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Are you struggling to define your ideal job or career? Here are nineteen strategies for discovering your target.

Scott Anthony Barlow, Happen To Your Career

In his book Happen to Your Career: An Unconventional Approach to Career Change and Meaningful Work, author Scott Anthony Barlow proposes seven elements of meaningful work:

  1. Contribution. How does your work support your desire to help others and make an impact?
  2. Flexibility and Autonomy. How much freedom do you have in how you work?
  3. Quality of Life. How does your work support other areas of your life? Including salary and benefits.
  4. Growth. How does your work offer the potential for learning, creativity, variety, and feedback?
  5. Signature Strengths. How does your work exploit your talents, predispositions, and abilities?
  6. Supportive People. How do you feel supported by your colleagues and your boss?
  7. Values. How does your work allow you to be who you are or want to become and match what you value most?

Barlow goes on to describe creating an Ideal Career Profile (ICP) that outlines must-haves (minimums) and like-to-haves (ideals) for each of the seven elements. I add must-not-haves as a third parameter. Download my Ideal Career Profile Excel spreadsheet template. Learn more with this Happen To Your Career podcast episode.

To help discover your strengths, complete one or, ideally, all of the following assessments:

To help discover your values, refer to my values workbook.

Julie Yates, The Career Coaching Handbook

In her book The Career Coaching Handbook, author Julie Yates, in Chapter 5, offers six work factors in a list similar to the above:

  1. Task Variety
  2. Colleagues
  3. Working Conditions
  4. Workload
  5. Autonomy
  6. Meaning

In Chapter 16, Yates suggests twelve approaches for sparking job ideas:

  1. Psychometric tests like the ones I inventory in the third section of this article below.
  2. Ask your friends and family what jobs they think you would be good at.
  3. Scan job websites to see which jobs catch your eye.
  4. Think about the strengths you want to use or values that matter to you, and then identify ten jobs in which these would be fulfilled.
  5. What is your superpower? Think about the one thing that you do best.
  6. List the jobs done by all the people you know. Which do you think are the most interesting?
  7. Note all the people you encounter in a week or all the different jobs of fictional characters you watch or read about. Write down their job titles and spend some time thinking about whose jobs seem most appealing.
  8. Keep a daydream journal, jotting down the different industries, organizations, jobs, or tasks that pop into your mind.
  9. Think back to early career ideas. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  10. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  11. What would you do if all jobs were paid the same?
  12. What job would you do if you could wave a magic wand?

Joanna Penn, Career Change: Stop Hating Your Job…

In her book Career Change: Stop Hating Your Job, Discover What You Really Want to Do With Your Life, and Start Doing It!, Joanna Penn has another list of ways to surface job ideas:

  1. What did I want to be when I was a child/teenager (same as question nine in Yates’ list)
  2. What do I like doing now? What am I passionate about (this appears again in the next section of this article)
  3. What parts of my job do I enjoy? What do I want in my perfect working situation? (see the next exercise and refer back to Barlow above)
  4. What do I hate/definitely NOT want to do?
  5. What do other people say I am good at? (similar to question two in Yates’ list)
  6. What specific skills do I have, or what could I develop?
  7. Do I want to be employed by someone else or be my own boss?
  8. What are my priorities and practicalities?
  9. What do I want to achieve, and by when?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Exercise

My exercise, informed by many other similar exercises. List your past careers, jobs, roles, and significant projects as rows in a table or spreadsheet. As columns, reflect on and answer the following questions:

  • What was the best part of the career, job, role, or project? What did you like?
  • What was your biggest accomplishment? What are you most proud of? (side note: make sure these are on your resume)
  • What was the worst part of the career, job, role, or project? What was a challenge?
  • What were any significant failures?
  • What did you learn? How did you grow?
  • How did you feel? What were the most common emotions as you worked in the career, job, role, or project?

Feel free to add questions that help you discover each row’s positives and negatives. Look for any patterns or themes across the rows. Reflect on how the patterns and themes inform the previous (Ideal Career Profile) or following (Ideal Workday) exercises.

Ideal Workday Exercise

Again, my exercise, informed by others. What would your ideal workday look like if you worked in your perfect career and role? Think about the following. Be as specific as possible.

  • What are you doing throughout the day?
  • How much detail are you working with? Minute detail or big picture?
  • What hours are you working?
  • What does your schedule look like?
  • Who are you working with, if anyone?
  • The five senses. What are you hearing? What does it feel like in your body? Are you moving? What do you see in your physical environment? What taste and smell does the career and role remind you of?
  • What emotions are the most common?

Again, feel free to add questions. This exercise likely overlaps with your ideal career profile. That is fine—even good.

