I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a call from a client in a career conundrum. He doesn’t know what kind of job he wants. He doesn’t know what he wants to do. He’s not sure what his passion is. He’s overwhelmed. Lost. So, he’s thinking of taking the path of least resistance. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “Maybe I’ll go back to school. Law school. Grad school, yeah…” you know what path I’m talking about.
If you aren’t sure what you want to do, taking a detour on the highway that is your career is tempting. But without forethought and intention, that detour can be costly, painful—or both.
If you’re still trying to figure out what your golden career path is, you can start by asking yourself these nine questions. In the meantime, here are five missteps to avoid.
1. Taking an Interim Job Doing Anything
Taking a job, any at a, may serve a short-term need; it’ll give you something to do all day and help you pay the bills. But it’ll also probably suck all the time and energy you could be using searching for that dream career. Moreover, by keeping you firmly employed and in your comfort zone, it won’t push you to explore options that would be a much better fit for you.
Unless you’re desperate for a paycheck and anxious to get out of a bad situation—terrible boss, bullying co-workers, unhealthy work environment—latching onto something random won’t help you identify and land your dream role.
2. Going Back to Grad School
When clients call saying they don’t know what to do, and they’re thinking of going back to grad school, I get all up in their face about it. In a nice way, of course. If graduate school involves going into debt (which it typically does), or if there isn’t a clearly delineated career outcome, I’m against it. I know too many people buried in school-loan debt and no idea what to do with their expensive degrees.
Unless you have a very clear understanding of how grad school will further your career goals, unless you’re 100% certain it will land you the job of your dreams, don’t make this costly, often uninformed mistake. The job-search process doesn’t disappear when you emerge with another degree.
3. Taking a Promotion in a Role You Don’t Love
Even if you don’t love the job you’re in, you might be good at it. So good, in fact, that your boss comes along and offers you a promotion. You think, why not? You’re not happy where you are, but how can you turn down a more money and a flashier title? Becoming further entrenched in a career you don’t want, still means you’ll probably quit eventually, at which point you’ll still have to contend with the “What do I want to do with my life” question you brushed aside months—or years earlier.
4. Staying Where You Are Because You Don’t Know What Else to Do
When you stay at length in a job because you don’t know what you want, it could play against your long-term career goals. Some prospective employers see a long-term stay in one role as a negative—and it could affect your pay, too. Hiring managers may look at your resume and presume you aren’t ambitious, or that your skills have gone stale.
Although it may seem like a comfortable solution to your career quandary, staying in one place ad infinitum can hurt you when you finally are ready to move on, so don’t put it off because you’re confused.
5. Bailing Out
You took a job because you weren’t sure what else to do. Not surprisingly, you reach the point where you just can’t take it any more. You may not be as fed up as the flight attendant who bailed out of the plane in spectacular fashion. But if you decide to jump ship in a less dramatic fashion, you’re still going to have to start the process all over again.
Not knowing what you want to do with your life is daunting. Few people figure it out overnight. But wasting time with options that don’t help you make progress with identifying your career goals isn’t the way to go. You’ve got to be intentional about finding your career path. These 11 career quizzes can help, but you should also know that it’s OK if what you discover is that you don’t need a dream job to feel fulfilled.