How to identify your career path

I like to grow flowers and plants, should I major in horticulture and make it my career? I tinker on my dad’s car, should I study mechanical engineering and design cars for a living? There are many questions college students ask themselves about the direction of their career path.

Take the time to assess your strengths and passions when deciding on a career. (Credit: Therese Schwenkler)

Take the time to assess your strengths and passions when deciding on a career. (Credit: Therese Schwenkler)

Consult a mentor or guidance counselor for the job requirements needed for your chosen field. Here is some advice about identifying your dream career and targeting your academics and college major to get where you want to go.

Identify your dream career

It might take a full freshman year of electives in a variety of disciplines to discover what you like and what you’re good at. Or maybe you already know going into school what you want to make your career. Take time to assess your strengths and career passions. To help you decide what path to take, Adrian Granzella Larssen offers “9 Questions That’ll Help You Find Your Dream Career,” posted October 22, 2013, at The Daily Muse. Here are a few questions appropriate for college students or recent college graduates:

• If I could choose one friend to trade jobs with, I’d choose _____, because _____.

• I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do _____. It’s interesting to me because _____.

• If I had the right education or skill set, I’d definitely try _____, because _____.

• My friends always say I’m great at _____, because _____.

• If I had a free Saturday that had to be spent “working” on something, I’d choose _____, because _____. 

After answering the questions, look for patterns of things you like to do: I like to do sports, I’m good with my hands, I like to design things, I like to work outdoors.

Setting goals

The next step is to outline step by step how you want to achieve your goals. Consult your advisor or ask the department head of the field you want to study to identify all the classes you’ll need to graduate in that field. After you have a list of classes, you can take other steps to keep you on the right path. The University of Memphis offers these suggestions in “Target Your Career Plans”:

• Participate in activities and volunteer work that will enhance your skills and enable you to establish a solid background of experience.

• Build a network of peers who share your same aspirations.

• Get to know a mentor who can guide and encourage you in your career path.

Track trends in your field

Even while you’re still in school, track trends in your chosen discipline, especially if it’s a field that evolves quickly, such as medicine and computer programming. Researching career opportunities in your field now will help you learn and understand job requirements, expectations, and even salary ranges.

Also learn about the characteristics of the people who do the job you’re interested in: Does the job require people who are individualistic or team players, dreamers and shakers or restrained and single-minded? Do you need to be articulate and scholarly or enthusiastic and a risk taker?

Develop your accomplishments

Now it’s time to start building your resume and experiences. Volunteer, get a part-time or summer job, or intern in your chosen field. These will provide actual examples from your life that you can impart to interviewers and potential employers. No amount of work, paid or unpaid, will be a waste of time or effort. Everything related to your discipline is good experience to help you see how the job is done and to get your feet wet. In “Selling Yourself Through Accomplishments,” Career Management Resources online suggests building your list of accomplishments:

• I have a 3.8 GPA.

• I was chair of my school committee / I was valedictorian / I was class president/vice president/treasurer.

• I completed a special project.

• I built a car engine myself.

• I published a short story.

• I spent a semester in France.

• I helped my friend open a business.

• I developed a new, faster, better, cheaper way of doing something.

• I made or exceeded my sales goal.

• I made a training video.

• I was the first person to try such-and-such.

What are some other ways to determine what career path is right for you?

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