The three methods above engage with what you like or don’t like within a job or career. The following three methods take a more marketing approach to discovering possible career directions.

Andres Zuzunaga, “Ikigai” Venn Diagram

My November 2023 Purpose, Mission, and Vision Exercises article described this. Repeating here:

The diagram below originated with Andres Zuzunaga in 2011. The diagram was later translated into English and widely misattributed as Ikigai, including in the image below.  

The diagram includes overlapping spheres covering the following:

  • What you love. What do you do or experience that brings you the most joy and makes you feel most alive and fulfilled?
  • What the world needs. Doing good beyond our own needs.
  • What you can get paid for. What is someone else willing to pay you for? Whether you can get paid for your passions or talents depends on factors such as the state of the economy, whether your passions/talents are in demand, etc.
  • What you are good at. Your talents or capabilities.

(PositivePsychology.com)

The Japanese concept of Ikigai (ee-key-guy) combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” Combined, these terms mean what gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose. Nicolas Kemp has a well-researched article describing Ikigai and how the diagram below incorrectly became known in the West as Ikigai.

Four circles in a Venn diagram as described in the article.
Image Credit: Toronto Star

Ness Labs founder Anne-Laure Le Cunff published an excellent essay, Rediscovering Ikigai: What We Got Wrong and How to Find Meaning in Life, in March 2024.

The ManKind Podcast April 2024 episode 149 – How To Discover Your Ikigai – The Path to a Meaningful Existence with Gregory Benedikt illustrates using the Venn diagram to discover your life purpose.

Jim Collins, Hedgehog Concept

Also in 2011, in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, author Jim Collins offers a similar Venn diagram. This version has three spheres:

  • What you are deeply passionate about.
  • What you can be the best in the world at.
  • What best drives your economic or resource engine.

This model was devised for company strategy; however, it can be applied to careers.

Compared to Zuzunaga’s model, the Hedgehog Concept leaves “What the world needs” as implicit within the “economic engine” sphere. Learn more.

Three circles in a Venn diagram as described in the article.
Image Credit: Jim Collins

Ken Coleman, From Paycheck to Purpose, Three Domains

In the same vein as Zuzunaga and Collins, Ken Coleman, in his book From Paycheck to Purpose: The Clear Path to Doing Work You Love, offers three domains:

  • Using what you do best (Talent)
  • To do work you love (Passion)
  • To produce results that matter (Mission)

Coleman’s Get Clear Career Assessment produces a custom report that clarifies and verifies your top talents, passions, and professional mission. You’ll also receive a unique purpose statement that will help you discover multiple options to do meaningful work in your career.

The remaining methods are more prescriptive. The premise of these methods is that your personality and other personal traits suggest jobs or careers that will be a good fit. In the academic literature on career coaching, this premise is called trait and factor theory. From Online Theories:

At the core of the Trait and Factor Theory is the idea that each person possesses a unique set of traits that can be linked to specific vocational outcomes. These traits are then matched with factors in the environment, such as job requirements, organizational culture, and societal expectations, to determine the most suitable career paths for the individual.

The following methods vary in how much they suggest specific careers versus broad archetypes. Most stop at archetypes, the defining characteristics of a career, without suggesting particular careers.

Edgar Schein, Career Anchors

Schein identified eight career anchors, or themes, that define a person’s preference for one type of work environment over another. Once you have determined your dominant theme, you can identify the types of roles that provide the greatest satisfaction and plan your career accordingly (MindTools). From Schein in The Academy of Management Executive, 1996:

A person's career anchor is his or her self-concept consisting of 1) self-perceived talents and abilities, 2) basic values, and, most importantly, 3) the evolved sense of motives and needs as they pertain to the career. Career anchors only evolve as one gains occupational and life experience. However, once the self-concept has been formed, it functions as a stabilizing force, hence the metaphor of "anchor," and can be thought of as the values and motives that the person will not give up if forced to make a choice.

The eight career anchors are:

  1. Technical/Functional. People with this anchor thrive on skills improvement and enjoy challenging environments where they can demonstrate their expertise.
  2. General Managerial. People who enjoy delegating, training, problem-solving, directing, and dealing with people. These people tend to be analytical and have well-developed interpersonal skills.
  3. Autonomy/Independence. These people prefer to work in environments where they can make their own rules, set their standards, and work independently of others. Good career choices for these people include consulting and contract or project work.
  4. Security/Stability. These people are the risk avoiders. They prefer calm, stable, predictable environments and are satisfied when they perform their job competently.
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. These people value ownership, and unlike those with Autonomy/Independence preferences, they enjoy working with others and gathering the talent they need to see their dreams or creations come to fruition.
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause. People in this category are motivated by work that reflects their core values, even if it does not relate directly to their talents. They put the purpose of their work ahead of the work itself.
  7. Pure Challenge. These people thrive on problem-solving and meeting challenges. They are very competitive and view obstacles as opportunities to test themselves and see how well they perform.
  8. Lifestyle. People who “work to live” rather than “live to work” and seek organizations that provide a relaxed, easy-going culture.

