by David D. White
“I don’t even know where to start.” – A College Student
Sometimes the most difficult part of narrowing down career paths is simply deciding which paths to start down. In fact, choosing which career to pursue and which to abandon is often one of the most challenging decisions for students and recent graduates. Economics describes this type of decision as an opportunity cost analysis. Simply put, you can pursue multiple career paths in college but each time you choose to pursue one career opportunity you are also choosing to not pursue another.
So how can you start making better decisions about which career you should spend your time pursuing? Here are a few critical questions to ask about each career path before making the decision to invest your time and energy pursuing that career.
Passion. You can become good at any job, but to become great you must be passionate about what you do. The average professional switches careers seven times in their lifetime. Your first career doesn’t have to be your dream career but it should be something you can become passionate about. Often success in a first career leads to a second, sometimes more fulfilling career. Don’t set yourself up to be good, set yourself up to be great.
Opportunity Cost. What is the time and energy commitment this career requires? Some career opportunities will allow you to pursue multiple paths while others will consume every free moment you can offer. The adage ‘don’t put all of your eggs into one basket’ comes to mind. Are you ready to commit everything to that career path?
Work Life Balance. The hard truth is that for most professionals work life balance only comes with mastering your field and thus being able to command work life balance. For the vast majority of graduates you must decide what you are willing to sacrifice for a career. Some opportunities will require 60+ hours per week including Saturdays and sometimes Sundays (see accounting firms and law firms). Research a typical day for entry-level positions in your chosen field and determine for yourself if you are ready to make that sacrifice.
Cultural Fit. Consider for a moment that you will be spending roughly half of your waking hours with your co-workers. Researching your industry and clicking through the careers page for industry companies begins to educate yourself about that industry’s culture. Good indicators of a company’s culture include dress code, company sponsored events and management style. Also, don’t be afraid to ask about a company’s culture in interviews – it’s important and shows your interest in that company.
The Job Market. Somewhere in deciding which career to pursue you must consider the job market. Today’s graduates are competing with more than 1.78 million other graduates for top career opportunities. That super competitive market results in longer paths to reach some of the most coveted careers. For good information about future employment estimates visit the United States Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Be creative and bold about how you discover and research careers. Take opportunities for informational interviews and job shadowing with professionals working in careers that interest you. Ask them questions about their day-to-day activities, the industry and culture. Most of all don’t wait to get started. Educate yourself about your passions, network with other professionals and research career paths. Making good decisions about your career is challenging and important; the more you know, the easier it will be to get that first job.
David D. White is the Co-founder and Legal Counsel for CareerStarter.com with a strong passion for practicing law, challenging traditional ideas about business and becoming a successful professional. His past experience includes an academic fellowship in the legal labor market, data analysis and human resources. David earned his BA and JD from Indiana University. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @career_starter
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