Alas, some people seem put on this earth knowing that their purpose in life is to be an airline pilot.  Or a construction manager.  Or a rodeo clown.  Or a pastry chef.  But for many others, figuring out what they want to be “now that they’ve grown up” is a daunting and confusing challenge — and trust me when I tell you that there isn’t a magic bullet, book, assessment, or tool out there that can instantly tell a mid-career professional where they best fit in today’s world of work.  Each person is too unique and the job market is simply moving too fast.

As an example of the rampant frustration around this issue, one individual wrote to me recently, saying:

“Hi there — I am looking to completely change careers after 20 years in my current field and what I DON’T need is any of the self-help, life coaching, personality tests, tarot card readings, or other services that the ‘counselors’ I’ve found online seem to offer.  I need to speak with someone one-on-one regarding my skill set and see what options that translates into, in addition to getting some guidance around the supplemental training that would most help me land and adapt to a new type of career option.  To date, I’ve had a very difficult time finding anyone actually focused on facts and information, versus just offering vague, open-ended package of sessions they claim will help me ‘be the best me’ I can possibly be.  Can you help?”

Am I correct in guessing that some of you out there might share these same thoughts?  And that the challenge of figuring out “where you fit” in the current job market is one you’ve been wrestling with?

If so, let me share one technique you might find useful, one of a range of different approaches I typically use to help people brainstorm their options and explore new career possibilities.  Simply put, it involves pinning down a few specific things you’re interested in — or do well — and then using this data to reverse-engineer a list of possibilities using a major job board such as  Think about this for a second.  When you’re dealing with an “aggregator” job site like Indeed that consolidates the job openings from millions of employers around the country, you’ve essentially got a living, breathing representation of the modern job market on your hands.  You’ve got a comprehensive database of virtually all the jobs that exist in today’s marketplace, in real time, and once you realize this, you can use this massive data set to help you figure out the titles/roles that connect most closely to your transferable skills and strengths.

For example, let’s say you have no clue what you want to do next, career-wise, but are fairly clear about wanting a role that will allow you to utilize your public speaking skills to a greater degree.  You could search (nationally, since we’re looking for general ideas, not local job leads — yet!) using a phrase such as “public speaking” and see what turns up.  Sure, you’d have to skip over some predictable roles like “trainer” or “teacher” if you’re not interested in those obvious choices, but stick with it and you’ll also spot some more creative possibilities such as Community Engagement Officer, Community Health Educator, or a College Access and Persistence Counselor (whatever that might be!)

Want to get even fancier?  Learn a little bit of what’s called Boolean Syntax and you can run multi-faceted searches combining two of more things you’re good at — or care a lot about.  If you love to write and enjoy working with kids, for example, you could run a search on Indeed for a phrase such as writing AND (youth OR children OR kids) and you’d uncover roles like Youth Farm & Garden Education Coordinator, Education Advocate, Storytelling Fellow, or Grantwriter for a youth-oriented non-profit.

Sure, once you turn up some interesting results you’ll have to research them further to find out how common they might be, what they pay, what they require in terms of educational credentials, and the like — but that’s a different question and at minimum, at least you’ve solved your first problem and have a clear direction to explore.  And yes, you’ll likely have to fight through a certain amount of fear, intimidation, and insecurity that inevitably comes with embarking on a mid-life career change.  But at least you’re no longer paralyzed by the question of “what can I do with my skills in X?” or “where could my interests in Y take me in today’s world?”  You’ve got the answers to those questions right at your fingertips, assuming you embrace for this purpose and tap into it in the manner outlined above.

So if you’re thinking about making an occupational change and haven’t availed yourself of this simple exercise, give it a try.  It’s free, it’s powerful, and while you have to move fast and avoid getting bogged down in minutiae, it can help you turn up some emerging options that are years away from being acknowledged by any formal career book or assessment tool!