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15 Questions For Setting A Career Change in Motion

By Eileen P. Gunn

It's difficult to excel in a job or career where you're unhappy, but even when people know a job isn't working for them, they can be slow to make a change. One reason: They aren't sure what they want to move on to.

Sometimes a minor change -- such as a flex schedule, working at home more, or a new boss -- can make a world of difference and renew your commitment to a position. At other times, a more radical shift, say, to an entirely new job or career, is in order. Either way, confidence in your direction is often the best motivator when it comes to making a change.

How can you get a crystal-clear sense where you want to go? Understanding what has and hasn't worked for you in past jobs is the best place to start. It can clarify the tweaks you may need to make for your current position to work for you. If you know you're ready for something entirely new, it can help you direct your job search or career exploration.

Below are questions that may help you think about where you've gone and where you may want to go. Answer them honestly. After all, if you can't own up what you want, you can't make it happen.

There are no right answers. What's important is that you have answers. Coming up with them will help you draw conclusions about what you want from your career and a job.

1. What attracted you to your current job? Compare this to what you like and dislike about it now. Repeat this exercise with previous positions.

2. When you first entered the work force, where did you want to be in 10 years? Is that still what you want? If not, what's changed and why?

3. Name one thing you expected to like or to excel in but didn't.

4. Name one thing that you dreaded or thought you wouldn't be good at, but you enjoyed and succeeded at, impressing yourself and others.

5. Do you associate big companies with prestige, resources and opportunities, or bureaucracy, politics and layoffs?

6. Do you associate start-ups with innovation, highly-motivated people and the chance to be part of the next big thing, or with chaos, no resources, no paycheck and people who can't deal with having a boss?

7. Think of the best boss you ever had. What did you like about his or her work style? What would you copy if you were in his or her job?

8. Think of the worst boss you ever had. What made him or her bad to work for? What did you learn to not do from him or her?

9. You're at a party and someone asks what you do. Is it important that your employer is recognized and admired? Or would it more important to be working on something so ahead of the curve or obscure that you're sure to get a blank look and have to explain?

10. What was the coolest project you ever worked on? The one that left you exhausted, but inspired and even reluctant to go home at the end of the day. What was so cool about it?

11. What project made you lie in bed in the morning, think of day ahead, and moan, "When will this be over?" What made it so dismal?

12. When you work from home, do you feel productive and happy to be in charge of your day and your distractions? Or do you feel isolated, unmotivated and too drawn to everything -- the kids, the TV, the cookie jar, that picture you've been meaning to hang -- but not to work?

13. Do you feel energized and learn a lot during team meetings or are they a huge time sink? Would you rather be handed your assignment and left alone to get it done?

14. When you dress for work, do you want to wear a suit, haute couture, khakis and a sweater, or your exercise clothes?

15. Do you need to make the absolute most money you can all the time, or is very attractive pay good enough?

The answers to these questions should give some new and valuable information about yourself and your career direction. Think of that information as a tool you can use to carve out a more rewarding work situation. You might make use of it in a conversation with your manager, a hiring manager elsewhere in your company, a head hunter or maybe a career coach, depending on what kind of change you want.

Making change happen is challenging, and it rarely happens as quickly as you would like it to. But with these 15 answers, you have a good start. And you just might find you're looking forward to a change, rather than worrying about it.

-- Ms. Gunn is free-lance writer in New York. This article is an excerpt from her book, "Your Career Is An Extreme Sport: Focus, Drive, Excel" (Adams Media, 2006).

Article from Career Journal Online December 2006