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  • Writer's pictureNet Impact UCLA

Summer Career Series: Career Fit & Planning

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, it’s always a good time to be planning for your future career. It can be hard to know how to start thinking about your career and where to start looking for resources (trust us, we’ve been there!), so we’ve put together a few tips to help you out, regardless of where you are in the career planning process.

Why think about my career at all?

Things are no longer as straightforward as they used to be. 20 years ago, graduating from a reputable college meant getting a job straight out of college and climbing up a linear career path. However, with thousands of students graduating from college every year, there is an increasingly competitive job environment and hundreds of options to choose from, regardless of your background. To keep up with the current job market, planning ahead and having a sense of where you’re going can help you keep your head up and focus your efforts as you prepare for your future along with everyone else.

Planning your career also helps frame larger decisions surrounding your life. Whether it’s where you’re going to work or whether you want to pursue higher education, your career determines a lot of the actions that you take. Having a broad overview of where you want to go in your career makes decision-making for other aspects of your life easier.

Even if your career doesn’t mean everything to you, having career plans can help you develop a sense of purpose and self-confidence. It’s definitely nice to have an answer to one of the most important questions you can be asked as a college student, whether by family or by future employers.

Further reading on the importance of career planning: Why Career Planning is Important and How to Do It

How do I decide where I’m going?

That’s a tough question to answer. Career counseling centers can be vague and unhelpful at times and looking at what others are doing can lead to making decisions that may not reflect what you actually want to do with your career. We’ll provide you with 3 ways to think about career options.

1. The Keyword Approach (Thinking Bottom-Up)

What if you don’t really know where to start?

The keyword approach helps you understand where you are and where you need to go. Pioneered by Kristin Sherry of YouMap Profiles, the keyword approach asks you to list characteristics about yourself to inform your career choices in the future.

Firstly, consider where you are right now. What’s your employment status? What’s your background? What goals do you have for life? Taking some time to assess your current situation provides a foundation for your next steps.

From there, Sherry suggests writing 3 to 5 keywords that best describe you and what you want to do for each of the following categories:

  1. Skills that you enjoy doing - Soft or hard skills both count, but the key to a successful career is often that you like what you’re doing.

  2. Strengths that you possess - What things come easy to you? What positive attributes do you have?

  3. Industries of interest - Even if you’re not too sure about the details, what fields of work seem potentially exciting to you? Consider even the things that seem out of your reach or out of the ordinary; your interests do not have to be limited to what you may consider realistic at this time.

  4. Any credentials you may have or want to use - What skills do you get from your degree? What programs or certificates do you have that you find may be useful? What skills do you intend on getting in the near future?

Some other questions to consider that Sherry asks her clients to think about are:

  1. What type of work would you do if all your bills were paid and you had relatively unlimited money?

  2. If absolutely no obstacles stood in the way, what would you most like to achieve in your career?

  3. Do you feel as though you have a gift or a calling? How can you share this gift or best answer the call in a way that will fulfill you?

Once you have all of your answers, plug combinations of your keywords into search engines to see what positions or information you can find. Another option is to reach out to others that have some of the same characteristics as you on professional platforms like LinkedIn or through your alumni network.

Using the keyword approach allows you to build a list of options that you can then explore at your own pace.

2. The Personality Approach (Learning Who You Are To Figure Out Where You Need to Go)

As mentioned before, one of the keys to career success is finding work that fits who you are and what you enjoy doing. However, asking yourself “Who am I?” can be just as open-ended and daunting as figuring out a career. Our suggestion is to take personality assessments.

One of the most classic ones is Meyer-Briggs, which groups you into 1 of 16 personality types, based on how extroverted you are and how much you perceive, process, and implement information. Understanding your personality type can help you understand what general job profile would best suit your personality. 16 Personalities and Truity both provide Meyer-Briggs assessments for free and give you information on what things you should look for in a profession.

Not too sure about how much you want your personality to influence your career? Truity also provides an assessment that allows you to understand the kinds of tasks that you enjoy and how those tasks can be found in various careers.

Lastly, there’s the Holland Code test. Holland Codes are another way of classifying people according to their interests, and Dr. John Holland, the creator of the system, argues that all jobs fall roughly into 6 categories: realistic, investigative, artistic, helping, enterprising, and conventional. Each of these categories corresponds to a specific set of actions that takes place in jobs, and this method can be more open-ended than the Meyer-Briggs may be. Truity also provides a free Holland Codes assessment.

3. The Top-Down Approach (Reverse-Engineering Your Career)

Let’s say you have a profession decided. Maybe you want to be a neurologist or a CEO of a tech company or start your own business. All you have to do now is figure out how to get there.

For high-level goals, it helps to work backwards (and keep in mind that you can take this approach to anything you want to achieve). For example, let’s say you have decided you want to become upper management at a Fortune 500 company.

Think of each step towards that lofty goal as an iteration of the same process. You have to identify the following:

  • the position that comes before your goal

  • what projects or achievements you would need to accomplish to get to your goal

  • what skills you need

  • what relationships you will need to build to get there.

For example, to become upper management, you need to have implemented a project or initiative that helps the company achieve its organizational goals. For that, you need to

  • master technical skills that may include data analysis or anything else applicable

  • manage several teams, for which you need strong interpersonal and communication skills

  • have a strong network of contacts that sit at the level you want to be at in order to secure a position.

Now that you have an understanding of the level below upper management, you can put a label on that level; in this case, it may be manager or senior manager. From there, you can ask the same questions over and over until you reach your current position.

Answering the questions can be difficult, but finding information online about the things you have questions about can be easier. If you can’t figure out the steps before something far away in your career, like becoming upper management, then start from a lower position. Instead of upper management, you can think about the things it would take to be a general manager. Starting at a point you are more comfortable with exploring can make the whole process easier.

Overall, career planning can be overwhelming, but taking it one step at a time and figuring out who you are and what you want can provide you with direction and a sense of purpose.

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