Last week the New York Times published an article by Jeffrey Seling entitled:
“Will You Sprint, Stroll, or Stumble into a Career”
Seling describes the sprint as follows:
“Sprinters start fast right out of the gate. They pick a major early on and stick with it, enabling a progression of internships that look more and more impressive with each year. Some have the perfect job lined up on graduation; others are laserlike in their focus, moving from job to job up the career ladder. They have little or no student-loan debt, freeing them to pick job opportunities without regard to pay.” Sprinters are a distinct minority of twenty-somethings (many of them have no student loan debt because they come from well-to-do families). The truth is that most people graduating college aren’t sure of what they want to do. As a result, far too many of them enroll in graduate programs simply because that’s a structured next step rather than because they’ve desired to deepen their involvement with a particular field.
How to find clarity?
The answer is wide-ranging exploration, exploration that can (and should) be conducted in numerous ways. Through exploration (primarily conversation with those with experience) a sense can be gained of what various career paths involve, their plusses and minuses, their typical trajectory, their income potential. Ideally a plan should be created that calendars career exploration activities on a regular basis.
One of the best ways to conduct career exploration is NETWORKING.
The term strikes fear into the hearts of most young people, but the fact is that older adults generally enjoy giving guidance and advice to their juniors. And actually networking for most can be easier than they might imagine: friends of their parents*, parents of their friends, and alumni of their colleges are all fairly accessible targets.
My favorite source of networking utilizes Linkedin. By utilizing people with whom they already have a relationship career explorers can connect with, and learn from, hundreds or even thousands of people who have walked the path they are contemplating. Career testing is widely considered a great way of choosing a career path, but I see its role much less (if at all) as concretely indicative and more as suggestive.Turning to a career test to provide “the answer” makes little more sense than asking one’s parents – tests and parents both understand the subject well, but can’t begin to get at what really makes a person tick. My prejudice against the likelihood of career testing providing definitive guidance is confirmed by the absence of any data showing that career tests lead to career success. However, these tests can certainly be valuable in suggesting paths for exploration. Career counseling can be a very valuable way of exploring if one works with experienced and successful, “real world” career counselors. The perspective and experience they have accumulated from working with hundreds of clients allows them to shed light on numerous paths. Furthermore, if they are successful it is likely attributable at least in part to an ability to read personality and psychological issues that can have an important bearing on career choice.
There are several other great ways of learning what a career might feel like. Going to Meetups of people in a chosen field (Meetups are an easy place to strike up conversations about careers because attendees are there because of their interest in the specific subject). Joining online discussion groups and posing questions to the members. Attending lectures or seminars and interacting with participants. The purpose is not to land a job (although that could be an outcome of a well-handled conversation), but to gather as much information, and to get a feeling, for what working in a particular career would be like.
In the article mentioned above, Seling quotes Jeffrey Jenson Arnett, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, about the early stages of career life: “Emerging adulthood is a time of life when many different directions remain possible,” Dr. Arnett wrote, “when little about the future has been decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life’s possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course.” Today the period of emerging adulthood is even longer than it was when the term was coined in the year 2000. Fortunately (and hopefully reassuringly to those uncertain of their career path forward) the average worker will experience several different careers over a lifetime (seven is the often quoted, but not substantiated, number). I myself am on my fifth.
*My interest in marketing, the launching pad of my first career in advertising, began as a result of the experience I had working in the marketing department of Ronson (the lighter manufacturer) one summer between junior and senior year of college. The stint was arranged by my Dad with a neighbor of ours who was a VP at the company, and consisted of my spending a week in each of 6 areas of the company. Marketing was the one that turned me on.