Planning Your Career Path

Thursday Jan. 31st, 2013

Welcome to “Ending Job Search Frustrations,” a series about finding a job you love, creating an irresistible application, nailing the interview, and surviving the ups and downs of job searching. We begin with a brief overview of current job search realities.

The job market is tough. Nationally, it is in a painfully slow recovery and Montana is no exception. Job searching methods have changed dramatically in the last ten years, thanks in part to the increasingly electronic world. Applications are subject to Applicant Tracking Systems which reject a resume not optimized with keywords without a human ever seeing it. The electronic age has dramatically increased the importance of networking in successful job searches. Social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are playing increasingly important roles for job seekers.

Gone are the days when a simple listing of work history will attract attention. Now, your resume is often competing with hundreds and sometimes thousands of others, made possible by the fact people from around the state, and even the country, can easily apply for local job listings. Job competition is now global, which means you must communicate your value as an employee in a more effective manner. Do not worry; this series will break it all down and get you on the path to employment success. Planning is the first step in overcoming job market doldrums.

Most people underestimate the amount of planning and preparation that goes into a successful job search. The typical, and all too often unsuccessful, job search process looks like this: 1) create a list of employment history and job descriptions, add bullets and call it a “resume.” 2) Shotgun your “resume” to anything that moves and burn sage while rubbing a lucky penny. 3) Wonder why no one calls for an interview.

This approach is missing a crucial step: planning and preparation. Successful job search starts long before approaching the computer or thinking about bullets and cover letters. It begins with knowing where you want to end. We all want and need a paycheck, but what type of job will bring you satisfaction as well?

Why is this so important? People who love their work are happier in life and more successful in their job. Even so, many people never seriously consider pursuing professional interests that provide deep satisfaction. Instead, they settle for a paycheck and the nagging feeling they are meant to do something else.

If pursuing a fulfilling career path for the simple reason of enjoying your job is not motivation enough to take the risk, consider that people with clear and passionate goals are significantly more successful professionally and financially. More importantly, people with clear and purposeful career directions find work more easily than those using the desperate shotgun approach to job search.

People who love their job bring more passion, more enthusiasm, more creativity, and more energy to work than those who do not. People who love their job are willing to work longer hours, work harder, and are more productive and better performers. This is the type of person employers are looking for. Because of this, hiring managers are excellent at spotting “faux-passionate” applicants—people trying to convince potential employers they are sincerely interested in the job but who actually have very little interest in anything other than a paycheck. Good hiring managers will not waste time on applicants who appear less than genuinely interested in the job. Start your job search ahead of the game by apply for positions you actually want.

Not sure what your dream job is? You are not alone. I have talked to people from their 20s to their 60s and everyone in between who are not sure what they want to do. Start by dedicating a couple of hours to intentional reflection on the topic. Here are some suggestions for narrowing your professional interests:
Look at Volunteer Work: Consider nonprofit associations and philanthropic causes that interest you as a source for career direction. If you are not familiar with local nonprofits, check out Montana Nonprofit Association’s statewide listing at Why are you drawn to specific organizations? Passionate about mentoring for Big Brothers Big Sisters? Working in a school or in a social services program might be rewarding. Volunteer work is an excellent way to bolster your resume and help transition to new careers (more on the topic in future articles).

Take a Career Assessment: Assessments like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator provide valuable insights into professional directions based on your natural abilities, values, and interests. Many assessment options are available, from free online testing that provides a general overview to one-one-one counseling and extensive testing through career planning services.

Learn Informational Interviewing: Informational interviewing provides an opportunity to learn more about potential career interests by interviewing someone in the industry. Through networking and research, find the name of someone who works in your field of interest and request a brief, 10-20 minute meeting. Be prepared to ask questions. It is a job interview in reverse; you will lead the meeting and ask the person about their work.

Always treat informational interviewing with the same level of respect and planning as you would a job interview. Dress and act professionally, be on-time, and never go over the agreed upon timeframe. Send a thank-you note after the interview. A wealth of information exists online about informational interviewing, including question suggestions. If you impress your interviewee, you may end up with a networking contact, or even a job.

Talk to a Career Coach: Career coaches help navigate career transitions. Wendy Bay Lewis, a career coach in Bozeman, said clients seek out career coaches when they “realize they are using a process that isn’t getting the results they want.” She helps people transition to more fulfilling professions using a highly collaborative and personal process of developing awareness of values and priorities. Then, strategies are developed to pursue jobs that will feed the individual’s wellbeing. Coaches offer career assessments and develop individual career plans. If you need one-on-one support, consider scheduling a consultation with a coach in the area. Lewis can be reached at

Tap Local Resources: Montana State University’s Career, Internship and Student Employment Services offer career counseling services to the general public for a fee. The university also hosts job fairs which are open to the public. Their “8th Annual ‘Almost’ Spring Job and Internship Fair” is Thursday, February 21 in the Strand Union Ballrooms. Job and career fairs are a great place to learn about the types of jobs available in the area and provide a rare opportunity to speak one-on-one with hiring managers.

Take a Class: Bozeman Job Service, part of Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Workforce Services Division, offers a statewide database of training providers for a variety of classes and certifications. Pouring through the database listing may spark career ideas and give you access to training if needed. Check out the “Training and Education” link at

The simple process of looking through course catalogs will often illuminate interest in a career path. Scan the university’s course listing. Montana State University offers distance courses with degree and certificate programs, as well as professional development. If you cannot dedicate time to a new degree or certificate, get creative about where you find experience. Venues like the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture offer classes for aspiring artists and the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce has resources for the business-minded. A client of mine was interested in transitioning to a career in culinary arts. I suggested she take a local cooking class to see if the real-life experience matched her expectations before she make the commitment.

Once you have determined the career direction you are taking, it is time to evaluate your readiness. Are you qualified? Is your experience current? Does your existing network support the career path? Make a plan of action so you can answer “yes” to each of these questions.

The excitement of pursuing your dream job will make the job search easier and less stressful. The enthusiasm will help you write a better resume and more convincing cover letter. Your passion and interest will shine in your interview, helping navigate to a professionally fulfilling future.

Now that you’ve done the dreaming, it’s time to get to work. Next month we will dive into preparation for job search and look at collecting career and education history to write your resume and cover letter.

Liz Williams is a professional resume writer and business and nonprofit writer. Learn more at and follow Liz on Facebook at to get more tips on resume writing.