Throughout my daily interactions with students, I come across all types of people. Some are “Type A” planners who have it all (seemingly) figured out. Others, well…not so much. It’s fairly common for career counselors to encounter clients who can only shrug and give a sheepish grin when asked “So, what is it that you want to do, exactly?” Many only have a general idea – “I just want to work with people,” or “I want something to do with marketing.”

What To Do When an Interviewer is Distracted

We get it. Really, we do. While career development professionals will try their best to get you to nail down some specific goals (and rightly so), there is a strong possibility that during at least one point in your career you will be completely and utterly clueless about your next step. It may be because you’re not knowledgeable enough about your field to understand where you fit. Fear may also play a role – fear of making the wrong decision, fear of rejection, etc. All of these things impact your self-confidence as a job-seeker, and my job as a career counselor is to tell you this: It’s okay.

No sweat. It happens to the best of us. Literally. If you look at some of the most successful people in the world, odds are that their career path took a few unpredictable twists and turns along the way. Bill Gates’ passion for computers eventually led him to drop out of Harvard and start his own company. Donald Trump almost went to film school before deciding to focus on real estate. And did you know Colonel Sanders did not start franchising KFC until he was 65?

5 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Career
In career development, this concept is sometimes referred to as happenstance. The idea is that career trajectories are, by nature, highly unpredictable. Your career can be significantly influenced by chance events such as new job opportunities, an unexpected networking encounter, or even getting laid off.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics supports this fact: the average American worker will change jobs over 11 times by age 46, with a higher frequency of changes occurring early on in your career. In short, life happens, and while it’s good to have a plan, often there is just no way of knowing what opportunities are out there waiting for you to find them.

So the question is: What can you do to make sure your career wanderings are headed in the right direction?

My advice is to embrace happenstance as much as possible. Now, this isn’t an excuse for you to hide out in your parents’ basement just waiting for lightning to strike. Rather, you should think about ways that you can put yourself in a position to have positive new experiences and make the most of them. Here are a few tips:

Figure Out a Starting Point

I realize that for many job-seekers, this can be the most challenging aspect. But you have got to start somewhere. Think over different aspects of your life and latch on to at least 1 or 2 things you can use to gain a sense of direction. This could be a specific city, work that uses a particular skillset, or even your deal-breakers. Here’s an example: “I know that I’m good with people, and I want to work in a business setting in Chicago. I also know that I need to make at least $38,000 and I would NOT be a good fit for sales.”
Seek Out New Experiences

Using a few of the parameters that you have identified, start brainstorming ways to gain new experience. It could take the form of signing up for a class or volunteering with a related community organization. Taking on new projects in your current job is also a great option.

My own career path is a prime example – I originally wanted to work in college admissions, and landed a job as a recruiter at a career college. Through that role, I learned that the sales aspect of recruiting was NOT a good fit for me, but I did enjoy talking to students about their careers. I began to volunteer for additional projects, such as helping to critique student resumes. Ultimately, I narrowed my focus to pursue career counseling in a full-time capacity. Sometimes, you just have to follow where the path leads and get exposed to some new ideas.

Have an Elevator Pitch

What happens if you have a chance networking encounter that has the potential to help you in significant way? Can you explain to that person what your skills and interests are? You should at least think about this, even if you don’t have a specific job title in mind. After all, people in your network can’t help you if they don’t know which direction to point you toward.
Polish Your Skills

Are you familiar with basic interview techniques? Do you have a resume put together? Do you own a suit? It’s a good idea to start thinking about these things, even if you are still trying to land an interview or figure out what positions to pursue. For one, it will force you into a more professional mindset, but it will also ensure you are 100% ready when an opportunity presents itself.

Connect with Others: Network, network, network. Think about anything you can do to meet new people.

Trying to move from Atlanta to Washington DC? See if your school has a local alumni chapter on LinkedIn.

Are you seeking a career change but you’re not sure which industry to pursue? Schedule informational interviews or attend events that bring together professionals from a variety of backgrounds – you’d be surprised how much you can learn talking to people in a casual setting. People love to talk about themselves, so just find a way to meet others and begin cultivating a sincere interest in their careers. Odds are that it will eventually come back around to benefit you.

Periodically Evaluate Your Progress

Insanity is defined as repeating the same action and expecting a different result. Every now and then, you should step back from the whole process and examine where you have or have not had success. If attending networking events really seems to be paying off, you might consider focusing more on that avenue. Your career goals may also change as you go through the process. Reflect on the new information you’ve acquired and find a way to incorporate those changes into your plan.

Updated: 31/05/2011
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Andrew Crain
Andrew Crain is a career development consultant at The University of Georgia. He works with business students and conducts trainings on LinkedIn, Personal Branding, Prezi, and Job Search Strategies. Contact Andrew at andrewcr85 at gmail.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit his Prezi portfolio to learn more. The views represented here belong to Andrew Crain and do not represent The University of Georgia or the UGA Career Center. He wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. Check his profile here.

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