You only have to watch one episode of "Shark Tank," "The Profit" or "Dirty Jobs" to know that there are limitless ways to make a living. The challenge is determining which of these roles, industries and career paths are best suited for you. For most people, they skip the research part and often take the most obvious path -- perhaps a role at a company where their family or friends work or they accept the first position they are actually offered. Long-term career satisfaction comes from proactively examining options, and then making a conscious choice to pursue those paths. As a student or new graduate, how do you actively investigate and identify ideal professions?
Get to know yourself. In the movie "Star Wars," Yoda was on to something as Luke Skywalker's mentor when he pushed Luke toward self-discovery. It was only with this self-knowledge that Luke could truly harness the power of "The Force." The same is true for entry-level job seekers. You should be an expert of who you are -- your strengths, your weaknesses, your interests, your likes and dislikes. When you have a realistic sense of your traits and talents, you can examine roles with a more realistic lens.
A simple way to accomplish this is to write down the things that come most easily to you or seem to be strengths. Some examples of natural characteristics that are also professionally relevant are having grit or tenacity, good work ethic, creative problem solving, resourcefulness, spontaneity, staying calm under pressure, research skills, organizational talents, detail orientation and getting along with most everyone. Also, think about those traits that you may not yet possess, but would like to develop. This might be public speaking, leadership skills or patience, for example. You can also ask adults in your life what strengths or weaknesses they recognize in you.
There are also in-person and online tests you can take to help delineate your skills. Your high school or college counselor should have recommendations if you cannot find one online that meets your needs. Once you have this list of your pros, cons and opportunities for development, you now are ready to examine the job market.
Research career options. As expressed before, the options are vast and this wide range is what paralyzes many job seekers. An excellent way to get some guidance through career exploration is to try out an online career test. One of the innovators in this space is a site called Sokanu.com. Started by a student who was perplexed by how to examine career choices, the site has thousands of modern questions that help testers get a better sense of potential professional matches.
Additionally, Sokanu.com and other sites profile hundreds of careers so that you can educate yourself on professions that may sound intriguing or you heard are rapidly growing. Take the time to read about multiple options. Sometimes learning about things that don't appeal to you can be as valuable as determining the jobs that do appeal to you.
Go and talk to people in those jobs. No matter what you read about being a politician or a customer success manager, nothing can rival firsthand information from people who do those jobs. Plus, there are many nuances to a role that can change it dramatically. For example, being an accountant at a small 20-person company is dramatically different than being a certified public accountant for a "Big Four" accounting firm. Talking with experienced professionals gives you both a well-rounded education on the role and also helps you to learn about other aspects that may have significant impact on job satisfaction.
Thinking about a future profession can be daunting -- but it doesn't have to be. There are many resources available to help you understand your assets and interests and then to see which professions may be better matches than others. The great news is that there is never just one path to success. But don't let the variety intimidate you. Even a little introspection and investigation can greatly increase your options and long-term professional happiness.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.
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