It is said that most people change careers at least three times in their lifetimes. That might sound overwhelming, but consider that it covers everyone in this country – from folks with a high school education or less to those with a PhD; from those in business management to those teaching graduate classes at top universities. It includes part-time and full-time workers; it includes those who work in a traditional office setting and those who work in nontraditional locations. It even covers those who work for others vs. those who are self-employed.
Because career planning today offers such a wide variety of occupational choices, it would take a complete lesson for each possible job to give you a full picture. That’s why, in this series of lessons on careers, we’ll offer an overview of some of the most popular choices. We’ll try to clarify the differences between educational preparation needed for specific areas, disciplines, and even occupations.
Now, some career planning tools and questions are consistent throughout the labor market: those are the ones we’ll cover in this lesson. The common theme is to determine which occupation is right for you! They involve ways to gather information about potential choices, ways to gather information about yourself and your likes, dislikes, and aptitude, and general ways to approach career planning.
LEARNING ABOUT YOURSELF
One of the first pitfalls that people fall into when planning a career is to start out with the careers instead of with themselves. As we all know, most of us can easily fool ourselves into believing certain things – often about our own personalities, attitudes, aptitudes, and characters. If you start with specific careers, you might end up narrowing your choices based on various opinions such as what you THINK you are good at, rather than what you actually ARE good at.
So make sure to start your career planning by better understanding yourself: your own needs, likes, dislikes, goals, plans, character, personality, and so on. Throughout the entire process, make sure to remember that life has a way of changing our best plans. You might begin training or education, take a class for fun, and find that your love for the new subject changes your plans. Or you might fall in love and get married, knowing that years of medical school, internships, and residency programs might not be the best thing for your new relationship.
To start the process, then, ask yourself some basic questions about YOU:
- What is your current life situation? If you choose a career that requires additional education, would you need to work as well? Full or part-time? Will you soon be looking after babies, children, or even elderly parents that might require more time than some occupations will allow?
- What are your general plans in life: marriage, big family, no children, freedom to travel, early retirement, etc.? What income range would be acceptable to fulfill those goals?
- What are your personal values or ethics? For example, are you religious? Do you care tremendously about the environment? Do children always come first? Are the underprivileged classes near and dear to your heart?
- How do people fit your work style preferences? That is, do you prefer to work alone or in groups? Do you like dealing with people or do you wish they would all go away and leave you alone to get your work done? Are coworkers okay, but you dislike dealing with the general public?
- Are you more traditional and prefer structure or do you like surprise and variety? For example, would self-employment be an option for you? Do you want consistent daily activities that you can learn and become expert at or do you prefer constant change and learning new things?
- What are you good at vs. what subjects seem to immediately construct a mental block in your brain the minute you even think about them?
Once you have answered these questions, rate them from the most important to the least. Far too many people choose something less important as their main criteria in a career planning search. The most common one is pay. Of course we are all impressed with visions of dollar signs, but be realistic – if you want to be able to take time off whenever you want during hunting season in the Autumn, you probably don’t want to go into teaching, where Autumn is the beginning of new school year. If spending time with family and friends is very important in your life, you probably don’t want to be an Accountant during the first few months of the year or a Biomedical Engineer who will need to spend long hours in the lab.
You can use many different resources for answering some of these questions – don’t just depend upon your own judgment, although that’s always the place to start. Remember, we often fool ourselves into believing things about ourselves that aren’t quite true. For a more accurate answer, consider asking friends, family, and current and previous coworkers about what you are like, and try out some aptitude tests at the local community college or university. You can also find many of these for free at different websites, but take the results from various websites with a grain of salt. The more formal testing at colleges is likely to be more accurate because the personnel have probably been trained in the area of counseling and testing and the tests themselves are standardized and have been through many revisions cycles to make them the best they can be. After you have determined what you need and want out of a career, THEN begin investigating some of your possible choices to see how well they match.
