Marlborough, MA, May 20, 2008
Part II: Crafting a Career
In Part I of this series, "Know Thyself, Know Thy Future", we talked about specific steps you can take to identify what is likely to make you happy in a career, and how to research yourself to get a clear picture of what you have to work with starting out.
Now for the next stage in career exploration - setting your career goal. While it might be tempting to take the "least objectionable opportunity" and figure out what you want to do later, becoming skilled early on in the craft of career-building will pay off over time. And in career building, a solid career goal is the keystone.
Tools of a Craftsman
Selecting a career is like buying a new home - it is an investment that will bring returns for the rest of your life, and commitment that you'll have to live with for a long time. When you shop for a new home, there are priorities that help you determine the property that you choose: Features of the property itself (three bedrooms, location, curb appeal, nice neighborhood, well-constructed etc.), and methods such as saving up money in a savings account for a deposit on a home, finding a good real estate agent to help you find a property, finding a reliable mortgage company to finance your purchase, and getting approved for the loan through establishing and maintaining good credit. In the same way, career goal setting is based on features, and career planning is the method.
The rest of this article will deal with using features to create a good career goal. The third and final part of the series focuses on career planning.
Once you have a clear sense of what you bring to the table for starting a successful career, the next step is setting your career goal by finding specific degrees or career paths that match your abilities well. For example, you may eat, sleep and breathe playing the piano, and be quite good at it, but how will you turn that passion and ability into a successful career that provides for you for a good long time? Will you be destined to play in coffee houses, cramped bars, event halls and hotel lounges, sacrificing the relative security of a desk job for following your passion? The answer is, there are a lot more options out there than you might think. The key is finding them.
Here are three steps to finding careers that suit your unique set of attributes:
Filling the Funnel - Start with volume. Take the time to shop through long lists of careers, looking for keywords that best capture what sounds good to you. Go big - this isn't the time to weed out what you don't want or don't think you can do - this is the time to envision all that's possible and believe that you can accomplish it. Keep your mind open to all the amazing opportunities available to you.
Here are a few good places to start making your Big List:
- Salary.com's Salary Wizard offers detailed job descriptions of positions based on category
- Wikipedia.org's List of Occupations provides a giant list of careers
- The U.S. Department of Labor provides its online Occupational Outlook Handbook, which contains a wealth of information about individual careers.
- City Town Info's Career Description Guide
TIP: When using online tools like the ones listed above, you don't need to know the exact name of an occupation or degree to find out what it involves. Searching by keywords that describe what you're looking for, like "teaching" or "math", will lead you down the right path.
Picking Out Promising Prospects - Now's the time to whittle down and turn your Big List into your Wish List. Use the below "Career Matching Shopping List" as a starting point for weeding out those careers that don't fit as well. If you hesitate on removing an item from your list, then let it stay for now. You can always do second and third run-throughs to keep narrowing down. Try to target 25 promising candidates for your Wish List. Each should fit well into all five of the shopping list categories: Desirable, Available, Affordable, Sustainable and Profitable.
Qualifying Leads - Time for the last step. But before you create your Action List, close your eyes and allow yourself a big, happy sigh as you imagine fulfilling everything on your Wish List.
For those of you who found the first two steps torturous, you'll like this part. Those of you who've had a lot of fun so far are probably going to have a faint sense of someone raining on your parade as you do this next part.
When you're done, your Action List should contain no more than or less than five (that's right, 5) of your first choices in career. Starting with your 25-item Wish List, rate each candidate with stars, giving 5 stars to careers that sound the most appealing and promising. Cross off the ones that score less than three stars. (Hint - most likely they will be careers you think you "ought" to do because someone else thinks it's a good fit for you or it feels like society expects it of you.)
With the 4- and 5-star candidates that now remain, do some serious research. Make calls, visit websites, talk with people, read books, compile information. Consider them all equally qualified until you find the deal-breaker in all but 5.
Congratulations! You've just followed the same three steps that recruiters follow when they're looking to fill a position. Except instead of being the interviewee, you're the interviewer! You completed 50% of your career exploration, and you're about ready to hire yourself a career using Career Planning. But first, proceed to Part III of this series, Planning a Profession to read about career planning as a method.