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A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common-Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Do You Want to Do? (Goals!)

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  1. What Do You Want To Do? What Are Your Goals?
  2. Questions to Ponder
  3. Next Stop
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In this first question in his Career Changers’ Checklist, Warren Wyrostek helps you discover what your life and job goals are as he asks this question: What do you want to do? Put on your thinking cap and sharpen your pencil; you will be surprised by your answers!

If you have come to this article, I am sure you have read the first article in this series, Genesis, and you know the focus of this series.

So whether your career needs help or you are just curious—welcome to this diagnostic series. Whether you are from IT or from some other sector exploring IT—welcome. Even if you are just looking to start a new career—welcome. This series is for everyone. Here is a word that IT folks love to use—this is a generic series of questions to help you introspectively look at your career and help you analyze what you might want to do professionally.

I suggest that you use the following strategy as you read through these questions and those that will follow in the upcoming articles. Take notes! Record the following:

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Actions or reactions to the statements and suggestions made (positive or negative)
  • References you want to research
  • Anything that comes to mind, no matter how insignificant it might seem

You might want to set up a Word doc with these notes, broken down by question, so that you can refer to them in the weeks to come. These notes do not have to make sense to anyone but you.

Based on these notes, when you finish this series (or maybe in the middle) a light may come on that spurs you toward your next career move.

These notes might also help you formulate your own set of questions that make sense to you. Or they might help you come up with a question that you want to pose on the InformIT comment portal or ask me by email.

Remember from the "Genesis" article that the articles in this series contain focused, probing, diagnostic questions that will help you look at your career choices and hopefully help you come up with a course of action to follow to improve your lot in life.

That being said, let’s get to question 1 and the followup questions it generates.

What Do You Want To Do? What Are Your Goals?

This is without question the most fundamental question you have to answer when you are making a career choice. You cannot answer any of the other that I will pose in the coming weeks if you don’t know what you want to do.

This question can be looked at from two points of view.

  • Life goals. This is how folks who are in the real world market will respond when choosing to change careers.
  • Job goals. This is how many in our sector (and many other sectors, for that matter) respond to this question.

Let’s take a look at these two viewpoints more closely.

Life Goals

When I was growing up, I was often asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My answer was always the same: a doctor or a chaplain. That was it. I wanted to be able to serve people who were ill. The key to that response is that I wanted to serve.

That is an example of a life goal that is formed in childhood. That goal, despite what I do to make a living, has not changed over my 50+ years. Whatever I do career-wise has to satisfy that goal or I am completely dissatisfied.

Now that I have been in IT for over 15 years (12 years as an independent contractor), I come up with a laundry list of answers when I am asked what I want to do. Some of them I can share during an interview; others I don’t share because they are not relevant to the topic being discussed.

The key is to know what you want to do as a life goal. Here are some diagnostic questions that might help you figure out what you want to do as you make a career move:

  • Do you want to make a lot of money? Is money a concern for you?
  • Do you want to work in a single job that provides the needed income for you and your family to thrive, or do you care if you work two or more jobs simultaneously?
  • Do you want to change jobs every 6 months to 2 years or are you looking for stability; that is, do you want to stay with an employer for 10–30 years?
  • Do you want to work a fixed schedule, or are your hours flexible?
  • Do you want to travel in your career? If so, how much? Do you want to be a road rat?
  • Do you want to get off the road because you can’t stand hotels any more or because you don’t want to be away from your family for long periods of time?
  • Do you want to relocate to another part of the country or to a new country because of the opportunities that await you? Or are you trying to get away from something or someone who is annoying you, or get closer to someone or something?
  • Do you want to work for yourself and enjoy the opportunities that are available to the self-employed, including scheduling freedom?
  • Do you want to start working for a small company, a mid-size firm, or a global enterprise?
  • Do you want to stop working for yourself so that you can enjoy corporate benefits and stability?
  • Do you want to work in management with a great deal of responsibility or do you want to work in support so that others bear the responsibility? How important is control to you—whether you control the flow of work or someone else is in control?
  • Do you want to deal with the politics of a bureaucracy, or with a mom-and-pop business in which there is little in the way of politics?
  • Do you want to be in a service industry or in a manufacturing industry?
  • At the end of the day, the work week, the fiscal year, what is the most important thing you need to be able to say that you accomplished or did?
  • What comes first for you: business, pleasure, family, or something else? And a related question: What do you want to do for yourself? For others? For your company? For your family? What is driving you to make this career choice?