An MIT Management Career Development Office PDF includes a forty-question assessment from The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) North East & Yorkshire Leadership Academy to help you determine your career anchors. Download my Excel spreadsheet to assist with scoring the assessment.

I tested this on myself. ‘Service/Dedication to a Cause’ and ‘Technical/Functional’ tied for my top career anchor. This aligns with how I approach my encore career as a life and career coach—emphasizing service and depth of knowledge.

Tony Robbins, Three Gifts of Labor

In this seven-minute YouTube video, Tony Robbins categorizes leaders as Artists, Manager-Leaders, or Entrepreneurs. Three “natures.” Under stress or excitement, people move towards their nature. To have a fulfilling life, you must spend most of your time in your dominant nature.

Artists are excited about creating things. They aren’t limited to the arts—they can be chefs, product designers, computer programmers, etc. Artists aren’t interested in selling their businesses; they are focused on creating their craft for the rest of their lives.

Manager-Leaders focus on managing people and processes and building systems.

Entrepreneurs are massive risk-takers. Robbins distinguishes between entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial tendencies that artists and manager-leaders may have. Entrepreneurs are in the game for the economic opportunity and the “juice.” They are quick to sell the business and then start another one.

Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), Visionary or Integrator

EOS has a 40-question assessment to “gain clarity into your leadership superpower” as either a Visionary or Integrator.

Sahara Gold, Dharma Archetype

Sahara Gold, author of Discover Your Dharma: A Vedic Guide to Finding Your Purpose, has a nine-question Dharma Archetype Quiz. The assessment suggests your primary and second dharma archetypes among Activist, Artist, Entertainer, Entrepreneur, Nurturer, Researcher, Teacher, Visionary, and Warrior. My primary archetype is Teacher, and my secondary is Nurturer, which feels right for my encore career path of life and career coaching.

Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Do What You Are

In their 1992 book, Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, authors Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger suggest “popular occupations” for each Myers-Briggs personality type (MBTI). Although I don’t endorse MBTI (read why in a Scientific American article and Psychology Today articles here and here), I identify as an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) and resonate with the book’s recommendations for this type. According to the book, popular occupations for INFPs include Architect (my career plan in High School), Researcher, Psychologist, Librarian, and Human Resources Specialist. It is surprising how on-target this is for me.

MAPP Career Assessment Test

The MAPP (Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential) Career Assessment has 71 questions regarding your “likes” and “dislikes.” The results suggest the best careers from a bank of over 1,000 careers. The assessment also provides insight regarding temperament, collaboration tendency, and aptitude for data, reasoning, math, language, and other capabilities.    

O*NET Interest Profiler

O*NET Interest Profiler from the U.S. Department of Labor is based on the Holland Code Assessment. It assigns scores for the RIASEC job categories: Realistic (hands-on), Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional (set procedures and routines).

PATH Assessment

The PATH (Purpose, Approach, Thinking, and Habits) Assessment from Goodjob provides insight similar to the MAPP assessment. It ranks 26 career archetypes.

Sparketype

Jonathan Fields, author of Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive, has the Sparketype assessment. The assessment returns scores for Advisor, Advocate, Essentialist, Maker, Maven, Nurturer, Performer, Sage (my primary), Scientist, and Warrior Sparketypes. Learn more about the assessment from the book and How to Discover the Work That Energizes You podcast episode. 

The podcast episode reveals four core Sparketype attributes: an animating impulse (what drives you), an Achilles heel (a potential blind spot), where someone with the Sparketype finds their satisfaction on a spectrum between process and service, and what trips someone up if they overload their Sparketype.       

Strong Interest Inventory

The Strong Interest Inventory is also based on John Holland’s theory. It uses the RIASEC framework and ranks the individual’s top 5 or 10 most compatible occupations from a list of 260 specific jobs.

Bonus Strategy: Experimentation and Prototyping

Outside of the scope of this article is a detailed description of the broad strategy of experimenting and prototyping with activities that inform your career target. In my previous article, I called this strategy wayfinding. An example of this strategy is volunteering in the function or industry of a possible career target. 

Over To You

Have you used any of these methods? If so, how did it go? Are you closer to understanding your career target? Do you have another favorite method for discovering your career target?

I’m available to help you discover your ideal job or career.

Note: The book links are Amazon affiliate links, which pay me a small commission upon purchase at no cost to you.

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