Ever have the nagging feeling that you're just not in a job that makes the best use of your talents and skills? If so, you're not alone — and there's a good chance you're right. In a new survey, nearly half of more than 1,000 employees say they're still searching for the "right" career, and more than a third think they're going to switch careers within the next two years.
There's definitely a generational component at work here: Two-thirds of workers under 30 don't think they're in the right career yet and more than half expect to undergo a career change within two years. That's understandable given the well-documented challenges young adults have had landing jobs in today's labor market.
What's more unexpected is that so many older employees feel the same way: Roughly one in five workers in their 60s still think they're in the wrong job and plan to make a switch within two years.
"Having a business plan for your own career can help you understand whether you are in the right job," says Sam Sanders, former HR executive and current college chair for University of Phoenix School of Business, which commissioned the study. Sanders and other HR experts say there are some questions you should ask yourself to figure out if your current career is the right one for you.
How do I envision success? You need to know what you want to accomplish professionally to figure out if your current job is helping you get there or not. "Knowing what you are trying to achieve will help you focus and experience wins on a regular basis," Sanders says. This can be especially tricky for young adults: A job that offers flexibility and doesn't lock you into a specific role might seem like a great way to figure out how to chart your career path, but fuzzy boundaries make it harder to identify success, which means you could be stuck treading water instead of advancing your career.
Am I energized by my work? "We all have hard or difficult work days… but if you are truly dreading going to work every day, there is something seriously wrong," says Art Glover, an expert panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management. This isn't the same as liking what you're going every second of the day: Even the most glamorous and exciting careers have mundane tasks and dull moments, but the best parts of your job should rev you up, not make you miserable.
Can I handle a fast-paced job? A lot of job descriptions throw the phrase "fast-paced" in there, but one person's run-of-the-mill weekday might be another's hectic headache. "Be realistic about the pace of work you're willing to take," says Amy Letke, founder of Integrity HR. If you constantly feel like you're in over your head, you might need a job where tasks and deadlines aren't as pressing. "Likewise, if you are a multitasker and require many work elements on your plate at one time, be sure to identify the work expectations in that position," she says.
Would I rather work with people or data? A common career mismatch is when a talented accountant, programmer or other data-focused professional gets promoted to a sales position, and suddenly their focus shifts from working with numbers to working with people, Letke says. "This sometimes can be in conflict," she says. "If someone is more comfortable working with numbers, data, and analytical elements of the position, suddenly being thrown into a 'working with people' role can be very challenging," she says.
Can I advance here? "Look beyond your current title and job description [for] opportunities to partner with new teams, solve organization problems or reduce costs," Sanders says. "Many companies are pursuing unique employee development programs, but you also have to be invested in your own growth," he advises.