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How to Overcome the Problem of Too Many Career Options

Need some career advice? Email Rachel at [email protected] and your question may be featured on Going Concern.

I am currently working at one of the big four firms. My service line is tax. I still don't have an idea on what will I do in the future. I'm also interested on pursuing a law degree. I also want to experience C tax advisory (TAS) but I'm not sure if it's helpful to my tax related background. May you give me an advice on what will be my possible career path after leaving the firm if (a) I will still pursue the tax service line, leave the firm, and be a lawyer. What possible jobs will I get after one /2 year/s experience on that firm? I want an exciting and challenging job not just doing tax returns,etc and then I'll get promoted, I'll review the same documents. (b) I'll transfer to another service line which is the TAS after experiencing 1 year on the Tax Services Line. How can I use my background on tax at the same time utilizing my knowledge on TAS? Is there a position on the outside that has that job? Thank you so much in advance on your reply.

Dear Too Many Options,

It sounds like you have a case of the “What do I want to be when I grow up?” syndrome. This is cute when you are 12 years old. Not so cute now that you are out of college and trying to navigate your career on your own. What if I make the wrong choice? What if I make a change and end up hating it?

This type of thinking can be paralyzing. By being so worried that you will make the wrong choice, you are shooting yourself in the foot in finding true career happiness. It sounds like you have already started thinking about what you like and don’t like about your current job. You want different “exciting and challenging” projects and to not review the same tax returns every year. That’s a great start.

Here’s my main piece of advice: You are jumping the gun the bit. First step for you is to focus on you. Not on this or that career path, this or that next job title, department or company. Focus on just you. Put career strategy and career background and practicality aside just for a little bit. What do you really want? What do you want your impact to be? It’s time to turn inward and spend some time getting to know yourself instead of looking at every different job title on 

It’s nearly impossible to make a good choice about a next step if you have no idea where you are going and where you want to end up. Without a clear vision, we either end up staying on a mediocre path that we know isn’t working or we just make a choice aimlessly and hope for the best. Neither option is promising. So here is some homework for you.

  • Write down your career vision. What do you want to be doing in 5 years? In 10 years? In 20 years? What do you want to be remembered for at retirement? For each milestone, really try to imagine that you are there in that moment in the future and write in the present tense. Try to be as detailed as possible such as who you are working with, what you are doing, what strengths you have, what’s important to you, and what impact you are having. Focus less on what your job title will be and more on what type of work you are doing. For example, I am doing “exciting and challenging” projects in a fast paced environment for various tax transactions. Or I am researching tax policy by myself, writing a memo, and delivering the results to my supervisor. Really focus on what you want to be doing and what makes you unique.
  • After you have your vision, write down your short-term options. How do these options fit with your overall career vision?
  • At this point, you can research your options to gather all of the facts and see how each option would fit into your vision.

Now you can see that it all comes back to the career vision. The great part about this vision is that once it is written down you can make adjustments and changes to it as you change. It sounds like working for TAS would be exciting for you. What makes it different or better than what you are doing now? How does it fit with what you want in the future? Perhaps you want variety, to work with multiple teams, to run projects. Whatever it is…it is unique and specific to you.

The point is approaching your career as you would any other tax return or audit report. Strategically and step by step. Once you have the overall goal in mind, it is so much easier to know what your next step should be. So time to get writing that career vision.