Countless articles, books, blogs and self-help courses have been devoted to the question: What do I do with my life? Is there an oracle somewhere that reveals just how to choose a career? In the pursuit of purpose, we are confronted with a vast range of uncharted territory. There is no single “correct” way to discover what you should spend your life doing. Everyone has a unique path to getting where they are now, and that’s precisely what makes life interesting, amazing and a bit frustrating at the same time.
The simple act of asking yourself the question of how to choose a career is a good first step. Choosing a career requires you to step outside the boundaries of your every day and consider the long term. So great, you’ve defined the problem. Now what?
Know yourself: self awareness is absolutely key
Have you ever met people who have no idea how they come across to other people? Don’t be like those people. Get a good sense of who you are by exploring some self-assessments.
pymetrics: get a personalized cognitive and emotional trait report by playing a series of neuroscience games. Compatible careers are industries are recommended based on how your brain works. Cost: free
Meyers Briggs: This assessment is based on a series of questions, and is helpful to understand how you interact with others and your preferences. Cost: varies; talk to your career center to get details on how you can access the tool
StrengthsQuest: this tool helps you identify your top 5 themes and personal strengths. Cost: $9.99; talk to your career center to see if there’s a free option available for you
Aggressively explore the world around you. Do something new each day that will bring you closer to figuring out what you’re interested in and what you’re looking for in a career, whether that’s exploring a new club on campus, going on (or organizing!) a company office visit, or developing a new hobby. All these things will bring you closer to finding your passions and purpose.
Knowing yourself gives you the foundation to be comfortable with yourself, and that confidence will give you the courage to maximize your own amazingness. Choosing a career should be a personal decision, and made with the most important person in mind: you!
Know others: be curious
Think about it this way: everyone you encounter has something to offer. It’s up to you to recognize what it is and derive the most value from it. The easiest way to learn more about the world is to ask people, and expand your circle of awareness. Remember: how to choose a career is a question with a different answer for everyone, so don’t worry about finding the ‘correct’ path as you start to explore.
Set up informational interviews: You are on a mission to learn, and wrestle knowledge out of people. The best way to learn about different careers is to ask people in those careers. If you have an idea of what areas you’d like to learn about, ask your Career Center for help identifying alumni within your fields of interest.
Don’t know where to start? Choose a professor that you find interesting. Ask her/him how they got to where they are today. Chances are that they weren’t quite sure where they ended up, and insights into their journey can be useful as you explore.
Asking for time from someone you don’t know can be daunting, but think of it this way: if someone wanted to learn more about you and set up an interview, wouldn’t you be flattered?
Once you’ve identified some careers and areas that you’re interested in, learn as much as you can and identify how you can contribute. Get involved in projects you’re interested in, volunteer, and find programs that will enable you to get some hands on experience. Be persistent, and always be aware how these experiences are building up your skills and knowledge!
A neat resource to check out is MindSumo, a site that lets you submit work on a project basis, and even get paid for your contributions.
Finally, recognize the advantages of your position.
Being a student is like having a free pass in this world. Learn to use it effectively. As a student, you have access to opportunities that are not available to the general public: conferences, your school’s alumni, clubs and organizations on campus, etc. These resources diminish greatly in the real world, so give yourself a high five for being awesome, and good luck on your career exploration journey!