A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Do You Need to Get Started? (Laying a Foundation!)
Okay. Here we are at Question 9 in this series of career-oriented diagnostic questions titled the Career Changer's Checklist.
Up to this point I have asked you a bundle of questions to help you identify your ideal career. These questions have been designed to get you thinking about the key concepts that go into finding a good job or the career of a lifetime.
So far, in broad strokes I have asked you the following:
- What do you want to do?
- What do you like to do?
- What can you do?
- What can you afford to do?
- What do you know how to do?
- Where do you want to do what you want to do?
- Who do you want to do it with?
- What is the expected life cycle for what you want to do?
That brings us to this question, which can be phrased in a number of ways:
- How do you want to do this?
- How do you get started?
- What do you need to get started?
- What do you need to lay the foundation?
Projects of all sizes and shapes, no matter if you are building your own home, erecting a skyscraper, learning a foreign language, learning a trade, or writing an article all have one thing in common: They begin somewhere.
And sometimes it takes more time to begin a project than is does to actually do the project.
For me, the toughest part of any job is laying the foundation, beginning the project, and gathering all the pieces that have to be in place for the project to begin.
When writing an article, I have to have a goal, an objective, or a destination, a map, a schedule, an audience, a market, contacts who will work with me to get the word out, a crew, a place to work, a really good sense of myself, and reality.
The same is true when I am designing a network, developing a class, planning a major move, or looking for a job.
If you are like me and you want to take a trip during your vacation, you have to tackle several issues before you set off on the journey.
You have to know at least the following:
- Where do you want to go?
- Who do you want to go with?
- How long do you want to stay?
- What method of transportation will you use?
- Where will you stay?
- When do you want to go?
- What do you want to do on this trip?
- What can you realistically do on this trip?
- What do you have to take with you?
- Who do you have to consult with before leaving—for example, hotels and travel agents?
- Why do you want to go?
The keys are the following:
- Do you have a plan?
- Do you have your ducks in a row?
The old axiom, which I have found to be so true, is this:
- Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
The same fundamentals for beginning any project, the same questions that a good Project Manager uses when embarking on a new project, should be used by you as you lay the foundation for your new career.
In this article, through a series of 10 questions, you will determine what you need to know in order to begin your march to your new, dynamic, life-changing career.
You should have a pretty good idea what you want to do by now. You have to develop a plan for beginning your journey toward that career. You have written down your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and responses to the diagnostic questions I have asked up until now.
In this article, I will ask you the top 10 questions to assess what you need to get started and lay the foundation.
These 10 questions, as you will see, are also the top 10 strategic hurdles you have to jump to begin your journey.
So if you answer these 10 questions in your Word doc, you will have concretely determined the top 10 strategies for laying the foundation, or getting started.
Before I lay out the 10 questions, I want you to imagine, visualize if you will, that you are the general contractor for your new custom home that you are building. You are the key go-to person on this job.
What is the first thing you need to do before you begin the actual building?
- Develop a plan.
And what is the first thing you do when you actually start building?
- Lay the foundation.
This article is about planning and laying the foundation for your new career. Whether you are in IT, healthcare, business, the trades, or some other sector, you will be the General Contractor for your career for the next few minutes.
Put on your thinking cap, pull out your Word doc to take notes, strap on your tool belt, and get ready to prepare a good set of blueprints for the career you want.
Top 10 Questions to Assess What You Need to Get Started and Lay the Foundation
Are you a planner, or do you like to do things by the seat of your pants? Before we go any further, you have to be honest about this.
Some folks hate to plan. They want everything to be done spontaneously. Spur of the moment. They like surprises. They long for serendipity. And that is great for many things in life, but when you are starting a major life-changing project, such as finding the ideal career, surprises are nice, but so is planning and approaching the project with a sense of order.
Before you install the roof on your house, you first need to have the house erected, and you sure better have a foundation in place.
So planning is good. Say it with me: Planning is GOOD.
Before you start the journey to your new career, you need to answer the following questions HONESTLY! This is the PLAN.
- Do you have a goal, a dream?
In one sentence, what is your ultimate goal for this career journey? Do you have a goal? Can you express that goal, or dream?
If you don't have a goal, start thinking about it. Dream big. Shoot for the moon. There is no right or wrong answer. It is your dream or goal.
This is the high-level dream, the high-level objective.
A long, long time ago, when I was 10 years old, I was asked this by a clergyman who was trying to get me to think long term: Warren, what is your goal or dream?
My answer was simple. I had no idea how or why or if I would be able to achieve it, but I had a dream. My dream was to be a medical missionary.