When I reflect on these questions, it is clear why I have chosen to work for myself these last 12+ years. My family comes first when making career decisions. I have not wanted to travel for extended periods because I had to be away from my family, which I was not willing to do. I much prefer to be in a service industry in which I can provide some assistance to a population with a defined need, and I prefer to work in a small-scale operation with minimal politics. I have little patience for corporate politics.

As far as income is concerned, I want to make enough money to not have to worry and to take care of my family’s needs. I don’t mind working multiple jobs at the same time as long as I manage my time well. So when I am making a career choice, these parameters dictate which choices I will make. You have to define your life goals when you are considering what you want to do; otherwise the answer you come up with will not be realistic for you. It will be sheer fantasy or simply make your life miserable.

And remember that these questions are just a sample of the questions you need to respond to when you want to learn what you want to do. These are the type of questions HR folks quietly ask during an interview. Your responses to these questions will help you articulate your job goals.

Now it is your turn. What are your life goals? Write them down in your Word doc.

Job Goals

Now that you are considering your life goals, you also have to begin considering your job goals. Depending on the sector you are considering, the opportunities are endless when you know which life goals are important.

In IT there is more and more a division of labor. No one can do it all. Twenty years ago, anyone running a network was supposed to be able to do it all. Everything, from programming to running cable, to deploying workstations, to administering a mainframe was in most job descriptions for IT people. That has changed a bit, but in some sectors not as much as is needed.

Realistically, today’s programmers, cable installers, network folks, and mainframe gurus all require unique skill sets, but each of these professionals must also interact with those having other talents.

When you consider what you want to do, what your jobs goals are in IT, you should consider the following:

  • What type of environment you want to work in?
  • Do you want to work in a big shop or a one-person shop?
  • Do you want to work independently or as part of a team?
  • What platform or subject has your attention?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

These five questions can give you a pretty good idea of what direction you should pursue.

When I look at my job goals, I can look at the IT sector and pick a job from a list, simply from the title, that might be of interest to me. Why? It will fall in line with my responses to these five questions that help define my job goals.

For example, because I enjoy working for myself, it is clear that I prefer working independently or as part of a small team.

I really like working in healthcare and education. Those have been real loves of mine since I was in high school. I am not at all attracted to the financial sector, the political arena, big business, and the like.

The subjects that have my attention are teaching, integrated networking, troubleshooting, writing, and course development.

My strengths are the following: good researcher, good troubleshooter, open to working with others and interacting with others, well-organized public speaker and teacher, have ability to simplify complex concepts so that others can understand the driving point, love of writing, and enjoyment of working.

My main weakness is I hate politics—office politics and bickering. I simply have no time for them. I have no tolerance for ego-driven individuals.

I also have little tolerance for vendors who believe that they own you when you purchase their product, making you in their eyes "vendor-dependent." More and more of the IT vendors are developing the mindset that they own you when you deploy their hardware or software solutions. That lack of tolerance alone makes me want to rethink whether I want to stay in IT.

From these two lists of questions—life goals and job goals—that help define what you want to do, you can begin to formulate an idea of what you might want to do if you are changing a career.

Some thoughts that have crossed my mind as I consider these issues are to continue teaching as an independent contractor; manage a training division; or leave IT altogether and pursue a doctorate in IT, where I can assure myself of employment stability by teaching at a university.

That’s how I would respond to those questions. Now it is your turn. What are your job goals? Write them down in your Word doc.

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