role or create your exit strategy,” says career consultant and executive coach Maggie Mistal. “When a job stops being fun, you stop engaging in it, your quality suffers and your boss will notice.” Then you may have no choice but to move on. Check in with yourself periodically to see how you’re really feeling about your work.

2 | Consider ways to re-engage with your current situation

“Before moving on from a job, look for ways to re-engage,” Maggie suggests. “I worked with a client who was a project manager at a product development company. Her job was to keep the creative team on time and within budget, but she craved doing creative work herself. Rather than quit right off the bat, she offered to help the creative team on a small project or two and asked for advice on classes she could take to develop her creative skills. Over the course of a year, she took on bigger and more creative projects and kept doing her project management role well and, when a position on the creative team opened up, she made the move. She’s been a full-time creative for over 10 years.” Find ways to get the whatever it is you’re looking for—different work, a higher salary, more responsibility—at your current company, where you’ve already invested time and energy building relationships and a reputation, before you leave altogether.

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3 | Figure out what motivates you

Understanding what your dream job looks like is essential to making wise career choices. Maggie takes her clients through a series of exercises designed to help you figure that out. “Select and prioritize the top five values that will get you out of bed in the morning and excited for work,” she suggests. ”Once you have your list of motivators, then you can compare and contrast to determine which job opportunities give you more of what motivates you.” When you’re fully aware of what you want in a job, you’ll be able to trust your own judgment without getting distracted by money, advancement or other people’s opinions. “To put your job satisfaction squarely in your own hands, you’ve got to know yourself.”

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4 | Soul-search and research in equal measures

If you’re looking to make a change, start with a soul-search. “Get to know who you are—what you love to do, your unique gifts and talents, what skills you want to utilize and how you want to make a difference,” says Maggie. Then, do your research. “See what’s out there that aligns with who you are and test out a new career before making a career switch,” she advises. “I had a client who was good at seeing the big picture. We looked for ways to use this talent and landed on strategy consulting. To test this career switch, he approached a favorite non-profit and offered to consult for them for a set period of time. He found that, while he was able to be of service, he didn’t enjoy doing the work for someone else—he wanted to develop and implement strategies as a business leader himself. Doing the research in addition to the soul-searching made all the difference in his clarity and confidence moving forward.”

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5 | Remember it’s never too late

Don’t put too much pressure on any single decision. Choosing the wrong job does not mean the end of your career. You’re never too old, experienced or far into your career to make a change. “No one can pigeon-hole you,” says Maggie. Umber Ahmad, who left her Wall Street job to open a bakery, says her tenure as a banker prepared her to run a successful food business. “I separated my title (‘banker’) from my skillset (business development, financial management, leadership, etc.) and it turned out that my skillset was easily transferable to opening a bakery,” she told us. In fact, her seemingly unrelated experience proved to be an asset. “Make a list of things you’re good at. You’ll identify areas of business where you’ll be ahead of the game because you’ll have skills others in your new field don’t have.”

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