What you want to be when you grow up? What you want to study in your undergrad? Where are you going to work?

It’s very suddenly, for many people, that the choice of work loses connection with their dreams. Why? And how? Once we start working in a new job, our mindset usually revolves in cycles: get used to new activities, work to improve, and finally struggle to evolve. Even if cycles are not always as straightforward as this, rarely do we take the time to reflect on our daily choices and then… Boom: you are surviving rather than evolving or improving. The second stage is then: what do I do to get out of this job?! And in this particular situation, you are likely going to pick the first available choice that will take you out the “danger zone”. But if you do this, the cycle can repeat. Again and again. It might have never happened to you. Good! Though, I bet that it’s going to happen sooner or later, if you are not mindful of your daily choices. The question is: how do you avoid this vulnerable situation?

Planning your career is not something that you can simply do by applying tools of finance, economics, or strategic thinking and organizational behavior theories. Neither is it to replicate others’ experience, because one successful person’s combination of life choices, only works for that person. To define what your best options are, start from the beginning: YOU. You may be thinking now: that’s obvious. OK. But the next step may not be so clear: can you really have what you want?

The Career Development Center (CDC) at INSEAD provides several exercises to help you reflect on your career. In the first part they help you discover your personal purpose and strengths by studying the history of your personal and professional lives. You will question yourself about the main events defining who it is that you became. And also, you will be pushed to think about your dreams and if they have changed or not, if they have been pursued or not and why.

The second phase is research on professional environments. Taking into consideration what you decided as your personal goals, which companies and institutions can fit your professional priorities? You can even question if you actually want to join one of those companies or if you’d rather build your own. At this point, do not limit yourself. The goal is to target options that match your purpose and personal interests and strengths.

The third part is to go deeper in your options. What are the differentials of the institutions you chose? Who are the people working there and what are they saying about the job? What is their strategy for the next few years? Looking for answers will give you more information for your next steps and may also make you cut some companies from your list. The goal is to search for information and learn about the industry or topic you are interested in. With these pieces of information on hand, you will be able to negotiate better positions taking account future challenges you want to assume and avoid entering in a job interview only to accept or reject offers. In brief, you put yourself in a more active position to dig for best opportunities.

The final step is to make contact. The main goal is to build a relationship; to make fruitful connections and acquire knowledge of the business and NOT to get a job. If you happen to get an interview: good. But it should be a consequence. Remember: there is no downside of approaching peers when you show real interest in them. Avoid being purely transactional: someone that is only interested in extracting information. If you truly have interest, you will also contribute and share your experience. This is the moment to use the research you did in the third step.

Keep in mind that this exercise does not mean that you are changing your career. This is the beginning; a plan that you may even decide to not follow. Above all, this is important for you, as it will reaffirm your current situation, make you more comfortable and motivated to invest your efforts in the present path and, you will have made new professional contacts.

The CDC is, for me, one of the biggest differentials of INSEAD. Here, they not only guide you to build your own professional choices, they also facilitate connections with several top companies, investors and entrepreneurs. You can test and discuss ideas for your professional life with coaches and several partners and alumni that are willing to contribute their stories and offer advice. In other words: the CDC helps you to refine your authentic pitch, making you realize and highlight your attractiveness as a professional and connects you with the main global institutions that fit your purpose.