LEARNING ABOUT CAREERS
NOW you can make a list of some of your potential choices, and begin to investigate each one – ask the same types of questions about the career as you did of yourself. Also consider how the field is changing, as well as some basic questions that are pretty common to most occupations, such as pay scale and arena.
One important point to consider with any potential career is how it is changing over time. Modern “marvels” have changed the face of much the labor market, the most obvious being technology, computers, and the Internet. The Age of Information has not only opened new career and occupational choices, it has impacted virtually every career available today. Knowledge of standard computer operations such as word processing, spreadsheets, email, and the Internet have become decidedly soft job skills as opposed to hard ones these days. Assisting in the creation of a global economy, the Internet has also provide astounding opportunities for “virtual” offices and outsourcing that were never before possible. Similarly, technology has changed the face of communication completely, and speed has become one of the key goals of customer service as a result.
To begin the investigation process on career choices, understand that “career” is a broader term that includes many specific “occupations” within each one. Each career might include several disciplines, levels, or both. For example, Engineering careers fall within many disciplines such as Chemical, Nuclear, Aeronautic, etc. Another important point to consider about any potential career is whether you would prefer to specialize in a particular discipline or attain cross-training and become multidisciplinary. Again, it all depends upon two things: how well the career, disciplines, and occupations you are considering match your needs and how well you will be able to fit the needs of the labor market. A multidisciplinary approach allows you more opportunities and variety, but do keep in mind that, usually, it also requires more education.
Careers also include different levels of educational requirements. Again, using Engineering as an example, most actual engineers have a minimum of a four-year university degree, but designers, drafters, technicians, and so on might have received their educations at trade schools or even through on-the-job training. And that’s not even considering tangent occupations and careers such as Quality Control Specialists or management. Interestingly, various “lower” levels in certain disciplines and careers are paid as much – and sometimes more than – what are commonly considered “upper” levels. So don’t automatically assume anything about a particular occupation or career. Investigate it, instead – you might be surprised at the opportunities, and you might realize a way to create your own innovative niche!
The rest of the lessons in this series should give you some basic places from which to start. We try to give an overview of the above elements for various common careers and occupations. Make sure to ask questions about each possible occupation that will shed light on how they might affect the most important criteria you determined when learning about yourself. Let’s try to group the questions you might ask about a particular occupation into categories:
- Labor Arena – Here you want to find out what areas are available in which to work: government, business and industry, and teaching are the most common.
- Remuneration – In this group of questions, you should see what the standard pay scales are, as well as elements such as whether benefits, advancement opportunities, or horizontal shifts (to management, sales, etc.) are available.
- Atmosphere – these are many of the same questions you asked yourself: does it allow both working for others and being self-employed? Is it people or paper oriented? What are the day-to-day activities like? Are a lot of travel or long hours required? Will you be inside or outside?
Now, hopefully, you are on the final leg of figuring out some viable choices for a career. Take the most important items from your own list and compare them to the information you have found out about the various career and occupational choices you investigated. FIND THE MATCHES! And then gain more knowledge about those.
Ways to gain experience and knowledge about potential matches are usually pretty easy to find:
- Public Information – Most colleges have very detailed occupational guides, but you can also find a wide range of information and detail online and in magazines. For example, U.S. News and World Report puts out a yearly guide as to pay scales that can be expected for that year’s college graduates in a variety of fields.
- Shadow – Find someone actually performing the occupation you are interested in and gain permission to follow them throughout a typical day. This works even better if you can extend it through a full week or two.
- Internships – Especially in the government arena, unpaid internships are quite common venues for gaining experience in a particular occupation while investigating it. However, business and industry has a wide range of internships as well.
- Apprenticeships – Don’t forget that many established Masters in trade fields will offer apprenticeships to people wanted to learn more about that specific trade. One of the benefits of this route is that often they are paid positions.
- Volunteer Work – Never overlook the possibilities of volunteering within the general career area that you are considering. The possibilities are virtually endless.
For a teaching lesson plan for this lesson see:
Career Planning Lesson Plan – Lesson 1