The world of work may be more unpredictable now than ever before. Before the pandemic, the average worker changed jobs every four years or so. With the onset of covid 19, in April, unemployment spiked to 14.4%. Although unemployment rates have been going down for White and Asian groups since then, millions of Americans are experiencing job precarity, especially Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks. 

You may be feeling the uncertainty. You may be wondering what’s next for you and your job. If you’re like most people, if you’re sensing that a new career is on the horizon, you may feel confused about how to find new work. 

As a career coach, it matters to me that the advice I offer is evidence-based, and the bad news is that there isn’t a lot of research into how people change jobs. However, the good news is that there are four evidence-based insights for career and business change that have worked for my clients time and again. Over the years, by helping my clients apply these principles in their lives and using them in mine, I’ve come to trust that they work.

So what are these insights? I’ll share them with you here:

Four Evidence-Based Insights About How to Find New Work

One: Clarity emerges from action. Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School, studied how successful career change happens. She discovered that although most people think they needed to get clear about their desired career and then take action to make that career a reality, career change doesn’t usually work that way. Most people get clear by taking action, not the other way around. 

In her book, Working Identity, Ibarra encourages readers to create a “Possible Selves” list— a list of all the work/life paths that interest you. Then, she instructs readers to have lots of conversations and conduct lots of experiments to discover which path will work for them. Ibarra found that although this approach doesn’t eliminate the uncertainty inherent in career change, it increases your chances of finding work you love.

Two: Weak ties lead to jobs. In 1973, in what would become one of the most-cited social science journal articles ever written, Mark Granovetter demonstrated the impact of what he called “weak ties.” Weak ties are your connections with people who, rather than being close family and friends, are acquaintances, coworkers, people you met at a cocktail party. Granovetter showed that in five out of six cases, people find new jobs through weak ties, such as a first encounter with a stranger at a networking meeting or a suggestion from an acquaintance on LinkedIn. 

Three: Good decision-making requires the outside view. In 2002, psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for his insights into how humans make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Kahneman found that to make good decisions, we need to get the “outside view.” 

Kahneman defines the outside view as data that demonstrates what has happened in similar cases. For example: What has worked and not worked for other people who’ve pursued similar paths to the one you’re considering? What have your ideal clients demonstrated a willingness to pay for? 

Rather than basing the quality of our decisions on our decision’s outcomes, Kahneman suggested that how good a decision is depends on the process we use to come to the decision. To make a good decision related to work, we need to get the outside view. 

Four: “Get out of the building!” Steve Blank, the author of The Startup Owner’s Manual and creator of the Lean Launchpad— an entrepreneurship training method taught at over one hundred universities worldwide, is famous for this quote. Blank writes that the number one reason startups fail is that entrepreneurs have ideas they think will sell, but they don’t get feedback from their potential clients before trying to sell them. 

If you asked Ibarra, Granovetter, Kahneman, or Blank how to find new work, they’d tell you that you need to take action. You need to get out of the building and talk to people, share your ideas, and ask for feedback, talk to people who know something about the work you’re thinking of pursuing. Do experiments, do more of what works, less of what doesn’t, and follow the breadcrumbs. 

How this works in real life: 

My client Rosie wanted to help people experience greater health, and she envisioned becoming a health coach. But when she launched her practice, she had a hard time getting clients. Rosie came to me for support after a year of unsuccessfully trying to build her coaching practice. 

When Rosie and I started our work together, I asked her who she most longed to serve. She told me that she wanted to serve folks with chronic illness. 

I invited Rosie to interview people with chronic illness and folks who support them. Through the interviews, she realized that most of her ideal clients struggled financially and could not pay for out-of-pocket coaching. 

Rosie got curious about how she might answer the call to work with folks with chronic illness. Eventually, she decided that becoming a social worker would allow her to live her calling more than running an out-of-pocket coaching practice. She enrolled in a full-time social work program and soon began working directly with folks who had chronic illness. 

Your turn!

If you’re feeling uncertain about what’s next in your career, I invite you to grab a pen and piece of paper and write your responses to the following questions:

  • What are all of the possible career paths I’m interested in? Set a timer for three minutes, and write down as many ideas as possible during that time. Just because you write it down doesn’t mean you have to pursue it, so give yourself full reign. Let your imagination flow.
  • Who do I know who might know something about the paths I’m interested in? And, take three minutes to jot down as many ideas as come to you.
  • Where might I gather information about these career paths? Free write.
  • What baby steps might I take in the next week or so to get out of the building and learn more about the paths I’m interested in?
  • Finally, choose one step that resonates with you and is small enough that you can do it within the next week or so. Then, take that step!

I cannot promise you when you will get clear. But I can assure you that if you keep following the breadcrumbs that interest you, taking one step after another, clarity will emerge. I wish you all the best on your journey to finding work you love!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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