Melanie Buford, Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Career Development Center, University of Cincinnati
Dan Blank, a career coach who works primarily with creative professionals, offers the following advice in his webinar “Take Back Your Creative Life.”
“Career goals should not be formed in isolation. You must take into account all of your responsibilities (personal and professional), and be sure to account for your own well-being. This includes physical and mental health.” Blank encourages his clients to integrate their career and personal goals in order to set themselves up for success.
Many undergraduate students start their career decision-making process by selecting a major based on the subjects they enjoyed in high school. Students interested in majoring in one of the applied sciences tend to follow this pattern. Several students I’ve worked with tell me they’ve chosen to major in engineering because they were “smart” in high school or strong in math and science, but they don’t know much about the field itself. Time and again, these students arrive at the career development center wondering why they’re not more interested in the engineering coursework and field experiences.
The problem isn’t engineering. The problem is that these students formed career goals in isolation. They didn’t consider the environment they’d be working in, the physical location of their organization, the skills they enjoy developing and want to build on, or the ways they hope to grow as people and as professionals. Fortunately, the University of Cincinnati provides a co-op program that allows engineering students to get full-time work experience before graduation.
Career goals, increasingly, need to be formed holistically. Gone are the days when choosing a career was simply a matter of matching your best school subject to an industry. The market is volatile; new opportunities are being created and other avenues are becoming less viable. A law career isn’t the safe choice it once was, and the nonprofit world has expanded to include diverse organizations tackling new social issues. It’s more common that professionals will relocate to a new city for a job opportunity, and more workers than ever are changing jobs and moving to new sectors over the course of their careers.
We are facing the so-called “paradox of choice.” Research has demonstrated that if we are presented with more opportunities, decision-making becomes more difficult and satisfaction less likely.
When a student steps into a career development office today, they’re faced with a much broader set of options than they would have been 30 years ago. They could go to medical school in their hometown or they could spend two years in the Peace Corps and teach grade school students in Lithuania. They could go to graduate school for computer science or launch a start-up with friends based on their ideas for a new app.
In order to make these decisions, students have to consider not only what talents they have, but what kind of life they want to lead.
It is critical, therefore, that students take a holistic approach to developing their career goals. We encourage them to apply this lens both to themselves and to the field they’re considering. Here are a few questions students should consider during the career exploration process:
What skills do I have and want to develop?
What type of work environment might best fit my temperament?
What type of diversity do I hope to have in my work environment?
How is the industry I’m considering expected to evolve in the next few decades?
What city, state, or country might I want to live in?
What have my career goals been and how have they changed?
What role would I like technology to play in my career?
How important is stability to me and how willing am I to take risks?
Each of these questions will take time to answer as students develop more clarity on their identities and values. Is it any wonder career goals formed at age 18 often feel premature? These are questions we wrestle with throughout our lives.
To me, this only underscores the importance of committing to a continuous career development process, not just for students, but for graduates. Attempting to build your life looking only through a narrow lens of career is bound to work against your happiness. We must support students around this process by acknowledging its complexity and encouraging them to consider the multiple implications of a potential career path.
NACE members can pick up a student-directed version of this blog, Develop Your Career Goals Holistically, in Grab & Go.
Blank, Dan. (2015). Take Back Your Creative Life Webinar. We Grow Media.
Cole, Marine. (2014). U.S. Job Market Has Changed Dramatically in 15 Year. The Fiscal Times. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/05/15/How-US-Job-Market-Has-Changed-Dramatically-15-Years
Hedges, Kristi. (2012). The Surprising Poverty of Too Many Choices. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/11/26/the-surprising-poverty-of-too-many-choices/.