Help With The Next Career Step

A Six-Step Plan To Make The Next Career Step 


Knowing when it’s time to take the next step in a career is normally a very personal decision. As a mentor, it can be hard to adequately advise somebody that they are ‘ready’ for the next move, particularly if you don’t know the person and have never worked with them. 

This six step plan to help people decide about their next career move was devised by career coach Barbara Sher, author of best-selling book Wishcraft: How To Get What You Really Want and appeared on Fast Company


Step 1: Plan Your Ideal Day 

People planning their next career move should hold off on the big-picture brainstorming for a while. When making immediate term decisions about career progression, people need to think simply and clearly. A good exercise is to ask them what their ideal days would look like if they had complete control over them? Ask these key questions: 

  • How would the person’s days be structured? 

  • How would the day’s activities unfold? 

  • What would they be doing for work? 

  • Where would they be doing it? 

  • What kind of people would they be working with? 

Sometimes, if people are burned out, it may take a little practice fantasising about pleasurable life experiences like swimming pools and horseback riding before they feel like thinking about ideal work situations. 


Step 2: Start Giving Things “Happiness Rankings” 

Before making any career decision, particularly how to take that all important next step, a mindfulness exercise will help a person put their career in perspective. Use a 1 (awful) to 10 (heavenly) scale to give actions, people, and things in life a happiness ranking. 

The person should think about: 

  • What they are doing in work 

  • Family and relationships 

  • Colleagues 

  • Hobbies 

Give each thing a H-ranking. Soon, the person will be more in tune with the areas of their life that are satisfying, and those that make them unhappy. 

Barbra Sher says: “Any happiness level ranking that is a 7 or above is telling you something. And what it’s telling you isn’t frivolous, it’s scientific data,” she says. 


Step 3: Pay Attention To What You Dislike, Too 

There are lessons to be learned from what people don’t like about their day-to-day, says Pamela Mitchell, founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute, a career transition training and consulting firm, and author of The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention: Essential Survival Skills for Any Economy

Mitchell says that observing what people don’t like about certain jobs or situations can help direct them to a new and better path for their careers – be that progression in their current company/field or on to something new. Even if a person is generally very happy in their career, focusing on a dislike will help them to understand a route they need to avoid. 


Step 4: Think Like A Detective 

People should treat their search for the next step in their careers like detectives on a crime drama, says career consultant Nicholas Lore, founder of career consulting firm The Rockport Institute. When a detective shows up to investigate a situation, they look for clues about what fits. 

People need to think carefully about their natural talents, their personality traits, the kinds of functions that they won’t get tired of doing all day, or a set of functions that they could do throughout the day. 

Most importantly, people need to think analytically about the relationship between the rewards that one gets at work and their own values. The important message here is for people to collect the data and start piecing together the picture that emerges from those details. A picture of themselves and what they want from their next move. 


Step 5: Forget Forever—Focus On The Next Five Years 

Just because people are looking to make a transition doesn’t mean that it will be a forever change. Thinking that the next step in a person’s career represents a life defining moment can cause huge levels of anxiety and over-analysis. 

Instead, people need to be encouraged to look at where they would like to be in five to seven years (for an employee that has been in work for less than 10 years). 

Of course, daydreaming the big picture is fun and unavoidable for most of us. But having a more finite window helps people to plan specific achievable goals that will help them move forward effectively. Encourage people to plan for the short-to-medium term. 


Step 6: Create A Transition Plan 

As people’s picture of what comes next becomes clearer, it is important to encourage them to treat it with a level of reflection and distance that enables them to make a balanced decision. 

People should be encouraged to treat the next step of their career like a business plan. Think about how they will repackage themselves in a new role and what preparation they will need to do in order to take the next step and feel as though they are ready for it.  

Encourage the person to create a list of tasks and a timeline for their next career move. How will they market themselves to get to where you want to go? What are the financial considerations? What obstacles do you face and how will you overcome them? Do they have the required skills and experience, and if not how can they gain those skills? And most importantly is the next step in line with their goals and motivations? 

This may sound a little over-analytical for a next career step that should be aspirational. But dreams and aspirations come more easily to most humans than planning, clarity and objective decision making. These steps aim to redress that balance so you as a mentor can help somebody make an objective decision about their next career step.