To many recent college graduates, the most difficult part of finding a job does not involve formatting resumes, networking, and answering interview questions with panache. Instead, these tasks sound like a cakewalk compared to the seemingly monstrous exercise of figuring out what jobs to apply for in the first place.
However, according to Phyllis R. Stein, a Boston-area career coach, the process of figuring out the best career for you need not be overwhelming or mystical. “Trying to figure out where you’re going is a very logical process,” Stein says, likening it to following a cake recipe or methodically cleaning a car engine.
A common mistake Stein says she has noted in her clients is a tendency to assess the job market; pinpoint where the plentiful, lucrative jobs are; and then, without a second thought, direct their energies toward entering that field. The problem with that approach, however, is that a career in the hottest, trendiest field might be a terrible match for the jobseeker, and the choice to blindly enter a particular field can lead to unhappiness and a jarring career change later on.
Instead, Stein encourages her clients to devote themselves to figuring out their occupational callings before they even think about the job market. By divorcing the process of self-assessment from the reality of landing a job, Stein says her clients are better able to choose satisfying careers.
Stein’s Recipe for Self-Assessment:
1. Accept that the self-assessment process is not instantaneous. Rather, Stein says one year is the average period her clients need to identify careers that match their personalities and desires. It’s important not to get frustrated and to be patient! During the period of self-assessment, Stein says her clients often hold jobs that they don’t want in the long-term so they can make money and meet their basic needs while they make important discoveries about what they ultimately want to do. Also, Stein warns he clients not to feel discouraged or overwhelmed by their peers who went straight from college to law school or medical school and who seem to have been born knowing they wanted to do with their lives. At any given point, Stein says the a quarter to a third of her clients are doctors and lawyers.
2. Decide what you want out of your job. Ask yourself what it is about a job that will make you excited to go to work every day. What do you want to get out of your work? Some answers might include prestige, power, control, money, a sense that you’re helping others, and creative stimulation. Be sure to be honest with yourself instead of answering in terms of what you think you should say.
3. Make a list of the skills you will bring to your job. Think of everything you have to offer an employer. Are you a good writer? Can you make sound financial models? Do you have a good eye for design? Are you well-organized?
4. Make a list of skills you want gain from your job. What have you always wanted to learn how to do? Do you want a job that will hone your number-crunching skills? A job that will perfect your presentation and speaking skills? A job that will push you to learn a foreign a language?
5. Involve your friends and family in your brainstorming and list making. Share your lists with those close to you, and ask for feedback. The people around you who’ve heard you complain about your job and who’ve watched you do things you enjoy will likely have valuable insight into what you want out of a job, what skills you have, and what skills you want to gain.
6. Make a list of careers that match your discoveries thus far. Again, enlist your friends and family. Ask them what careers they think of when you mention your new-found criteria. Read job descriptions and see if you find occupations that either match your needs or that spur your thoughts about what careers you might like.
7. Read articles and books about the careers in which you’re most interested. Through this process, you will eliminate some of the careers you thought were contenders. You will also gain a sense of why the remaining ones appeal to you. Usually, at this point, you would have three or four possible careers in mind. It is not a problem, Stein says, if those careers seem dissimilar or unrelated.
8. Conduct informational interviews. Use these meetings with seasoned professionals as an opportunity to further explore what it’s like to work in a particular field.
9. Shadow others who have the kinds of jobs you think you might want. Stein says her clients often learn things about the day-to-day experience of certain careers that that they could not have learned anywhere but on the job. For example, Stein says she once had a client who thought she wanted to work in flower shop. However, after shadowing a local florist, the client crossed that job off her list because she didn’t like that she would have to stand on cement floors all day and that the air temperature had to be uncomfortably chilly so that the flowers wouldn’t wilt. Often, after shadowing a few different people in different careers, one career will rise to the surface as the best match.
10. Intern in the career field you think you’ve chosen. Through an internship, you will solidify your plans, and you will probably develop specific areas of interest within your career choice. Internships are also a great way to make contacts and meet potential employers.