Which Type Of Career-Changer Are You?

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Image: Robert Ruggiero

Are you a Goalfinder or a Pathfinder? Richard shows you how to identify which type of career-shifter you are and, once you've done so, the specific steps to take (and not take) to get unstuck.

Feeling lost?

When you decide to change careers, you set out on a journey – a quest to find the work that's right for you.

We believe it's one of the most compelling journeys you can go on. And for most of us, it's a journey that we also travel without a map.

That's why we think it's useful to be able to place yourself on that journey. What stage are you at? What does that say about you? And what does it mean you should do next?

At the most basic level, we've seen that most of the people we work with fit into one of two broad types: Goalfinders and Pathfinders.

Each has its own specific set of challenges, but also specific actions that deliver the best results.

Which type are you, and what do you need to do to find what you're looking for? 

Goalfinders are seeking the ‘what’

If you’re a Goalfinder, you’re not clear yet about your ultimate goal.

Either you have no idea what you want to do next, or you’re full of ideas and can’t narrow them down. 

You’re looking for the ‘what’ of your career change. 

(You also, by the way, make up most of our audience, so there are thousands of others like you.)

You’re likely feeling frustrated, confused, stuck and either overwhelmed or painfully blank. You might find that lots of ideas pop up in your head, but none of them feel like the right answer.

You might be reading books, writing out lists, doing research, looking at job ads and trying personality tests. Perhaps you’ve approached or worked with a coach, or done a course.

Whatever the case, you still don’t have the answer.

Liliana, a big-four consultant, is a classic example. Outwardly successful, she’s also unfulfilled and has no idea what she wants to do next. 

“I don’t know what I enjoy. I don’t know what I might like to do. Without any clues, it could take me years to find something that actually appeals, and I don’t have years to spare.”

The Goalfinder stage can be unusually painful because the tools we normally rely on to solve problems – our brain and our rational thinking – can be wholly ineffective. 

As Liliana says: “It’s ridiculous. I get paid to solve problems for businesses by analysing what they want and how they operate, but I can’t do it for myself.”

Have you felt the same way?

It can also be painful because clarity about our identity and our destination is such a big part of our lives, particularly in our culture. 

As children, we’re grilled with the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

As adults, we identify ourselves by naming our jobs: "I’m a designer."

And, as soon as soon as we even start expressing the thought of doing something different, we know the question "so, what are you going to do next?" is going to be the first question we’re going to get asked.

In short, it’s hard to be in a state of not-knowing.

Pathfinders are seeking the ‘how’

If you’re a Pathfinder, you're clear about what you want to do next, but less clear on the steps to get there.

You’re looking for the ‘how’ of your career change. 

In doing this, the obstacles you’ll face will be around time, skills or money.

Joe is a great example. He’s a senior account manager with an insurance company who wants to run an art gallery, but he doesn’t know how he can make it happen.

“I simply can’t afford to start at the bottom and work my way up. And of course, without experience behind me, nobody’s just going to hand me a decently-paid job!”

Like Joe, you may not have the relevant skillset to impress employers in your new field. Or you don’t want to start out on the bottom rung of the ladder. Or you’re unsure of or intimidated by the practicalities of starting a business.

You’ll likely be looking for jobs, researching retraining options, networking, but still unclear about how you’re actually going to make it happen.

The Pathfinder stage is particularly tough because the enticing glow of what you really want to do (at least for now) is constantly in your line of sight. It’s the final push toward work you love, but you’re not sure of the next step to take.

A solution: Learn from your opposite

For Goalfinders and Pathfinders, a great way out of ‘stuck’ paradoxically lies with the successes of the other group.

What does this mean?

If you’re a Goalfinder, start on a path

If you’re a Pathfinder, start on your goal.

If you’re a Goalfinder, start on a path

The key for a Goalfinder is to take action, without necessarily knowing if it’s the right action to take

Your three steps are:

  1. Go somewhere, meet someone or try something new and interesting, even if you don’t know where it will lead
  2. Observe what resonates and what doesn’t
  3. Course-correct and return to step 1

Imagine you’ve found yourself in a foggy landscape. You need to get home, but you don’t know which direction it’s in. You’re not going to get home by doing nothing. You’re going to do it by going down a road and seeing where you get to. The paths you take may not be the right ones, but they will give you enough feedback to allow you to adjust your direction.

Roosevelt summed it up perfectly: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

When you’re stuck, clarity comes not through looking for the goal, but by starting on a path.  

Notice the wording: a path, not the path.

Some paths are dead-ends, others will lead you somewhere. You won’t know until you start going down them. But all paths will give you valuable new information to feed into figuring out what your goal is.

When I made my shift, one of the first paths I took was to do a part-time journalism course while I was still working at IBM. Journalism has always been something I’ve loved, but I didn’t know whether it would lead me to a career. In the end, it became clear: this wasn't for me. One thing crossed off the list and more clarity for me as a result.

So, go and meet someone new; go somewhere different; take a different route to work. Do something that is new, do something that is different and, most importantly, do something that interests you. Then, observe how you feel and integrate the new knowledge you have about what works or doesn’t work for you into your next steps.

Katherine Preston had a ‘sensible job’ in the city, worked with wonderful people, but felt trapped. She had no idea what else she wanted to do. 

So she decided to quit her job and go to the US to write a book, with no plan of how that could turn into a career.

Or, in other words, she started on a path. 

Her trip (going somewhere new and interesting) led to her meeting her partner (someone new and interesting), and starting a business (trying something new and interesting). 

She’s now an author, speaker and startup cofounder, changing the lives of people all over the world. As she buckled her seatbelt on that flight to the US, there’s no way she could have predicted how things would turn out. But she took action, which carried her out of her fog and into a career she loves. 

You don’t need to do something as radical as Katherine, but you do need to do something.

If you’re a Pathfinder, start on your goal

The key for a Pathfinder is to start on your goal in a small way.

Your three steps are:

  1. Start doing what you want to do in a small way
  2. Start relating to yourself as being what you want to be
  3. Bring others into the picture

So, if you know you want to be a writer, start writing. If you want to work in a social enterprise, start volunteering at one. And if you want to launch a start-up, start it in a small way while you’re still in your day-job.

My sister-in-law Sarah started exactly this way by writing in the mornings and evenings around her charity day job. She’s now a published author, with eight books under her belt.

Mona who took part in our Career Change Launch Pad also applied the same principles with starting her stationery business. By starting small, making products for her fellow Career Change Launch Pad participants, friends and family, she started to realise what she was truly capable of. Although she’s not yet running her business full-time, her new-found knowledge and confidence is carrying her much faster toward finding her path.

Starting small won’t just get you into action; it’ll help you take on the identity of the career you’re moving into, give you new contacts in the industry and give you more credibility in your shift.

Notice the common denominator?

It’s all about taking action.

But it’s more than that; it’s about focused action, often in directions that don’t initially seem logical.

So, if you’re a Goalfinder, what path can you set off on this week?

And if you’re a Pathfinder, what small part of your goal can you start on this week?

Let me know in the comments. Would love to hear.

Richard's picture

Richard Alderson is the founder of Careershifters. Disillusioned with corporate life, Richard quit his job in search of something more meaningful. He's since gone on to found / co-found multiple social businesses in India and the UK.