Narrowing down your job search is overwhelming. New positions are thrown up on job boards in the space of minutes. Other exciting roles are discussed behind the scenes all over the world. Job search boards are often the first place people look for their next job. And, then ask “how do I narrow down my job search to one role?”


Or even bigger, what do I want to do with my life?

Step away from the job board. Not forever, but to start.

Applying for a new job because it is available is akin to buying something you don’t need because it is on sale. It isn’t based on your values, ideal life, or using your best skills. It’s based on something else; usually money, title, or to avoid a negative situation. Jumping into a new role without researching it first can result in you saying; “what I have done with my life?”

We are all diverse beings. There are many roles we can do. To choose the one that will keep us satisfied takes some pre-game action.  Instead of starting from the outside and reacting to what is available. Start with inside and what is possible.

There are two things to do, and the order doesn’t matter. The two things are action and self-reflection.


Taking action to narrow down your target job has nothing to do with resumes at this point. Your action includes exploring, testing, and gathering information to make a decision.
You cannot make a career decision based on your thoughts. People who are dissatisfied with their career don’t say, “I think I hate my job.” They say:
This feels awful. Everyday my body is telling me I can’t do it anymore.
It is taking the life out of me.
I just don’t like who I am in the job.
I don’t mean to be dramatic but is soul-sucking.
So, we need to use our bodies as much as we can to learn what a job and environment feel like.
Here are some ways to take action.
  • Side Project:  Test out a role or sector by taking on a side project, It could be paid or volunteer. For examples, if you are thinking you would like to be a project manager, find a project where you get to take on that role. Often local charities love people to do this.  Or you could run a meet-up event. Do the project to the best of your ability. Be mindful of how you feel while doing the work. Do you love it?


  • Term Position. If you’re not sure about your next move, taking a term position can be a good test. They work because they have an end date. If you hate it, it isn’t forever. It isn’t a waste of time because it helps you to know what works for you. If you love it, you have some work experience to help sell you to land another job in this area. Term positions or side projects are often great choices for people who have jobs. If you are employed, talk to your manager or team about the skills and roles you want to take on. I gained experience coordinating a fundraising campaign for a not-for-profit while doing my regular job. It helped me to know I don’t love coordinating big events.


  • Job Shadow. Job shadows are not just for “Bring your Kid to work” day. You can learn a lot by hanging out with someone as they do their work. It doesn’t work in all industries. But try to meet someone at their job, and spend time observing what they do. You can get a feel for if it is the kind of work you would enjoy. It is important to set up expectations and set a time limit when proposing this to someone. Be clear about how many days you would like to do shadow and the purpose.


  • Informational Interview. The easiest and most common way to take action is to do an informational interview. You call people who work in the places and jobs you are thinking about and ask them a handful of questions. This is not usually a call a to HR unless you want to work in HR. Some people go into these and they ask the wrong questions. They ask about how to get a job there. That doesn’t matter right now. What matters right now is a getting a feel for how the job works and feels. You’ll ask things like:
 How often do you get to be in the flow of your work?
What one thing do you people need to know going into work like this?
What do you spend your day doing?
Are there any resources or other people I should talk to understand this job/sector better?


Some people start here, and some others end here. Doesn’t matter. Use what works for you.

If you took action first, self-reflect on what you learned. Did you like how it felt? What excited you about the jobs you tried or learned about? Did they feel like a good fit? Did you learn what you need to avoid in your next role?

Combine that reflection with the ones below.

Different ways to do self-reflection

Self-reflection is figuring out what you value and where you do your best work, and what skills you want to use in your next job.

I like to do this by focusing on one area at a time. You can do this through answering questions in a journal, meditation, guided conversations with a career coach, art-making, or visual brainstorming.


An ill-fitting job can cross into other areas of your life and most often it is your health, relationships and/or community involvement that suffer. Sometimes we are able to see where we need to make shifts when we look at these areas instead of just the job titles.


Another way of exploring your ideal work is to define what brings you joy in your working life. You can do this with index cards. Every day for the next 10 days, think about a specific time you felt great at work. Write that story down.  After 10 days, you’ll have a collection of stories and accomplishments (which you can use at resume time too). Review the stories and look for common themes between the stories. Pull out three skills that you love to do.

If you started with self-reflection, you can take your knowledge of your favorite skills and values and then take action. Think about how the jobs you are learning about fit with this self-knowledge.


Putting it all together

Once you have taken action and reflected, then you are ready to narrow your search.

You can create this statement.

I do my best work when I can (enter your skills from the index card activity above)  __________________, ________________________ and _____________________.

To ensure my work life balances with my values, the job needs to have (enter your top values) _________________ and _______________. I will model this on the job by ____________________________________________________.

I was excited/intrigued by this part of the jobs I explored ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I also know I need to avoid these two things in my next job;  ________________________________________________ and _________________________________.

Now, you can take this vision based on real-life testing and self-knowing and use it as a lens when assessing jobs. You can also start to share this vision with your network so they know what kind of work you are looking to do next.


Happy job searching!