At the beginning of my career, I was like a kid in a candy shop. My eyes were wide with excitement as I looked at all the opportunities! I wasn’t sure what career path I really wanted to take; I just knew I was hungry and felt like I needed a strategy.
When I volunteer with students and Young Professionals, I get so many questions about what jobs they should look for and which are the best. My advice, as canned as it sounds, is always the same: You’ll never know what you like until you find out what you don’t. Take the end-user job that sounds cool; maybe it’s perfect for you. Try consulting; maybe that’s your thing. Apply for a PhD; maybe research is your calling. You’ll never know until you try it. When you find your calling, something that deeply motivates you, look around. If your aim is to be a leader one day, your current leaders should be who you strive to be in 5 to 10 years.
Brody J. Stara, CPIP
When you start to plan a career road map, it can be very daunting. Your first step could be a simple search on a recruiting website. It can turn up hundreds of jobs, so use keywords to narrow down your scope to find roles that match the leaders you look up to. On a job posting, you’ll find basic requirements—the minimal prerequisites you need in order to be considered for the position. What do you need to be able to meet those? Is it simple on-the-job training or a certification? Will you need an advanced degree? Will you need cross-training with different groups or departments? Work with your manager to identify how to get those experiences and find out if your company can provide support. Sometimes, the basic qualifications can be assignments in specific areas, and your manager can advocate to get you a cross-functional project.
"You’ll never know what you like until you find out what you don’t. Take the end-user job that sounds cool; Maybe it’s perfect for you."
For those of us who like to plan really far ahead, the position might be a stretch from what you currently do. Look for intermediate roles that will help you get specific experience. Maybe you need management or operations experience that you can’t get as an engineer or scientist.
Once you’ve identified these future roles and responsibilities, try networking with the people who are already there. Set up an informal one-on-one meeting with that person or the manager. These discussions are a great way to learn about a position without the stress that comes with an interview; you can also find out if the role is everything you thought it would be.
By reaching out to new people and getting to know them and their roles, you start to build your network. This is why it’s still important to make a good impression in these one-on-one meetings. Be tactful with your requests, have researched questions that are information seeking, and remember to think about what you’re asking from their perspective as well. You’re seen as an interested candidate who might apply, so this could be your first chance to impress. Be prepared to talk about what applicable skills you have, as well as ones you may still need for the position. If you aren’t qualified for the job, find out what experiences a strong candidate would need.
Lastly, and I cannot recommend this enough, send a thank-you note! This person just took time out of their busy day to take a chance and talk to you, so let them know that you appreciate it. Stay in touch with the people you get along with; you might have just met a mentor.
If this whole thing seems wildly overwhelming, or you’ve just found out that a certain track/role isn’t for you, don’t worry. You’re just starting out, so you’re bound to change your mind multiple times. And, as I said earlier: You’ll never know what you like until you find out what you don’t.
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