What's Next? Where to Find the Clues


Sometimes we can be ready to make a career move, but may not know quite what we want it to look like. A simple exercise called the Career Timeline can take you from being stuck to getting the ball rolling. Through this exercise, you will mine your past experiences for guidance about what to do next. As you examine your career and life, you’ll gain more insight than you would from just outlining what you want on a blank sheet of paper. Use these four steps to get started.

1. Define the time frame for your timeline.

Begin by choosing a point in time to begin your one-page Career Timeline. Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper and label the starting point at the left with the first year of the timeline. Remember that it can go back as far as you’d like (e.g., 5 years, 10 years, or can span your whole career) and will extend to the current year.

2. List each role or notable experience.

For each year on your timeline, list each role or notable experience in chronological order. Feel free to include significant personal or volunteer experiences, such as living overseas or serving on a nonprofit board. Depending on your work or volunteer history, you probably won’t have something to list for each year because some of your roles may have spanned several years.

3. Evaluate each experience.

For each role or experience on your timeline, ask yourself two questions:

  • What did I take from this experience that I want to carry forward (i.e., would like to experience again)? Think about what you enjoyed about each situation. Maybe you’ll realize that while the work wasn’t that exciting in your first job, you loved the environment and laid-back colleagues. Or perhaps your fond memories of a specific volunteer experience will remind you how much you enjoy creativity and collaboration.

  • What about this experience do I want to leave behind? Looking back at your last two jobs, you may realize that you cannot work with a boss you disrespect, or that you would willingly trade off some financial compensation to gain more stability in your work environment. Or you may realize that you never again want to be part of a disorganized group like the one you worked with on a fundraiser last year.

4. Look for themes.

Once you’ve answered the two questions above about each experience on your timeline, look for themes. What do you notice? Each person’s themes may not be at the same level of detail. For example, you may discover that you thrive in workplaces that afford you a high degree of independence, flexibility, and creativity. Or, perhaps, you gravitate toward roles that allow you to use your analytical skills to develop practical, business-driven solutions.

Sometimes it can help to talk through your timeline with someone you trust – a coach, friend, or family member. It may lead you to notice additional themes and gain further insight.

If you’re contemplating a change within or outside your current company, take the first step – go back in time. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself and how much easier it will be to define your path forward. Remember, small steps lead to big results.

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.