You know the neighborhood the house is in, but you don't know the
exact address. You end up driving around in circles for what seems like forever.
You finally give up and head home grumbling and wishing you had mapped your
route before leaving.
Entering the workforce without mapping out a career path first can
leave you feeling just as lost and disappointed. It may take you an eternity
to land your dream job. Or you may never even get it. Recent research shows
that half of all Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs. Beginning to
map out a career path while in school can help you avoid such unhappiness.
Terry Wasylak is a professional recruiter. "A career path is something
you plan and lay out so you have some kind of occupational focus and direction,"
he says. "Have a dream and lay out the goals that will take you to that dream."
Before you can plot a career path, you need to decide what career is best
suited for you, says Wasylak. "If it's not grounded in who you are, what your
skills are, what your attributes are, what your personality is and what your
priorities are, then you run the risk of making a bad career choice."
Choosing a career requires lots of self-awareness and self-assessment.
Students often choose majors and eventually careers that their parents want
them to pursue -- like medicine or law -- instead of those that really interest
them or suit their skills and needs.
"You really have to pick something that you enjoy doing," says Christina
Miranda. She is a human resources professional in New York. "That's something
a lot of people forget when they are picking a career path."
There are a few ways of discovering what you enjoy doing as well as your
abilities and values. Miranda suggests asking yourself what they are and making
If you are still clueless, Miranda says to visit career counselors. They
can conduct tests that evaluate your personality and predict which fields
are right for you.
There are also a number of similar inventories and quizzes on the Net,
according to Mary Beth Peterson. She is the director of a career development
Peterson says after assessing your personality, choose a career that best
suits it. For example, if you discover you love sports, you are an efficient
writer and you want a career with a decent salary, consider working as a public
relations officer for a major league sports team.
Once you have decided on a career, follow the appropriate schooling for
it. In other words, enroll in a major that will train you for that field.
That's the easy part.
Next comes researching the career to make sure it is really for you, adds
Peterson. Many websites offer detailed information and statistics on careers.
Shadowing a professional in your field and doing summer internships are good
"Go out and talk to people in your field as you're training," says Wasylak.
"Try to get some practical experience and work within your realm. If you have
an undergraduate degree in science with a major in biology and you want to
apply to med school, then get a job working as a lab assistant."
Miranda agrees this is a great way to make contacts who can get you a job
in your field once you graduate. She adds that by test driving a career, you
can also find out if it is something you are willing to do on a long-term
Don't worry if you have to try out more than one career before you find
your niche. In fact, studies show that college students change their majors
approximately three times.
"Don't be afraid to make a change, even if it means you have to go back
to school or you need to switch your major," Miranda insists. "Life is too
long to be unhappy at your job every day."
Wasylak agrees. "Even though you made a wrong occupational choice, it doesn't
mean you didn't develop a lot of skills in that endeavor that you can then
use in another occupation."
When do you finally graduate, you need to map out a career plan. Write
down the major goals that you want to accomplish at different points in your
"Your plan can't be too long range," says Peterson. "You can have an immediate
graduation plan, a five-year plan and even a 10-year plan. You have to keep
some of it open-ended because you never know what circumstances may change.
Your interests and values may even change."
A career plan is all about taking baby steps toward an ultimate goal or
dream. For example, if you want to become the CEO of a major department store,
you have to work in all the company's departments first, explains Miranda.
She warns that recent graduates should not reach for the stars when starting
out on their career paths.
"You're definitely not going to be the CEO of anything as soon as you graduate,"
she laughs. "Students who are coming out of school now want much higher salaries
and they want a lot of responsibility. Companies are getting tired of this
'I want to run the company' attitude from college students."
Consequently, a wise first move in any career path is to look for an entry-level
position in your field. That means scanning the classifieds and visiting company
websites that advertise job postings for beginners in your profession.
How do you know when it is time to move up a few rungs on the ladder?
"When you're not learning anything anymore," says Miranda. "When you can
do your job while daydreaming, it is time to move on."
Moving up and onward towards the goals you set out is fantastic. Yet you
should revisit your plan every year to make sure those goals are still important
to you, according to Wasylak. If you find your values and interests have changed
from year to year, you might have to adjust or rearrange your goals. However,
if your original plan and dreams are still appealing, stick with them.
"A career path often has a lot of forks in the road and a lot of U-turns,"
says Miranda. "It is not necessarily a straight path. There will always be
No matter how many times it may change, having a plan to help you stay
focused on your goals is better than letting chance drag you down a career
"Life is too short to let your career be decided by a whimsical crystal
ball," says Wasylak.