What do you want to be when you grow up?
No pressure, but little 5-year old child, please boil down your career ideas to a single response.
Perhaps this question is the point at which we start running into issues of having too narrow a career focus and feeling stuck because of it. While there is no such thing a “too narrow” when thinking of career ideas since it is a personal decision, there are issues with a narrow view of your future job.
As we focus in on a specific career and start working towards it, we often orient our entire lives to support that career idea. For instance, if you wanted to be an astronaut when you were young, you would likely study more sciences, take up star-gazing as a hobby, bookmark NASA’s website, and prepare your family for the day you decide to leave to colonize Mars. And there is nothing wrong with doing that. Unless it starts to feel wrong to you.
What happens if being an astronaut no longer makes you inspired? What if you start taking astrophysics in university only to feel stuck in classes you hate? What if you take a job in the field only to feel frozen and fearing you have made a mistake?
That is when having too narrow a career focus becomes an issue. When it feels wrong.
If you are in this situation, hope is not lost. There is always time to welcome change into your career no matter how far into it you are. And if you want to help your future self avoid these feelings, start broadening your options now.
This tactic for broadening your career focus is especially useful to people are the start of their career. Use your curiosity to explore options within the job market as a whole or in a field that interests you. For instance, you can use networking and informational interviews to speak with people in careers you find interesting. This gives you a chance to hear what that career is like from a personalized perspective and you have ample opportunity to ask questions you care about. Similarly, you can try job shadowing those in fields you are considering. By spending a day in someone’s workplace, you get an intimate understanding of what that work is like and can better frame how you might react to the job in the long-term.
Finally, you can also do some online exploration via career inspiration websites like Share Your Career, Career Igniter, and Career Builder. At Share Your Career, in particular, we focus on individual experiences in order to highlight how many options there are not only between career options but within them. Not only can is a social worker different from a realtor, but two realtors can have very different career paths. So go out and find what path suits you.
Another way to expand a narrow career focus is to be open to new ways of applying your skills, experience, or education. Say you studied to be a writer, or are one now, but have decided that it is not what you thought it would be. Instead of sticking to what you know as a writer and feeling stuck in your career choice, open up to new ways of using your writing skills. Google jobs that require writing skills or search for crazy writing jobs to strike up some inspiration. We wrote an entire article about how to use Google to find career ideas. Just take a generic job you are interested in or the narrow career you are focussed on, and use our search templates to generate up to 50 new career ideas! Another way to do this is search job boards for your career. In this example, you could type in “writer” and see what jobs come up. Since keywords are used it is likely that any career that mentions writing will come up thus giving you some new ideas and broadening your narrow career focus.
Outside the Industry
Finally, you can expand your narrow career focus by looking outside your industry. This is especially helpful to those later in their career or at least those who have a strong understanding of what they want from a job. This suggestion comes in two parts: search company websites and mix your interests.
We all have companies that we look up to, admire the power of, or would love to work at. Capitalize on your interest to improve your narrow career focus by checking out the opportunities available in a company that interests you. Search their website or careers page for keywords related to the career you have or want. You may be surprised to see job ideas you never thought of in the results. For instance, a software engineer may go to Apple and see the options extend from AI based work on Siri, to UX based work on iTunes, all the way to security-based work on Anti-Fraud systems. This gives that engineer more career ideas and more career options to explore.
The second part of looking outside of the industry is to mix your interests. This is as simple as it sounds. Take the narrow career you have focussed on and one or more of your other interests (not necessarily work related), then see if you can find a career that blends them! Back to the software engineer example. If that engineer has an interest in animal welfare, they can blend both software and helping animals to come up with new career ideas like developing veterinary database system, building pet finder apps, or produce a software that manages farm activities regarding livestock.
No more narrow career focus
With these strategies, you will hopefully understand that no matter how narrow your career focus is initially and no matter how stuck you feel, it is possible to expand your options. Be curious and explore the resources available to you whether that be people or websites. Look for new ways to use existing skills, experiences, and education. And be open to opportunities outside your industry by checking jobs in cool companies or blending your interests together into a unique career idea.
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What career do you want to see next?
Tell us what career you are interested in learning about and join our email list for more career inspiration and advice.