My dreams have changed over the years. My ultimate dream or goal avocationally is still the same as it was 30 years ago: I wanted to (and still want to) be a chaplain to terminal and geriatric patients. That has not worked out because of a number of institutional changes and regulations that I found unacceptable. I have not given up on it, but I have moved on.
So I am in IT. My goal is simple: I want to provide the best training and education I can to make IT fun and understandable to those who take my classes.
I would also love to earn a Ph.D. and become a professor who can positively affect students entering IT.
Is that ego? Nope. It's a dream, that's all.
Remember that you can have more than one dream or goal. But you have to have a dream or goal.
And you don't necessarily have to give up on your earlier goals. Happenstance might cause them to come to fruition.
Be ready for the unexpected and be ready to change. But have a goal.
What is your high-level dream or goal? Write it down. Do you want to be a programmer? Do you want to be a systems engineer? Do you want to be a project manager? Do you want to be a CIO? Do you want to be a Sr. security engineer? Do you want to be a doctor or a lawyer? Do you want to be this generation's Bill Gates? Do you want to be a billionaire?
Write it down in your Word doc.
- Do you have a sense of reality?
You have your dream or goal, and that's great. But you have to be in touch with reality. Is your dream or goal out of the bounds of possibility or totally unrealistic?
Ask some of your friends and family and try to get some honest answers.
As you lay the foundation for your new career, the one thing you don't want to be is delusional. Have big dreams, but ones that are attainable and possible. Ones that you can realistically live up to.
Do you want to be the first IT professional to set up a wireless network on Saturn? That is a great dream but some/most would say it's unrealistic.
Great minds had big dreams that some said were unrealistic. But still they made those dreams a reality.
My advice is to take small steps, and have realistic dreams (at least at first). Then by all means, with all my encouragement, go for the gold.
The point is simple: Develop your dream or goal and evaluate it. Evaluate it honestly with the help and insight of others.
So, when you step back and look at your dream or goal, what do you think? Sleep on it and write down your thoughts in your Word doc.
Write down what others have said. Are you in touch with reality? Are your dreams attainable? If your answer is YES, let's move on.
- Do you have "an objective" with a measurable outcome?
Now that you have a dream or a goal, you have to develop one or more objectives that have measureable outcomes.
Remember that the dream is the big picture, the high-level goal, and the objectives are the how-to steps for attaining the goal. Objectives need to be measurable so that you can determine whether you have succeeded.
The following lists a couple of simple sample objectives you might have as you prepare for your career journey:
- I will prepare a website outlining my skills, experience, and education with a contact email address by October 15, 2008.
- I will accept a position only if the benefits package offered includes health, dental, vision, 401K, and disability.
- I will upload my resume to five online job boards by October 1, 2008.
Notice how simple these objectives are. Notice that you can easily determine if they are attainable. You know that if you upload your resume to five online job boards by October 1, 2008, you have achieved your objective.
Objectives outline the process you will take to achieve your goal.
In education we go a step further; we call objectives behavioral objectives or learning objectives.
Using a learning objective, we can concretely state that upon doing X, Y or Z the student will be able to do some task successfully or know a certain attainable skill or fact. The objective is to take a step.
In your career journey, your objectives are designed to help you determine what steps you have to take and want to take to reach your dream.
What are your objectives? Write them down in your Word doc. Step by step!
- Do you have a map for finding your way to your goal?
When you are laying out a road trip, you turn to your GPS, or Mapquest.com, or the old-fashioned paper map to see what roads you need to take to reach a destination.
You are planning a career trip. You need to determine what roads you need to take to reach the destination of a new career.
You have your objectives. Now what do you have to do reach those objectives?
For example, let's look at the first sample objective above:
- I will prepare a website outlining my skills, experience, and education with a contact email address by October 15, 2008.
What roads do you have to take to accomplish this goal? Do you know how to design a website? Do you know where to begin? Do you have a server to post your pages to? Do you need to contract with someone who knows how to design a website? Do you have your own domain? Do you even know what I am talking about?
These are the roads you need to travel to accomplish your goal by October 15. You have to gather your content for publication and then you have to prepare the site and upload the content.
But a lot has to be in place for this to happen. You will have to travel down some familiar and not so familiar roads.
Remember that this is a journey. You're going from point A to point B. Map out your roads.
Look at your objectives. Map out what you need and where you need to go so that you can meet your objectives, one by one.
In education, when I am looking at an objective, I have to know how I am going to get a student from point A to point B. What presentation skill do I have to use; what examples do I have to use to reinforce the points?
Write down in your Word doc what roads you need to travel and the questions you have to answer to tackle each objective. Then get busy.
