Career Exploration: Looking Inside to Look Outside

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Beginning a career may be something you’ve never thought about before, or you’ve been putting off considering for years. It might be something you hope to achieve in the next few months!

Wherever you are in life, exploring the career that will be right for you is an important step in preparing for your life after the “fun and games” of college are over. 

However, there are approximately 6 million jobs available in the United States alone. How do you take this staggering number of potential careers and narrow it down to find the right one for you?

Exploring careers is more than just Google-ing “Jobs” and applying for everything you can. It’s about knowing yourself, what you would best be able to bring to a company, and what you would most enjoy as a career. 

The first step in career exploration is self-examination. What are your hobbies? Have you held any previous jobs that you’ve enjoyed? Where can you see yourself in five years? Think about what you are skilled at and how it can help further the mission of a company. Always remember, a company will want you most for the value you add to their company, and it is important to know how you can best add value to a company.

Make a list of your skills and hobbies and see if you notice any trends. If you do, then you can further pursue that option. For example, if you program as a hobby, and have prior experience with a construction company that you enjoyed, then you may want to look into a career in architecture. If you are struggling with this, try new hobbies, or developing new skills, to see if anything sparks your interest!

Once you know what you enjoy doing and what field you would like to work in, it’s time to research what type of work uses that field and which companies can offer you those jobs. A good starting point is to look at the most well-known companies in that field.

For example, if you are interested in history you can look up jobs with The Smithsonian Institute to get an idea of what careers a company can offer. Some careers they offer range from Museum Specialist, who take care of the movement and display of artifacts, to Director of Programs and Audience Engagement, in charge of coordinating events for the benefit of the Institute.

If you’re more interested in the preservation and passing down of history, the Museum Specialist may be a more fulfilling and practical career for you because the qualifications of the Director of Programs may be far beyond anything you’ve done before, and the work itself may not be something you enjoy.

Read the job descriptions of some careers and see if they interest you or if your skills would be valuable at such a position. Picking out types of careers with larger, well-known companies will help you narrow down your search when you look to begin your career.

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Now that you know what types of careers you would like to pursue, it is very important to do a reality check. Go to a site such as indeed.com, and read into position requirements to see what the requirements are for the careers you are interested in.

One of my favorite jokes is that every “entry-level” job nowadays requires 10 years of experience, your PhD, and three arms.  Keep your career search realistic, and know that, without years of experience, it is going to be very difficult to start out in a company with a Director of Programs-type job.  Once you know the sort of experience and skill required for a position, you can look into gaining that experience or practicing that skill through internships, online classes, and personal effort.

An entry-level job may be the best option to get you to the career you are most interested in; starting out as an intern in NASA is much easier than getting hired as the manager of their space program.  Even if you don’t qualify completely for an entry-level job, don’t rule it out! The requirements on the job description are entirely up to the company, and can always be overruled if they see that you are a good fit for the position.

 Although the magic of Google can give you clues as to what careers you want to pursue, the worldwide web is not a good place to apply for jobs. Experts estimate that close to 80% of position openings are filled through networking.

But wait… I thought networking was for professionals? Isn’t that where a bunch of CEO’s got together for coffee and cheap variety packs of cookies? Networking is much easier and far more useful than that! According to Entrepreneur.com, networking is “developing and using contacts made in business for purposes beyond the reason for the initial contact.” Think about people you know who are associated with the fields you are interest in, because they will be your best allies.

If your former football coach has been working with Atari and you are interested in game design, set up an informational interview to see what his job consists of, or ask if you can shadow a day at his job to see if such a career is really what interests you.

Internships are a great way to network, because you work with people in the career you are interested in. Seeing what they do on a daily basis, as well as gaining experience in the field for yourself, will help you choose the best career for you.

Picking the right career might seem daunting, based on the enormity of the job market.  Narrowing down the list of careers is a possibility, but a better approach is narrowing down your own search through knowledge of yourself. Once you know yourself, you can explore the careers that interest you or apply to you, instead of filtering through millions of listings. The right career for you is out there, and knowing what you want will help you explore and land a more productive and fulfilling career.