Career Exploration: Start With Where, Not What

Last Updated Aug 1, 2011 6:43 AM EDT

With college life often jam-packed with clubs, activities, classes and internships, students with a less than laser-like career focus often graduate with no shortage of potential skills to develop or interests to pursue. But how do you translate these resume tidbits and a vague sense of your strengths and weaknesses into a viable career path? Or to put it another way, how do you decide what you want to be when you grow up?

Annie Favreau, a spokesperson for career exploration site Inside Jobs, has an innovative suggestion. When we spoke to her recently, she stressed that those who are unsure of their career path often trip themselves up by putting the cart before the horse. Rather than mentally trying on job titles, Favreau suggests you begin by picturing an actual work place rather than an abstract idea.
The place that I like to start is, what is your ideal working situation? Do you really want be working with a whole lot of people? Do you want to be in an office? Do you have to be outside? Do you actually hate cubicles? Think about it very specifically -- what is the concrete working space I want to be in? That's a great place to start and then you can move on to, what do I like to do? What are my skills? What would I really like to focus on?

A lot of the time nowadays people, I find, are coming out of school with a huge amount of interests and many things that they've done over their college career and finding one to play up and to really develop can be kind of difficult, because a lot of times people will start with the job, saying 'oh, I really want to be an accountant,' but then not really follow that thought through to what the actual the results of that would be.
So what does Favreau suggest you do once you've completed this mental exercise and pictured the physical environment in which you'd like to work? It's no surprise that career exploration sites like the one she represents top the list. They can help you "explore different career paths and flow through different jobs to see which one might match up with you. This is really great because you can discover jobs that maybe you hadn't thought of yourself as being good at or didn't even know existed." And she also stresses the benefits of getting off the beaten path when considering possible careers.
The more that you're applying for a job that's a very niche position or a more unknown position, the better off your chances are because very visible jobs have a huge number of job applicants for them. So the less visible the jobs is, the more specific the job is, the better your chances. Everyone knows what a veterinarian does, but maybe you don't know what an animal nursery worker does. Really knowing more about these specifics can really help.
Of course, as Stever Robbins once explained on this blog, thinking you can plan every step of your career path is madness. For most of us, luck and chance play a fairly big part in determining exactly where we end up in out careers. Still, for those starting out and need of a little direction for their next steps, Favreau's location-based exercise in imagination and advice to investigate niches, isn't a bad place to start.

What advice do you have for a young person who simply isn't sure what they want to do in their career?

Read More on BNET: (Image courtesy of Flickr user ElFrenetico, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

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