Seven Steps to Finding Your Niche

Wow! It’s been an amazingly busy week, but I promised the folks who attended my workshop I’d get to these tips before the week was out– and it’s out!  These are self-evident, but not the first things folks think about when they start their search for a wonderful new career– or a wonderful new volunteer position — that will give them the sense of creative fulfillment and soul-satisfying purpose that eludes so many of us.

For each one, I’ll explain a bit about the step and suggest an action step you can take. Practically, the action steps take time, so I’ll do 3 now and 4 more later.

1.  Know your passion and what you have you offer

Notice this doesn’t start with “see what’s available, and settle for the least disagreeable alternative.”  Even in this crazy, terrible economy, there are opportunities, but there are fewer good ones if we wait for others to define them for us.  When someone posts a want ad, they’ve already narrowed our possibilities.  If we know both what we are excited and passionate about doing– what we would even do for free, if someone would just let us, our energy and enthusiasm and fire can be very persuasive.  If we add to that a real confidence in our skills and what we have to offer, based on a proven track record, we become pretty desirable.  (More about that when we get to #7.)

To start, we need to assess specifically what we want and what our skills and knowledge bases are.  This assessment gives us the ability to be articulate, flexible and elegant in how we market ourselves

Action: Take some time to fully assess yourself.  Write down your accomplishments and specifically what you did to be successful.  Brainstorm your skills.  Look eyond the roles you’ve played at work.  Take in all of your life’s accomplishments.  Ask friends and colleagues what they think your skills are.  Let that fire inside ignite!  Use that excitement to energize your search and help you be more proactive in finding the opportunities that promise more “AHH”  than “BLAH”

2.  Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. 

We tend to keep these dreams to ourselves and this doesn’t serve us well.  One of the first steps to finding ways to “road test” your dream is to ask people who are doing what you’d like to do how they got there — and what the real ups and downs of it are.  If you could sit down with someone who epitomizes what you want to do, and you had 20 minutes to pick their brain, with no pride, no ego, no defensiveness or competition to concern you, what would you like to know?  This makes many of us cringe, I know!   It exposes our tender dream to potential ridicule.  It points out that we’re not in the club yet.  We imagine that the insiders will jealously guard the real story to prevent us from competing with them.  But the secret is, most folks are amazingly generous when asked to provide information and perspective!  If they love what they do, they love to talk about it.  Most truly smart people know that their fields need to encourage new professionals and they’re flattered to be asked.

Action:  Once you have 3-6 good, meaty questions, figure out who in your city or town does work close to your dream work, and call and ask for a few minutes of their time.  It can be an in-person interview or over the phone.  Make it clear that you’re doing some research and that you’re looking for information.  This is not a sneaky way to get a job interview– you need to focus on people doing the work you want to do–not necessarily the executives who make hiring decisions.  Make sure you talk to at least 3-5 people who do some version of your dream position in different arenas or settings, so you get a wide perspective.

3.  Find a way to “test drive” your skills in the environment you want to work in

This might be volunteering, or interning or doing temp work, but it’s really helpful to have some real work experience– either using your strong suit skills in an new field or using new skills ina familiar environment —  before you start your search in earnest.

Action:  This might be one of your informational interview questions for #2!  It’s also helpful to talk to lots of peopple–friends, family, colleagues– and let them know you’re looking for the opportunity to test out your interest in a particular field or organization.  Say it more than once,  Practice saying it clearly and concisely and specifically ask them if they have any suggestions of who you might talk to or where you might look for these opportunities.

What’s the biggest challenge in taking these 3 actions?  What keeps you from finding your perfect niche?

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