Thursday, June 26, 2008

How to Finally Figure Out What You Want to Be When You Grow Up

It’s often scary. You're seeing lots of your peers in full career flower: good income, power and influence, and a job title their parents just love to brag about.

And there you are, still fumbling around, toting a copy of What Color is Your Parachute or the results of the Strong Interest Inventory or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Here are some other ways to figure out what the hell you want to be when you grow up, even if you’re already supposed to be a grownup:

— Check the website of your undergraduate and, if you've got one, graduate degree program. They often contain a list of careers that people have entered with your degree.

— Attend alumni events where graduates from your program will be in attendance.

— On an online discussion group in your field, post a query such as, “What sorts of careers are people entering with a masters in physiological psychology (or whatever)?”

— Google terms such as careers philosophy or Ph.D. careers “molecular biology.”

— Visit the exhibit area at professional conferences in your field. Those booths are often staffed by senior people with the power to hire you. You'd ordinarily have a hard time gaining access to such people, yet at a conference, they're available to you in quantity.

One approach to a booth is to scan the written material on the booth’s table, then approach its staffer. Explain the sorts of things you might do for that organization and ask if that might be of interest. Then ask if the person could imagine other ways the organization might use someone like you. If you find a hot prospect, you might invite the person to a meal or a drink. That request might be too forward under normal circumstances, but at a conference, if it feels right, it’s probably an appropriate request.

— Browse annotated lists of careers. For example, there’s the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which comprehensively profiles 250 careers. Or consider (Warning: bias-alert here!) my misleadingly titled, Cool Careers for Dummies, 3rd Edition (Wiley, 2007), which offers brief, more subjective profiles of 500 careers, each with a recommended website or book for more information. The book also contains “The 35 Most Revealing Questions,” which also may help you home in on the right career choice.

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