Want to know one of the biggest pet peeves of recruiters, employers, and pretty much anybody out there you might decide to network with on a professional basis?  It’s not the job seekers and professionals who lack clarity around their career goals — but those folks who pretend they are focused, even when they aren’t, or who desperately try to be “all things to all people” in lieu of admitting their confusion.

If you are one of the many folks out there still struggling to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, therefore, you’ll get much farther with people if you admit this to be the case right up front, instead of trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes with an ambiguous “elevator pitch” of some kind or another.  In general, most of the people you’ll meet will show a tremendous amount of patience and respect for individuals who are a little bit confused about their career path, but willing to admit it and who seem to be taking active steps to resolve the issue.  They will have little sympathy, however, for those apparent “lost souls” who simply seem to be whining, venting, floundering around, or hoping that somebody else will bail them out, give them the answer, and tell them what to do with their life.

So if you’re in the process of reevaluating your career direction, try using a message like this, instead, when you network with people and they ask you to describe your goals:

“Well, that’s a great question, and to be perfectly honest I’m currently doing some serious soul-searching about my ideal next step and where I want to take my career from this point forward.  As you know, I’ve traditionally worked in the legal field, and while I could certainly continue in that direction in a corporate counsel role or something similar, I’m also feeling drawn to making a change — and am evaluating a number of different options at the moment that might also be interesting and would take advantage of my legal background in some new and exciting ways.  For example, I’ve been spending most of this week conducting some research on the pros and cons of buying a staffing agency that specializes in placing legal personnel.  The idea of running my own business has always appealed to me, and the chance to apply my legal knowledge on the staffing side of the fence sounds really intriguing to me and might turn out to be a great new adventure.  We’ll see how it plays out.  Which reminds me — do you by any chance happen to know any folks who have left the corporate world to pursue an entrepreneurial venture of some kind?  I’d love to get some additional feedback around the idea…”

Obviously, you’ll need to tailor the above message to fit your own particular situation, but the keys to getting this message right — and motivating people to help you — are to 1) acknowledge that you’re at a career crossroads; 2) to tell them you’re actively taking steps to figure out your options; 3) to give them at least SOME indication of the different directions you’re considering; and 4) to show that you have a clear game plan, are doing your homework, and that you recognize the need to complete your “research project” before you seriously decide to go after your next job.  And as you likely noticed in the last sentence of the example above, if there’s anything your network contact can do to enhance or add value to your exploration efforts, by all means, ask them for help!