Careers are rarely predictable or follow a straight line. In fact, 40 percent of professionals are interested in making a career pivot.
The challenge is tuning in to recognize whether your career path has gone off track. It’s important to check in with your career often, and that requires asking the right questions to uncover what you want, how that’s changed, and what you can do to correct the course if need be.
When you know what you want, it’s easier to make decisions that get you there. Use these five questions to make sure your career is on track, and then check back again each year so you never lose sight of what you want.
Where do I want to be in five years?
The best way to know if your career is on track is to ask broad questions that are easy to forget about in the hustle of living a successful life and growing in your career. One of the biggest questions you can ask is: where do I want to be in five years? Use this opportunity to journal, brainstorm, and get honest with yourself—what do you truly want to do?
The next question will be easy to answer once you’ve gained clarity on the first question: Does my current role help me achieve that goal? If the answer is yes, then you can be confident your career is on the right track. If the answer is no, it’s time to make some hard decisions. Ask yourself:
- What kind of job do I need?
- Do I need to uplevel my skills?
- How long will I give myself before leaving for a new job
No one can answer these questions for you, so let your career aspirations guide what comes next.
Does my work get me excited?
Are you excited to do your work most days? Are you passionate about the projects you’re working on? Peta Kelly, speaker, self-made millionaire, and founder of The New Way Live, says: “We all have a zone of genius. Unique talents and abilities. We have this zone of bliss, creativity, productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency . . . But we can’t live there if we are only moving based on what’s practical and logical. Excitement is the compass.”
If your work isn’t getting you excited, it may be time to consider a career that will allow you to tap into that zone of genius and ultimately make you happier and more productive. This doesn’t mean you need to leave your current job. If you like the company, talk with your boss about what you want, and create a role that does get you excited.
Am I engaged in my work?
Ask yourself honestly: Am I truly engaged in my work or am I beginning to slack off and stay where I feel comfortable? If the latter is true, you’re doing your career a disservice by avoiding new challenges that will help you get where you want to go.
Remember, however, that being happy where you are and coasting are two very different things. If you’re happy where you are, you bring your best self to work every day and strive to be better at your job. If you’re coasting, you’re not engaged and not trying your hardest—this is when you get yourself stuck in a career rut.
If you’ve started slacking off, it’s time to set new goals, which may or may not involve a career change.
Am I upskilling?
This is an important question to ask, says J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of WorkItDaily. She says if you’re not expanding or refining your skill set every two years, then your job is not evolving. Jobs (and employees) who do not evolve become obsolete. Similarly, O’Donnell suggests that if you haven’t been promoted, changed to a different role, or been given new responsibilities in more than three years, something needs to change.
If you’re not given opportunities to build your skills at work, it’s time to get your career back on track. This means asking for what you need, building your skills outside of work, or moving to a new company that prioritizes professional development.
What role does work play in building the life I want?
It’s important to think about the way you want your work and life to relate to one another. Do you want to be home at 5:15 p.m. every night, or do you want a demanding career that will have you working nights and weekends? Do you want to travel often or would you rather be able to work from home regularly?
When you decide what kind of life you want to lead, your career path becomes clear—especially if you’re not on the right one. If you want more time with your children, but don’t get home until 7 p.m. every night, it’s time to consider whether that’s the right career track for you.
Keep your career on track
No matter where you are in your career, it’s important to regularly take a step back and evaluate where you are and where you want to go. Rethinking your goals, getting honest about what you want, and focusing on your skills will all play a role in keeping you on a career path that you love.