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How to know what you want in your first job

You, as a young professional in your first job, struggle to decide what you really want. It's difficult to decide on what the coming year is going to look like for you. And at the same time the organization is asking for some kind of a plan. Here are four tips for deciding what you want in your first job.

When I got my first job, I had a hard time deciding what I really wanted. As in: what my goals and ambitions were for the coming year or two. It was the first time I needed to decide on a yearly plan for my development. I just graduated, so knowing what was in store in the firm I worked, and what would be a fit with me, was quite a difficult question. My choices were all over the place. I felt restless and indecisive.

I recognize a lot of this quest with the young professionals I meet as a trainer. Recently I guided a course about personal leadership. The central questions of the day were: ‘’Who are you, and what do you want?’’ You, as a young professional, struggle to decide what the coming year is going to look like for you. And at the same time the organization is asking for some kind of a plan. Here are four tips for deciding what you want in your first job.

1. Shift your mind from 'What is next' to: 'What is now?' Choosing what projects, opportunities and goals you want to seize in the future is overwhelming. There are a lot of choices. There are a lot of possibilities. You don’t feel sure about what you like. You don’t know if you make a choice, it really is going to be a fit. You focus on all the opportunities before you, with all the upsides and downsides. The result of that? You feel restless. And indecisive. If you take this approach, you overlook what you already know. Because the thing is with ‘knowing what you want’: the answer is already in you. You only have to unravel it and bring it to the surface. That way, you can use this information as a compass for your choices. And the result of that is: feeling at ease. Standing firm. Knowing and doing what you want. Therefore it helps to take a step back from the focus on everything in front of you. Dive into the information that’s already available in yourself.

2. Know your talents A first element of the available information is: your talents. When I started my first job, I was very aware of the things I needed to develop. Where I needed growth. That makes sense, since I just graduated and all the information and tasks in my job were new for me. But if you focus on all the things you need to develop, you again overlook something. You overlook what you are already good at. And working from your talents gives a lot more energy than an one-sided focus on what you need to develop. If you work from your talents you grow way quicker and you add more value. So, formulate for yourself what your talents are. What gives you energy? Which tasks do you like? Separate this from the expectations from other people. So choose a moment when you can think fresh and freely, and write down what your talents are.

3. Define your ambitions A second element that can guide you is: your ambition. Ambition means nothing more than: striving for something. So don’t make the idea of ‘having an ambition’ too big. It is simply about the question: where would you like more of in your working life? A way to decide on that is thinking back to a few success moments you already experienced. That could be in your current job, or during your studies for example. Think back of these success moments. Write down all the elements that made it a success for you. Pick a few elements where you want more of in the near future. There you have it: an ambition.

4. And last but not least: dare to choose. Let go of the thought that your choices need to be perfect. That doesn’t bring you closer to what you really want. I did different projects in my first job that were, in hindsight, not a fit at all. That wasn’t a waste of time. It helped me to decide on what I didn’t want to do. And that’s also an answer. You need to build up information about what you want and don’t want. The only way to do that is: act. Make choices. And, if you find yourself in something that isn't a fit: dare to stop. It helps to reflect on your experiences on a regular basis. That way you can decide what was a success and not. And what you want to keep in the next step, and what you want to do less. That way you build your inner compass and that helps you in the choices about what you want.

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