- Do you have the materials needed for each objective and for the goal?
You are on a career journey, looking to land on your ideal career. You have a goal, you have your objectives, and you know the roads you have to travel to meet the objectives and reach the goal.
But what do you need to successfully satisfy each objective and ultimately reach your goal?
Just like laying a foundation for a home, you have to gather your supplies. And when teaching, you have to have "stuff" in the classroom that makes learning possible.
What do you need for each objective?
When laying out a foundation, you need a level, a transom, a plot of ground, dimensions, string, sticks, and so on.
Remember that you are marketing yourself. So you need a resume, a website, Internet access, a telephone, and so on.
Write down what you need for each objective and what you need to reach your goal: your new career.
- Do you have a market and a sector? Have you identified them?
One of the keys to successfully reaching your goal of an ideal job is to know where you are going. In this market, part of the process is to determine the market or sector you want to work in.
In IT, you can work in many sectors. You can work in higher education, the financial sector, in the government or defense sector, in healthcare, or in the media, to name a few.
Based on your sector or market, you can then hone in on the job you want at a preferred institution. If you know your market, you will have a better idea of the opportunities that are offered and be able to edit your objectives so that success is within easy reach.
Different sectors have different needs and therefore different opportunities. Does your sector have the opportunity you are looking for? Be honest.
If it does, you can really dial in to your objectives and goals, and then figure out the steps to take you there.
This is really starting to look like a foundation for a great career. One of the things you need to get started on this journey is a market or sector.
Write down your preferred sector or market and what opportunities exist that are in line with your goals and objectives.
- Do you have a schedule to accomplish your goals?
Objectives, markets, goals, materials, and maps are all needed to start your career journey once you identify your ideal career.
But you also need a schedule. Earlier in this article I gave you a sample objective. Part of that objective was a schedule:
- I will have a resume uploaded by a given date. I will have a website developed by a given date.
You need to have a deadline and milestones along the way, so that you don't drag the process out longer than necessary.
It's okay to be a procrastinator in many aspects of life, but not in a career search.
When do you want to be in your ideal career? Two years? Five years? Three months?
When you are taking the hypothetical vacation trip by car, you know that you want to be at your destination in a defined number of days or hours. Otherwise you may never reach your destination. You might simply wander around.
Will there be delays? In all likelihood, yes. But part of scheduling a trip, a project, or a career journey is to factor in time spent off-task, getting gas, eating meals, and sleeping.
Part of scheduling a construction project is to factor in delays caused by contractors, materials issues, and so on.
Does that mean there should not be a schedule? No. You need a schedule to force you to stay on task.
What is your schedule for your goal and objectives?
Write it down. It is part of the process of starting out on this journey.
- Do you have a list of contacts who might be interested in you, supportive of what you want to do, and can help you?
Most projects require a team to accomplish. You have the project manager, but you also have all the folks doing the actual work.
In construction, you have the general contractor, but there are also all the trades workers and subcontractors who do the actual building.
When you are on a career journey, you have to have a team of people who will help you reach your destination.
This team of people includes contacts who can help you find a job, write a resume, design a website, get the word out, and maybe hire you.
No one can do this alone. Who are your contacts? What can they offer you?
Who are the people and organizations you can call on for assistance? Think of yourself as a General Contractor and this list as your preferred subcontractors.
Who can you call on to reach your goal? If this is a road trip, you might think of adding AAA to your list as you begin the journey.
In your career journey, who is your AAA? Write down the list of contacts in your Word doc.
- Do you have a destination in mind?
You are starting out. You have your dream and objectives and your map, but where do you want to be when you finally arrive?
Where is your destination?
In your mind's eye, where do you picture yourself when you are in your ideal career?
In my wildest dreams, my ideal destination is located in the mountains, where I am working for a hospital or university.
What is your destination?
Write it down. If you don't know where you're going, you won't know whether you have arrived.
- Do you have a good attitude?
Keep a good, positive attitude. There are potholes, delays, and unforeseen occurrences along every path.
Problems will inevitably occur, and you will have some disappointments and delays, but don't let these issues get you down.
Keep your goals in mind and go for it.
One of the points of having objectives is that you can make the journey in small steps.
As you meet each objective, sign off on it—just like a checklist,.
This process is what project managers have clients do. When a milestone or objective is successfully reached, the client signs off on it.
Do the same with each objective. It will help to keep you in a good frame of mind as you move toward your goal.
In your Word doc, prepare a milestone chart with lines you can sign off on. And as you reach each objective, sign off on it.
Most importantly, record your mindset as you reach that objective.
Stay positive. You will arrive at your career!