Determine your ideal career path with external career clarity – tips from a career clarity coach.

In any kind of job search, there are two essential types of clarity that play a pivotal role. First, there's internal clarity, where you delve deep into your own interests and values to understand what truly drives you. Then, there's external clarity, where you translate those personal insights into concrete career paths that resonate with your core values.

Understanding external clarity isn't just about knowing what career options are out there; it's about recognizing which ones truly resonate with your authentic self. 

This blog focuses solely on external clarity: why it's crucial, what it entails, and how it can empower you to confidently navigate your career journey, after exploring this blog be sure to learn more about internal career clarity, as well. 

So, let's dive into the world of external clarity and everything it has to offer.


Why do you need external career clarity?

Navigating a job search or career transition without external clarity can feel like swimming through a vast ocean of infinite possibilities. The task of identifying the “right” job becomes too overwhelming causing people to abort their journey and swim back to the shore of what’s known (even if it’s the wrong fit).

And this is exactly where external clarity comes in. You need external clarity so you can determine not only where you’re trying to go next in your career but why you’re trying to go there. Having a clear framework that allows you to take what’s most important to you and see where it needs to show up for a career path to be an ideal fit.

It can provide a clear guide as you navigate forward, so as you start to explore career paths you can come back and ensure you’re checking the boxes that are the most important to you. 

Let’s explore what external career clarity is and how you can start building your personal external clarity guide.


What is external career clarity?

What we've found in working with hundreds of clients over the last decade is that when they were considering a career move there were four different buckets of consideration: location, industry, company, and function. The four buckets are the foundation for external clarity, and help you gain an understanding of which of the buckets are the most important to you, but also what needs to be in the buckets to create an aligned career path.

Now let’s explore each of the buckets a bit more.


Location


Location is the context of the environment you’re living in. This includes where you actually reside, but also everything else that goes along with that. In the location bucket, you want to explore what needs to exist in the context that you live in. 

Here are some questions that you might consider when you’re exploring the location bucket.

  • Do you need an environment that has access to a lot of nature (because you love hiking and skiing), or one that’s close to an airport (because you love to travel, or need to fly home and take care of aging parents often)? 
  • Do you want to live in a place that’s relatively warm and sunny or one that’s gray and rainy? 
  • Does your location need to have shared values, like community or education or activism?
  • Do you need a certain cost of living to afford the type of home you desire, because you’re a homebody and it’s crucial that you can love your home environment? 
  • Is access to public transportation important to you because you hate driving, or care about the impact on the environment? 

Understanding your environment and what needs to be in it is often overlooked, yet one of the most important factors of our daily happiness.

 

Industry


Industry is the larger context of the type of work you do. While there might be intersections between industry, company, and function—such as in consulting or finance—you should look at this as the overarching significance and influence of the work you contribute to within this larger context.

For industry, it’s often important to tap into our values and interests, as those elements are usually the most aligned with the industries that will help us feel inspired.

Here are some questions that you might consider as you’re exploring the industry bucket.

  • Does your industry need to be making an impact in the world? And, if so, how would you define that impact? 
  • Are looking for an industry that's cutting edge or highly innovative? 
  • Do you want to work in an industry that's creative, either intellectually or physically? 
  • Does your industry need to be impacting individual people versus larger communities?

Often people overlook this category and say, “I’m flexible and interested in a lot of things.” That may be true, but why not hone in on whatever feels the most exciting? It’s hard to go wrong when you follow what truly inspires you, it’s easier to go wrong when you’re willing to take anything that feels moderately intriguing. 


Company


Company is the type of organization that you work for and all of the aspects that are relevant to that company. 

Here you want to think about the things that are most important to you and dig deeper into your specific internal clarity and non-negotiables. Everyone will say I want a company with work/life balance, but can you define what that means for you? 

Here are some questions that you might consider when you’re exploring the company bucket.

  • What type of brand, reputation, vision, or mission do they need to have?
  • What type of leadership style is important to you at the company and team level?
  • What type of impact does the company need to have on the world?
  • What type of size or culture is more important to you in your organization?
  • What type of dedication do they need to be showing toward DEI and social causes you care about?
  • What type of stance do you want them to have on employee growth and career development?

All of these questions, and more, are important because they are what turn your job into a daily grind, when the alignment is not there. 

Get really clear on what your non-negotiables are before you start considering job paths, so you can do your due diligence on whether a company might be the right fit before you ever invest an ounce of energy applying to work there.


Function


Function is what you spend your time on in your day-to-day work, otherwise known as your role. 

Function is the bucket that most people are familiar with because it’s easy to go straight to the job board and see what’s available. It’s also one of the hardest buckets for people to explore because there’s a strong feeling of not knowing what you don’t know or what you’d be a good fit for.

To explore the function bucket and see what options could be a great fit for you, it’s good to look for a role that aligns with all three of your internal clarity buckets (strengths, values, and interests).

Here are some questions that you might consider when you’re exploring the function bucket.

  • What type of strengths, values, and interests do I want to be using in my role?
  • What needs to be present in my day-to-day life to feel satisfied?
  • What would make me feel like banging my head against the wall in my work?
  • Where do I find myself constantly struggling with it’s a part of my role?
  • What kind of leader or manager or support do I need for this function?
  • Who will I want to be interacting with on a daily basis in my role?
  • What kind of impact do I want to make in this role?

Remember that there are likely many roles that would align and be a good fit for you, so you don’t need to worry too much here about what exact role it needs to be yet; it’s more important you think outside the box and consider what needs to be present in your day-to-day work regardless of which role you go after, than helps you create a rubric as your start to explore actual options to see if they match what you said you wanted.


How to start building your external career clarity guide.


Now, that you’re all amped up on building your own external clarity guide, let’s talk about how you can get started. 

This first activity helps you get a sense for which buckets are most important to you, as this will help you think about your job search in a totally different way and focus your efforts on what matters most. It can also help you get a sense for how difficult your job search might be, depending on how many buckets you determine you might want to change. 

Most of our clients have found this simple exercise to be eye-opening and a radically different approach to thinking through their next career move.

Let's get started. 

  • Step 1: Grab a blank sheet of 8 x 11 white paper and draw four lines side by side, that look like below. 
  • Step 2: Set a timer for 60 seconds and put the buckets in order of priority from the most important bucket on the left to the most important bucket on the right. 
  • Step 3: Underneath each bucket write down why you put the buckets in the order you did. 
  • Step 4: Review what you wrote and circle any information that is based on internal clarity (your unique strengths, values, and interests). If there wasn’t a lot of information circled, go deeper in your answer until at least 50% of what you wrote is based on internal clarity.
  • Step 5: If you don’t know what to write, that’s a good indication that you need more internal clarity. Download our guide to get some.


Now, you’ve built your external clarity guide!


As you start to plan your job search roadmap you can determine which buckets you need to focus on, and as you review potential career paths or career opportunities you can review them against your guide to ensure they check the boxes you said you cared about most. 

This helps you avoid going after shiny objects or applying to jobs in the black hole. You should only be putting time and energy into learning whether or not an opportunity aligns with your external clarity guide, and if so, then you can put energy into actually applying or interviewing for it. 

Ready to dig into our full clarity framework from start to finish. Check out our 7-day Career Clarity Kickstarter course, to kick off your job search with clarity and focus.