It’s hard to get on the right career path if you don’t even have a clue which direction to head in. But unfortunately, that’s often the case for people embarking on their work lives or ready to try something new.
I get lots of mail from readers asking me: What should I do? What industry should I enter? What vocation should I try? Should I become an entrepreneur?
Alas, I am merely a career columnist and not an oracle. So, I’m always leery of telling you guys what to do when I have so little to go on.
I need a bit more information before I can go out on a limb and make career suggestions. But that means you all need more information, information about yourselves.
What is it you enjoy? What do you hate to do? Where do you see yourself in five, 10, 15 years?
One thing that worked for me, and many career coaches advise this, is that you sit down and write a list. I’m serious. Get out a piece of paper and pencil and start writing now.
Think of trying to “triangulate,” suggests Annie Stevens, managing partner of ClearRock, an executive coaching and outplacement firm.
First figure out what you like to do. Then list all your skills and your major accomplishments. And lastly, figure out what’s important to you, things like work-life balance, money, locations, the ethics of a company or profession, etc. Basically, you’re trying to access the type of company and job that syncs with what you’re about. To help you figure that out, Stevens suggests doing a “value clarification” assessment online. Just Google “value clarification” and take a couple of tests, but don’t pay for them. They should be free.
And I think it’s crucial to include one more thing on your list: What you hate — what you just don’t want to do, ever.
It really helps to see these things in black and white.
Here are some of your questions:
I am currently searching for a new position. I recently resigned from my last position due to a combination of things. I have been looking since April for a new path to take.
I am in the financial services industry, but this field, I'm afraid, is not offering me the opportunities that I am looking for. I am wondering if it is time that I reinvented myself and with the skill sets that I have ventured into another sector where my skills can be better utilized and compensated.
To that end can you tell me where the best opportunities are in financial services? Do I need to go back to school, get certified, or just what are my options? I do not know what to do other than keep looking. This is the second time in the last four years that I have been out of work, and it is not a feeling or a situation that I would wish upon anyone.
Not working affects not only your mind, but in my situation my relationship with my spouse as well. To save my sanity and my marriage, I must find work soon. Furthermore if I get out of the banking/financial services industry, where would I go? I would like to go into the tech side, but I am not sure what is the right path to take.
— I Am Desperate
There are opportunities in IT and in banking and financial services, although the latter is getting hammered as of late because of the mortgage crisis nationally.
Before I can tell you what jobs are hot, you have to figure out what you want to do — what is right for you. You could find a tech job in the financial sector, or ditch the world of finance all together. The options are endless.
Your first step ASAP — do a personal inventory assessment, says JP Sakey, president of Raleigh, N.C.,-based recruiting company Headway Corporate Resources. Look for self-help books at your local bookstore. He and I recommend “What Color is Your Parachute?” as a good place to start.
What are your skills, your abilities and how do those jibe with what you want to do with your work life?
And please, Desperate, don’t panic and don’t get down on yourself. Many people, including this author, have spent time looking for work and the right career path. Let your spouse know you’re trying to figure out your next step and you need his or her help, patience and support.
I am a sophomore at a community college right now going to get my associate's degree. I really don’t know what I want to do as of right now, so I was wondering if you knew of any careers that could fit me. I am VERY shy when it comes to talking in front of people ... VERY SHY ... but on the flip side, I like to work with computers and like to do things myself. I also like to boss people around ... that’s just me! I want to do something that is fun and I get to work with a lot of different people. I plan on moving to the city when I get some money and get a little older. Any suggestions will help!
— A. C., Raymond, Wash.
I don’t think I’ve come across a letter like this. Frankly, it made me laugh because on the one hand A.C. is “VERY shy” but on the other hand she wants to boss people around. And this shy person wants to find a job that allows her to work with a lot of different types of people.
It sounds like you’re not really sure of yourself and what you’re all about, at least when it comes to the world of work. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. It sometimes takes a while to figure out how you can fit into a career mold, but if you want to be boss and want to interact with a lot of people, maybe you should look closely at why you label yourself as shy.
Are you really shy, or just afraid of the unknown? You can’t boss people around if you have trouble communicating with them.
And actually, as ClearRock's Stevens points out, bossing people around is not an effective management technique anyway.
If you are indeed shy and love computers then working in an IT department behind the scenes with your head down may work best for you. As a student, this might be a good time to start calling up local larger companies and finding out if you can intern in a firm’s IT department and see for yourself if it’s something you’d enjoy, Stevens advises.
If you just don’t want to work in a cube and be a geek, then Stevens strongly suggests you take some management courses soon so you can figure out the difference between a boss and bossy.