My College:
Career Prep

Parents, Students, Grads: Is It Time to Reassess Your Career Choice?

Guest Contributor

Current college students, recent graduates and even their parents may feel discouraged or stuck when they discover that their dream job or choice of academic major — the one they invested years of education in and perhaps accumulated a pile of student debt for — just isn't what they thought it would be.

If you're the parent of a college-bound student, you may be concerned right now that your current job will not generate enough income to send your child to college. But it's never too late to pivot to a career that will bring you both a comfortable income and personal satisfaction.

With the layoffs and furloughs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, some might feel grateful just to have any job or fear that changing careers could mean taking on added debt. But the truth is, now might be the perfect time to reassess exactly what you really want to do for the rest of your life — especially if you've been laid off or had your hours cut.

First off, a career change doesn't necessarily mean dumping more money into education to develop a whole new set of skills. It may just mean reassessing your skills and interests to find out what career will best fit you in the long run.

With the average college graduate burdened by $29,200 in student debt, the prospect of changing careers and starting over may seem impossible. In reality, though, people do best at their jobs and reach a higher earning potential when they actually enjoy what they're doing. That's why it's important to find a "best fit" career — one that integrates natural abilities, skills, interests, values, goals, family background and personal style.

You can dip your toe into the water by taking one of the free online courses offered by companies like Coursera. Or volunteer for an organization where you can try out a new career. Both options will cost you only in time and could give you an idea of what you want to do without having to go all in.

If you're not sure where to even begin, it's best to start with a full assessment of your abilities and interests.

First, look at your natural abilities.

These are attributes you were born with and can perform with relative ease. Understanding your natural abilities and having the opportunity to use them in a career is often connected to higher overall career success and happiness.

There are four key dimensions related to natural abilities which will help you assess your "fit" with a chosen career opportunity:

  • Your personal style, which includes your preferred working environment (teams versus solo, open space versus office, etc.) and preferred roles and responsibilities (leader versus support, sales versus analysis, etc.)
  • How you best solve problems or address opportunities, whether it be through generating ideas; creating and managing processes; "connecting the dots" of ideas, concepts, and relationships; or envisioning concepts versus tangible issues
  • How you best learn, either through reading, hearing or by physical doing/making
  • How you best communicate, whether it be through one-on-one or in large or small groups

Your natural abilities and the four key dimensions help you select best-fit roles and responsibilities (aka job titles) that will help ensure sustainable job performance and satisfaction.

Second, assess your unique personal attributes.

People are more than their job titles. We strive for harmony between our career and personal lives. It's not enough to understand what natural abilities may propel us to higher performance — we need to integrate other critical parameters of our lives.

Aside from our natural talents, we bring our interests, personal values, family background, goals, experience, personal style and skills with us. Combining these helps define what work/life balance means for us as individuals and from there we can target best-fit career opportunities. Employers hire based on knowledge and experience, but remember that the "whole person" shows up for work!

There are hundreds of free, online assessment tools to help you uncover your unique personal attributes. Complete a mix of objectively measured (timed) assessments and subjectively determined assessments, and then add the insights from this exercise to your career search tool box.

Third, come up with a career vision statement.

A career vision statement will not only outline what you want from a job but also what kind of work/life balance is right for you. A few examples of career vision statements from include:

  • To touch the lives of as many people as possible, empowering them to achieve personal and career happiness and success. I plan to achieve this through one-on-one learning situations (teaching and coaching); creating and publishing empowering and uplifting web content (career college success wellness); and developing and leading inspiring workshops.
  • I will become a leader in my organization, helping transform it into an organization that respects all its stakeholders — while at the same time being the best husband and father I can be.
  • To become the best OB/GYN, I will conduct cutting-edge research to help improve the lives of women around the country — and around the world. I plan to achieve this by completing multiple residencies and learning from the world's leading experts on women's health issues. I will push myself past my limit to extend current thinking into new paradigms in partnership with national and international health organizations.

Fourth, take everything you've learned about yourself to target optimal career choices.

Actions involve scheduling an informational interview with a leader in the career you're considering or, for recent graduates or current students, seeking out an internship in that field. It's all about testing the water before you jump in.

A career counselor can help you on the path to figuring all this out. Ideally, a career assessment should be part of a high school student's plan to find their "best fit" college. Having a clear understanding of their interests, abilities and work styles ahead of time can put them on the right path sooner, saving them both time and money.

But remember, it's never too late to make a change. Our interests and priorities evolve throughout our lives. It's not about sticking to one route. It's about laying out a flexible plan that shifts and changes but still moves forward to the ultimate goal — a satisfying and profitable career.

Ray Giese is an advisor with My College Planning Team in the Chicago area.
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