Career Planning

Effective career planning requires strategic searching. Consider these strategies for exploring a career that fits your personality and goals.

Why is Career Planning Important?

For American college graduates, work is a huge component of life. Besides providing sustenance, it may also give definition or meaning to one’s life. We also spend a lot of time at it. Hopefully, a college graduate will pursue a “career” requiring knowledge, skill, training and critical thinking, rather than manual labor. It is generally hoped that it leads to respect for what you do, both from yourself and from others. This makes what one ends up choosing to do with one’s life of great importance. Making informed planning choices is critical.

Why Career Planning is Difficult

There are a lot of reasons why career planning is difficult. For one, you are inexperienced at all of them. At best, you may have an impression of what a career in a certain profession is like and you might be correct – or you might turn out to be surprised and disillusioned. You might also be completely unaware of opportunities that exist and might have been a good fit for you. You may also have been steered by others to a selected field. Of great but often not recognized importance, you may also not yet
know WHO you are and what will satisfy you in adult life. A student in college is typically confronted by many choices and with limited information on which to make that choice.

Factors to Consider

There are a lot of important factors to consider in choosing a career. Many people consider pay level, availability, achievability (do I have what it takes to become one?), status, and interest to them. To that list I would add one I see often overlooked and/or underrated. It is fulfillment. By that I mean, does the job make you feel good about yourself? At the end of your life and hopefully sooner, you will realize this can be of monumental importance, certainly of far greater consequence than pay level. Sociologists have long known that richer people are not happier and that almost everyone learns to live within the income level they have. I say chasing wealth is overrated and chasing happiness is underrated at the beginning of careers. It is very useful to thoughtfully ask yourself what you want of your life. When I was a young man many, many years ago we didn’t do this. There were no options to consider. We were expected to pursue wealth, power and fame. It wasn’t even discussed or assigned. It was assumed. One size fits all. Typical consequences of this for many people were substance abuse and broken families. Across my lifetime I have often marveled at people of “common” pursuits who took satisfaction from applying a skill. College graduates may have been tempted to look down on them but that was truly “fool’s gold”. Some factors that may provide fulfillment are helping others, making something useful, being free to be creative or being removed from the responsibility to impose upon others for your personal gain. Some careers integrate you with your fellow workers; others pit you against them. How you feel about whether that is important can certainly help shape your choice.

How to Find out What a Career is Like

This is another one that may be more difficult than it appears. We probably all have impressions of what the careers of doctors, lawyers, executives, teachers , etc. are like.In all instances, we may well be under-informed. A classic example is lawyers. For people who watch television shows or movies, you may be surprised to find out that most lawyers never try a case in a courtroom. Another major potential misleading area is careers in business administration. While companies constantly talk about their “teams”, they constantly reward those who pursue individual self-interest, often to the detriment of those around them. I do not quibble with calling business a “jungle”. It is certainly more apt than “team-oriented” as their public apologists would prefer. So, we know that we may well not know about potential careers. How do we find out both about them and about ourselves? I have not found it productive to listen to guest speakers. They are under pressure to tell you what they want you to hear. I have found talking privately to persons pursuing careers to be my best source of information. They are likely to be more candid in a one-on-one conversation.

How to Find out What You are Like

Everyone should be seeking a “fit” between their personality and their career. If you don’t have one (I mean a “fit”, not a personality), you will have pretty much wasted your life in this aspect. So you need to understand what a career in a field requires of those who practice it. But, you also have to know
what you like and, I will emphasize, what you don’t like. This may not be as simple as it seems.

There are professionally constructed and validated surveys that can match your interests with the skills and activities of various careers. They are worth taking and taking the results seriously. The harder part is matching your feelings, not your interests and activities, to a career. Almost no one talks about this and I find it to be monumentally important.

One feeling I find particularly salient is how important it is to you to be liked by others with whom you interact at work. If it doesn’t matter to you, more choices are available than if it does. Some careers require and promote group interest; other promote and require, or at least, reward, the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of those around you. Few advocates of those careers acknowledge that fact. That does not make it less so. Helping others to develop is generally rewarding; using others to advance your self-interest generally requires an absence of concern for others and has a substantial chance of failure and almost certainly assures bitterness. Unfortunately, advancing in organizations often requires this. Practicing science and teaching anything typically provide satisfaction. Business administration, not so much.

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