Thursday, August 4, 2011

Get Career Goals in Gear This Summer

From the Editors of The Real College Guide

Summertime … it’s for relaxing by the pool, road-tripping and -- if you’re lucky -- making some money. But summer is also a good time to chill out and think about your future career goals. We help put it in perspective, starting now, with eight simple rules:

Career Goal Rule No. 1: Figure out What You Enjoy
Do what you love.
It’s a phrase undergrads hear all the time -- because those four little words pack a lot of punch. “I definitely believe students should look for subjects and careers they love,” says Leslie Stevenson, director of the Career Development Center at the University of Richmond. “When you love something, your natural interest in the topic translates to enthusiasm and a willingness to invest more time in the area.” Don’t know what you love? More on that later, so read on. …

Career Goal Rule No. 2: Keep It Real
While most would agree that it is important to be passionate about your career, reel in your expectations to align with reality. Your hopes of being a professional athlete could be lofty, but consider segueing that passion into an area such as sports medicine or broadcasting. And even if the job of your dreams is attainable, it’s doubtful you’ll rise to the top of your field right out the gate. You want to be the next great American author? You might have to write your share of press releases, for example, before ever getting published.

Career Goal Rule No. 3: Be Forward-thinking
Prediction is an imperfect science. Just ask Wall Street. You never know what the future will hold after four years in college, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to look ahead. “In conjunction with pursuing something you’re passionate about, it also helps to pick a career with potential to grow -- especially in this current job market,” says former Fox News Channel entertainment editor and film critic Bill McCuddy. “Never hurts to be one step ahead of the game.”

Career Goal Rule No. 4: Pay Attention to People Around You
Talk to relatives, neighbors and friends of the family about their career decisions. Find out what they like about their jobs … and what they could live without. Are you really cut out for being chained to an office desk five days a week? Would you be more attuned to a position in which you could work from home? Or maybe outdoors? Are you a people person or do you prefer to work independently? We’re a little old to participate in Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, but you can make arrangements to shadow someone in your prospective industry to decide if you’re steering your career in the right direction.

Career Goal Rule No. 5: Think for Yourself
Just because you come from a lineage of lawyers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re destined to go into the family business. While it’s helpful to pick the brains of those around you, don’t let parents or friends coerce you into a career that you aren’t into, says career expert Sheila Curran of Curran Career Consulting and author of Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career. “Make the decision yours.”

Career Goal Rule No. 6: Take Stock of Your Work Experience
If you’re interning (or, say, working part-time as a clerk) in the industry that interests you, it’s likely you’ll be given mundane tasks that bore you -- and leave you thinking “This isn’t for me, after all!” But before you throw in the towel, tune into your environment. What are long-term employees doing? If you can, take the opportunity to talk to them about their roles. Sure, you don’t want to spend your life making copies. But have you noticed that Joe Executive gets to do a ton of business travel? Or how Jane Vice President garners loads of respect from her peers?

Career Goal Rule No. 7: Be Open to Changing Your Mind
In some cases, your career paths can take a drastic detour from your major -- and that’s OK. “Most careers can be pursued with any major,” says Curran. Take, for example, 2009 University of Virginia grad Brad Costella. Shortly after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, Costella traveled to London to attend culinary school and now dreams of being an executive chef: “I think it’s proof that having a solid degree under your belt is a stepping stone,” says Costella. “I’m following my real passion now.”

Career Goal Rule No. 8: Take Advantage of Everything College Has to Offer
If you’re still struggling to figure out your true passion, Curran recommends engaging yourself in the college experience: study abroad, do on-campus research and build relationships with professors and staff. “A college education happens everywhere -- in the classroom, through extracurricular activities, on the athletic field, through internships and beyond. Learning outside the classroom may prove to be more important to your career than the subject of your degree.”