Tuesday, September 15, 2015

4 Things to Stop Doing as you Make Career Choices

Maybe it feels like everyone you know--your roommate, your best friend, even your T.A.--has a clearly defined career plan. You, however, are unsure of what career path you want to take. Not only that, but you’re feeling overwhelmed by the start of the new school year and the pressure to choose a career path now.

Instead of focusing on what you should be doing, consider these 4 things that you should stop doing when it comes to considering your career options:

Stop comparing yourself to others. Have you heard the adage, “compare and despair”? It’s easy to constantly compare ourselves to the successes of others, whether it’s a friend’s Facebook post about how much she loves her summer internship or an Instagram photo of a corner office view. Spending too much time comparing ourselves to others isn’t healthy, especially as you’re trying to figure out what career goals you want to pursue.

Instead, focus on meeting your own goals and needs in whatever career path you choose. So what if a teacher doesn’t make as much as an account executive? Determine what will satisfy your aspirations instead of trying to compare yourself to those around you.

Stop waiting for a career “eureka!” moment. Don’t wait for a lightning bolt to strike you with the right career choice. Do your research. Talk to your professors about possible opportunities, and meet with your college’s career development office to take career assessments. Set up an informational interview with an expert in a particular field that interests you. Read articles from industry leaders. Work with your college’s career development office to set up a job shadow experience to see what it’s really like to work in the industry.

The more information you have, the more prepared you are to make wise career choices when the time comes.

Stop asking yourself what you’ll do for the rest of your life. Data on young baby boomers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that, on average, “men held 11.8 jobs and women held 11.5 jobs” from ages 18 to 48. The data shows we should expect a lot of change over the course of a career lifetime. It doesn’t take an expert to know that “Jobs are mercurial. Positions can be downsized, outsourced, re-organized, or otherwise evaporate.” One of the best ways to prepare for a career change is to grow our skill set and never stop exploring our options.

So, stop asking yourself, “What should I do with my life?” Not only is it an unrealistic question, it’s unfair to put pressure on yourself at this moment to figure out what you’ll be satisfied with doing for the rest of your life. Yes, work toward setting career goals. Establish a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan. But, don’t assume that what you choose for a career path now is what you’ll be doing forever.

Instead of focusing on the rest of your life, consider: What is one small step you can do over the next 24 hours to move closer to your goal of figuring out your desired career path? Whether it’s adding your latest internship experience to your resume or exploring O*NET for career information, just focus on one small step. These seemingly simple steps can add up to big progress in the end.

Stop looking only at career choices. If you’re still unsure about what career path to choose, focus your energy on building up your transferable skills. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed employers to better understand what they look for in recent college graduates. For the class of 2015, the top 10 skills that employers sought in new hires included the following:

  1. Ability to work in a team structure
  2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tied with 1)
  3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
  4. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
  5. Ability to obtain and process information
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  10. Ability to sell and influence others

It’s wise to keep your skills relevant and to not settle too comfortably into any one career goal-- the job market is always in flux! So, if you don’t have a particular career path in mind, focus your time and energy on taking classes or engaging in learning experiences so that you can build up transferable skills. You’ll thank yourself later.