Finding your next great opportunity

In my 20s, I lived near New York City, and each week I dined at a different restaurant.

For someone who loves food, there are countless options in a city like the Big Apple. And with so many to choose from, it’s no wonder it took me so long to decide where to eat.

I spent a lot of time learning about different options, careful to make the best choices and hoping to find a hidden gem. But the sheer number and variety of options were overwhelming. For me, picking a great restaurant required research. To start, I considered the type of food I wanted; atmosphere; who I will be dining with; price; and location. These questions made up my criteria – the factors I set to navigate through the possible options.

My next step was crucial – research. To better understand my options, I went to Trip Advisor, Yelp and food blogs for reviews and comments. I talked to people who had explored the city’s different cuisines, and even created lists based on the options at each restaurant. With an idea of the options, I applied my criteria.

I found the more criteria I could satisfy, the happier I was with my choice.

By selecting criteria to narrow down what I wanted to eat in New York, I saw how it is possible to narrow down to one restaurant from more than 10,000 options. It’s really no different when it comes to making career decisions.

As an Alumni Career Coach at Western, the tactics I used to select a restaurant sound vaguely familiar as I consider individuals making decisions about the next steps in their career. Many people struggle with how and when to transition to the next opportunity, or even switch fields completely. They wonder ‘What else can I do?’ and ‘How do I end up in the perfect career?’

The same career management principles apply whether you want to take charge of your career in your current field or you are looking for opportunities elsewhere. So, let’s leverage the skills in setting criteria and research that many people already exhibit when deciding where to eat to help simplify the process. Most career experts would agree career management isn’t rocket science. Yet, based on the countless number of inquiries I field, the majority of professionals are still seeking counsel related to basic career management principles.

Let me walk you through a few to keep top of mind so that you too can find a hidden gem.

Bon appetite!

KNOW YOURSELF. People in careers that fit them are happier, healthier and much more satisfied – not just with their jobs, but with their lives. Sadly, studies show that the majority of people feel negatively, or at best neutral, toward their current jobs. To identify criteria for navigating where you want to be next, look deeply at what energizes you, what you find rewarding, what you’re good at and what comes to you easily. Examine your high and low points at work, and identify the times you felt more energized, engaged and fulfilled — and why you felt this way.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. The word networking often sends people running to the nearest exit, but keep in mind networking is simply about getting to know people and asking for information, advice and support. Be purposeful in meeting people who can help you reach your goals and be willing to help others as well. If you are looking to transition within your field, build your existing network strategically with a smaller number of people positioned to help. For those planning a significant career change, build your network with as many people across your interest areas as possible.

USE A TARGETED APPROACH. If you are looking to advance, or find new opportunities, invest your time and effort in pursuing the role you really want and for which you are qualified. Remember how important using research tools like Trip Advisor and Yelp are to a foodie’s selection of a top-rated restaurant? You will be most successful if you apply your criteria and focus on the needs of the employer. Research and determine what you can do that will add value to the organization. Use the information you find to develop new skill sets and experience that will set you apart.

SPEND MORE TIME ON LINKEDIN. With millions of users, LinkedIn is a tool with many facets. Researching a company, connecting with Western alumni, applying for a position, requesting an informational interview or contributing to a group discussion are just a few of the ways you can utilize LinkedIn. It’s a powerful resource, but you’ve got to be active and follow through. We even have a video to help you build your profile and maximize your efforts on LINKEDIN. 

BALANCE YOUR DEPENDENCE ON THE INTERNET. If you are focusing solely online, your search hasn’t begun yet. Research shows that only 7-10 % of jobs are sourced through online applications alone. Keep in sight the power of a referral and the strength of your network. You are far more likely to visit the restaurant your friend suggests after all.

Sarah Dawson has been working at Western helping alumni and students reach their career goals since 2005. For more information, visit or email your questions to

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