Don't Be A Drifter -- Design Your Career Path

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Originally published on

As a career coach, many people come to me for advice and direction about making job changes. They have been sending resumes to firms without much, if any, response. They have interviewed for jobs that have left them feeling depressed about their future. They enter into their search without a clear idea of what they are looking for and thus jump up onto an employer’s conveyor belt to be turned into sausage.

It is no wonder they feel miserable about their prospects. After all, they have no target and have surrendered control of their professional lives to employers who can’t be trusted with their careers. After all, time and again, employers prove themselves unworthy of this trust by transferring people into work that doesn’t serve their careers and by firing them when they are no longer needed.

What can you do instead? Design your own informed career trajectory by thinking, researching, investigating and actually deciding on what is right for you and your interests, rather than being like a feather drifting in the wind, landing wherever someone decides you should land. The likelihood of landing in a place that is worthwhile for you and your interests is so slight under those conditions. So here are some tips for helping you plan your own informed path:

1. Think about what’s most important for you in your next job. Make a list of qualities as long as is needed. Some may seem fairly inconsequential, but don’t worry. Create a long list. Include things like happiness, money, recognition, power, status, variety, career opportunities, your commute, taxes and the demands of the job. Everything is fair game for being included on the list.

2. Prioritize the list starting with what you think is most important down to what is least consequential. No. 1 is the most important. No. 68 is the least important.

3. Research by talking to people who are further along on the career path. People who are one rung up from you as well as people who many rungs up can offer valuable insights about what it took to get there, what the work is like, what the challenges are like, etc. These informational discussions are critical to separating the reality of your future work from fantasy. Too often, people ask advice from people without real-world experience who give them false ideas of how things work in organizations and lead them down professional rabbit holes they can’t escape. Learn what is possible from real experts.

4. Once you have the list, understand that, like you, employers are putting on a nice veneer on the job they have to fill. Job descriptions and what hiring managers tell you loosely correlate with the role you are being hired for and the environment you’ll be stepping into. So, given the fact that both you and they are going to be on good behavior to create a positive impression, what will you need to see or hear to know that the firm will satisfy your most important requirements?

5. When you’re interviewing for a job, make sure you evaluate the organization and its priorities. Ask the hiring manager about the standouts in the group (this can be in the department, team or business unit — whatever is the most relevant descriptor). Ask them, “Who are your best people, and what makes them stand out from the others?” You will learn a lot about an organization and its priorities by asking about the star of the group.

6. Start planning your next step as soon as you join your next firm. Be alert to new opportunities whenever they are presented to you. It is rare that they arrive just when you are ready. Usually, they arrive when you aren’t.

You need to remember that you are the chairperson responsible for your life and your career. Giving your employer or employers the power to design your career in ways that serve them and not necessarily you is a gamble that is not worth taking. It’s your career, and it is up to you to make choices that affect it. No one else.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2019, 2021


Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

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