Career Uncertainty: what to do when you don’t know what to do

Adam Jasnikowski

Career Uncertainty (2)

​Did you choose your career path, or did you fall into it?

There’s a kind of stigma attached to the unsurety some people have when it comes to their career. But the truth is, uncertainty about the path we’re on hits most of us at one time or another, whether when you’re first starting out in your career and trying to answer the big question of “what to do with your life”, or years later when we’ve experienced a lot but maybe lost direction. When you lose your sense of purpose, it’s difficult to express to a potential employer how you’re feeling without being labelled as ‘unmotivated’ or ‘not driven’; the truth is, you need to stop your mind from spiralling and get to the bottom of things.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and suffering from some career uncertainty, there are a few things to consider.

What goals are you working towards?

Understanding your own long-term goals is arguably the most important thing; knowing how to get there another thing entirely, but at least having an idea of what you want to achieve is crucial to overcoming career uncertainty. Where do you want to be in the next 12 months, 3 years, 5 years? Don’t focus on a job title or position – focus on what you want to learn or understand by then, where your earnings need to be, the personal goals which are tied in with your career development. They’re big questions, but worth thinking about now, even if the path to achieving them isn’t clear. Vocalising your goals makes them infinitely more approachable and thus achievable. Which leads me on to…

What are your most proud achievements to date?

Read that question again: not your biggest achievements, but those you’re most proud of. Think about the things which really felt worthwhile, where you really added value, where you went above and beyond for a customer or colleague. Being good at a job doesn’t mean it fulfils you, so understanding the things which actually make you feel good about what you were doing may give some insight into what you should be pursuing in your career moving forwards.

What is it you’re unsure of – the job, or the sector?

Try to isolate what it is about your career which has left you uneasy. It may be that you love the sector you’re working in but the job itself doesn’t appeal any more. Alternatively, the job itself might be right, but you feel unsure about your passion for the sector you operate within. Could it be worth changing one and not the other?

What does the long-term future of this industry look like?

Sometimes, career uncertainty can be caused by tangible reasons – if there’s uncertainty in your industry as a whole or for the longevity of the path you’re on, it’s worth writing down the skills and experience you have and where they would be transferrable to. This could give you some fresh motivation and reboot your excitement to try your hand somewhere different altogether.

And on the other side – from an employer’s point of view?

When someone says they’re unsure of what they want to do or where they want to be – after all, gone are the days of linear hierarchies and rigid career paths – it doesn’t have to reflect poorly on their drive; not knowing what you want to do doesn’t equal not wanting to work hard.

If you come across this as an employer, try approaching the question from a different angle: what is it that motivates this individual? Is it helping others and making a difference which drives them forward? Learning? Money? Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations differ greatly, so understanding what’s going to most appeal to them will help you determine whether the job is going to suit them.

With so many people having been thrown for a loop due to the Covid pandemic, it’s important to take a step back, a deep breath, and remember that we all go through this at some point. Take the time for some self-reflection, write things down and do your research; if all else fails, try speaking to the professionals – like us – for guidance on market conditions, opportunities and the different paths available to you. Get in touch with my team in Melbourne today.