On the Road Again: Actively Forging Your Career Path

Image of green mountains and a roadPerhaps more so than ever, it seems that finding a well-paying and rewarding job can be a difficult task for young adults. According to analysis of the 2014 Current Population Survey, median income for people between 25 and 34 has decreased in every major industry since the Great Recession, with the exception of the healthcare industry. In addition, the underemployment rate for recent college grads is still at its highest point since the year 2000 — about 7 percent.  According to the New York Fed “the share of underemployed college graduates in good non-college jobs has fallen sharply, while the share working in low-wage jobs has risen.” In a tough job market, where rewarding work experience which also pays well is hard to find and highly competitive, here are a couple of ways you can take your career path into your own hands.

Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of finding a career is the process of taking your own concepts of a field of interest, work preferences, and vision of your future, and boiling it down to workable tasks toward achieving concrete goals. One effective strategy is the Active Career Exploration Strategy (ACE) in exploring your preferences and connecting with employers. We will discuss the ACE plan in depth in next week’s blog, but in the meantime as an exercise, try allotting 2 hours of free time toward strategic career exploration. Start with some self-reflection: think about all the components of a job/career that most matter to you, and try to make a list of the three most important points. From this list, start researching potential careers that interest you, and make a workable list. Keep in mind that you may come across a career you did not know existed (for example, if you like biology, but are not interested in working in the lab, perhaps bioinformatics is a field worth looking into.) Once you have found a career that seems of interest, start looking for people to contact in order to learn more. LinkedIn is a great tool to find professionals to contact for informational interviews, and you can also spark curiosity by looking at TedTalk videos related to your field of interest. Once you have found someone whose work you are interested in, start drafting questions for them, and contact them for an informational interview.

Another important skill to have in all steps of career exploration is to understand the competition in your field. Whether you are applying to a job in the private or public sector, research or non-research, getting a sense of the relevant and in-demand skills is absolutely crucial to being a competitive candidate. This can be done by reading articles online, speaking to friends and family working in a similar career, and especially by setting up informational interviews. Once you have gotten a sense of what these skills are, you can make sure to highlight these skills on your resume if you already have experience in this skill, or invest time in learning the skill in order to become a more appealing candidate.

Although knowing your skills and preferences is crucial in finding a good career match, one very common misconception is that finding this match is solely up to you. To the contrary, Jeffrey Kudisch of the Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that the best way to finding a good job is to assemble a “job search work team,” or “a group of people committed to helping each other” find optimal career matches and professional success. Kudisch explains this optimal career team as being between five and eight people who are centered around a central career focus or niche, yet not too similar in their skills and outlooks. Team members must also complement each other in their skills and outlooks, and must also meet regularly to set and work towards measurable, attainable goals. With an optimal job search team, you can utilize knowledge and wisdom beyond your own in order to find what career works best for you.

No matter your field of work and level of experience, job searching and career planning can be an exhausting and even terrifying experience. Despite this, it is important to remember that you have the power to find a rewarding career path for yourself, and there are always resources available to help you find the perfect career if you get lost. For additional resources, check out the OITE Careers Blog, or schedule an appointment with OITE’s Career Services Department.

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