The Cure for Career Confusion: Know What You Want in 5 Simple Steps

Dear Class of 2015,

You are creative, scary smart, good at communicating and collaborating, and interested in the world around you. Some of you have the good fortune of landing jobs and internships already, to the collective relief and admiration of, well, everyone! Others of you may feel stuck in a holding pattern—uncertain what you want to do or how to get paid for doing what you are good at.  This blog post is dedicated to The Stuck Ones—and comes from the collective wisdom of career coaches, recruiters and hiring managers who were once stuck too!

Getting UNstuck is a two-part process and involves doing things you’re already great at: communicating and synthesizing information from multiple sources.

  1. Get a career MRI
  2. UN-learn about career paths

What’s a Career MRI?negretealicia_1351756804_29

Like most of us, you probably look at yourself in the mirror every day (or more!)—and get used to seeing yourself a certain way. You are also used to comparing yourself with a population of similarly exceptional classmates  so you may lose sight of just how awesome you are! And, you may know who you are in the classroom, but have no idea who you’ll be in the workplace.

What you need is a multi-dimensional view of who you are and what you offer, from the perspective of your future colleagues and employers. Easy peasy!

Step 1: Take inventory.

  • Make a list of what you know well/have studied, your experiences, skills, interests, values and goals.
  • What projects and accomplishments were you most proud of (remember that macaroni necklace you made for Mom in kindergarten)?
  • Which experiences or conditions give you energy, where you perform best?
  • Which experiences or conditions suck your energy or make you underperform?
  • Which of your skills, interests, values and goals are most important to you in choosing your overall career path?

NOTE: If you’re not into writing this all down, you can whip up a digital storyboard using a free platform called Lifelaunchr (Lifelaunchr)—drag and drop photos and add some descriptive text to create a 1 page snapshot of who you are.

Step 2: Ask your people.

  • Ask friends, professors and family members how they see you: what they think you are particularly good at and any unique qualities you have. What are you NOT so good at?
  • They may point out something you missed.

Step 3: Take a test.

  • Though Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is industry standard, I prefer the new Fascination Advantage by Sally Hogshead (Fascination Advantage) because it uniquely reveals how others see you when you are at your best and worst and gives you fresh language for describing what makes you so great.
  • Another personality test, DiSC, does a great job of revealing who you are in the workplace—your preferences and priorities and how to work well with colleagues with different work styles. A free version is available at Free DiSC personality test but the full fat version is well worth the $35.95 price tag Classic DiSC Profile.

Congratulations! You know what makes you awesome, what you are best at and what gives you energy.

UNlearn About Career Paths

We all have preconceptions of different career paths and have been exposed to surprisingly few of them during the first 21 years of our lives. What we believe is conditioned by what our parents and other adults we know do for a living, what we’ve been exposed to in the media and what we’ve learned from our own work and volunteer experiences.

Your main challenge is to uncover new possibilities and challenge any misgivings you may have about certain types of work that may be a great fit for your skills.

Step 4: Take another test.

  • Use career exploration and assessment tools like O*NET (O*NET) to help you match your experiences, skills and interests with job descriptions.

Step 5: Talk to people. Lots of them.

  • Using personal networks (friends, family, peers, alumni) and social sites like LinkedIn, reach out to people  to get insights into career paths that are a potential match for you, including those you are reluctant to explore.
  • Talk to more than one, at multiple levels of seniority, for each path you are investigating to get a more complete perspective.

This last step can be intimidating for some, but remember: you’re not asking them for anything they cannot give for free. All you want is their perspective. Not a job, not a connection or even a reference. Just introduce yourself and your desire to know how to position yourself best for a particular career path. People will want to be helpful, especially if it takes just 15 minutes of their time. Be clear in your communication that your request is limited to a few insights based on their unique perspective.

Useful questions to ask:

  • People who have jobs you might apply for: what they studied in school, what made them choose this path, which skills and experiences have been most helpful to them on the job, why they think they were hired over other candidates and whether they want to stay on this path.
  • People who have more senior positions: what they studied in school, what they look for and value in employees who have the role you are considering and why. Ask explicitly about how your background might be perceived and which skills and experiences they consider most relevant. Find out if they would pursue this path if they had to do it all over again.

You will probably find that you have a great deal in common with people who have traveled paths you wouldn’t have considered. These conversations will help you uncover and prioritize opportunities that best fit your values, talents, workstyle prefereces and ambitions.

Boom! Consider yourself UNstuck—now you have options and direction!


Post by Lisa Noble (CLAS ’87). 

After graduating from University of Virginia (CLAS ’87), armed with a degree in psychology but lacking useful contacts and career direction, Lisa sweet talked her way into a succession of increasingly responsible jobs, from Educational Testing Director at The Johns Hopkins University to Senior Consultant at IBM to US Research Director at Bayer Healthcare and finally VP of Quantitative Insight at a WPP marketing consultancy. Her work over the past 14 years leading teams of young people, creating career paths and grooming them for their next employer or role has led her to start Career Connectors, LLC. There, she helps recent college grads and career changers discover, market themselves for and land great jobs

Read More: College

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended for You