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Getting Clarity on Your Career Path

By Mary Beth Barrett-Newman

Mary Beth Barrett-Newman is President of 2nd Career Consulting. Mary Beth spent almost 30 years in the corporate world and brings her experience, expertise and enthusiasm as she coaches clients on their journey to a new position.

There may be many times in our career when we feel “stuck." Deciding to return to the workforce, or “relaunch,” may be one of these times. While the relaunch decision itself may have seemed daunting, figuring out the type of position and industry that you’re not only qualified for, but also interested in, can be just as difficult.

Remember when you were entering college and there was an expectation that at age 18 you should already know what you wanted to do with your life? Decades later, we’ve had many more experiences and developed additional interests, which can make this a difficult question once again.

There certainly are many relaunchers who “just know,” and are therefore very focused on the type of position they’ll pursue. Others, not sure of the direction they want to take, when asked what they’re looking to do, will say they’ll “do anything.” At the other end of the spectrum are those that have such a narrow focus that they are setting themselves up for disappointment.

Here are some steps that will assist in figuring out the answer to “What are you looking for?”:

  • Self-reflection: Every book I’ve ever read on career reinvention, including Back on the Career Track (affiliate link), includes this step. Why? It’s important to reflect on the past – likes, dislikes, accomplishments, failures, strengths and limitations – in order to objectively look at not only the types of work that we like, but also the value we will bring a future employer.
  • External input: Sometimes others can see us more clearly than we can see ourselves. Gather input from people you’ve worked with – both paid and volunteer positions. What do they see as your strengths? What do they think is the value you’ll bring a future employer? What types of jobs can they see you doing? Why? Don’t forget to ask “why” as that may be the “nugget” you’ve been looking for.
  • Research:  Your research should take two forms –
    • Technology: The internet allows us the ability to tap into vast amounts of information. Websites like, are good places to gather salary data, information on corporate cultures, future job prospects, etc.
    • Informational Interviews: Talk to people who are in the types of positions you find interesting. Ask questions about their background, how they got into the field, what skills/expertise do they look for when hiring, are there any gaps in your background/experience that you’d need to fill prior to being considered for a position.
  • Take a test drive: It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. There are ways to gather first hand experience beyond taking a full-time job. If you’re interested in a certain non-profit field or organization, investigate volunteer opportunities. Perhaps doing a short-term project or initially working in a contract position can get you in the door while helping you gain current and relevant experience.

A few reminders….

Your first position when reentering the workforce won’t be your last. If you view it as a stepping stone, you won’t be looking for the impossible.

Don’t expect your new job to satisfy all your interests and desires. If you think of your time as a pie, your career is a large slice of that pie, but it’s not the whole thing. Don’t expect it to satisfy all your needs. There are other “slices” available to do the other things that you enjoy.

Only you can figure this out. Others can assist you on the journey – but the journey is yours. Make your exploration a priority. And, if you try a position and it’s not a fit, that’s ok. To quote my former yoga instructor, “Trying is doing.”

Don't relaunch alone! Join our growing relauncher communities on Facebook and LinkedIn. For more great advice and guidance on your relaunch and to receive updates on when return to work programs are accepting applications, events for relaunchers and more, be sure to sign up for our Return to Work Report and follow us on social media to stay informed!