Thursday, February 5, 2009

Choose your market

I'm not talking about choosing where to buy your groceries. I'm talking about putting a little thought into where you want to end up when you get out of college. So many students come rifling out of college with degrees in hand and no idea where to land. This is partially because career services offices are not doing a good job, but also because students often fail to think about what's happening around them.

Take myself for example, once I finally decided on a degree in undergrad I thought my work was done and the rest would fall into place when I had the coveted diploma. Wrong. In order to realize where you want to be when your done with school you need to see where the economy is going. What's hot and what's not. This is a very speculative process and involves a little risk, but what in life doesn't, right? I realized this just in time to catch the hot market, or what will be when I finish Law School-environmental law. To find yours I suggest this:

(1) Use the web. Start seeing what kind of careers are out there in your specialty area, or more importantly, what type of job (arena) you want to build your life around. Blogs are great for this, here is a good one.

(2) Find the top three areas within your preferred "landing strip" that are most important. For example my interest was in the environment the leading sectors for environmental jobs are: government (EPA, etc.), non-profit organizations (Sierra Club, etc.) and private sector jobs (law firms, and "green start-ups" for example). After you identify these areas do some research on what each sector is like in comparison with what you are seeking in your career (pay, team or singular responsibilities, research skills, social responsibility, etc.) After you do that you should be able to eliminate at least one sector from your running.

(3) Network within your chosen arenas. I know this part sounds like the worst part but it's actually really easy. The opportunity to network is best captured while you are in school. Professors are goldmines for this, talk to them outside of class, you will enjoy it trust me. Talk to professors that you don't have class with. Look for ways to get out in the community and test the waters. For me, this meant going to community meetings where environmental topics were at issue these bring together a wide range of interests, if your shy its best to approach someone you thought was of interest at the end (that's what I did). Email people you really idolize; you'd be surprised who will respond and care. (Ex. I had to write a paper and emailed a scholar who's blog I am a fan of and lo and behold, he has been helping me with the whole thing and opened multiple doors for me, cool thing is we've never met!).

(4) Ask for mentors, this is huge. It is important because it will be a skill that you carry over into your professional life. Employers want people who are ready to take on challenges, but also respect the process. That means you have to realize that you have a lot to learn. Getting a mentor is a great way to do this, even if they are not at your chosen place of work or even chosen profession. It is important to remember that this step is one that you fully maintain, so it helps both show and build responsibility.

(5) Ask tough questions. It is important that you ask the questions that are important to you, and sometimes this is hard to do. It is important that you get a feel for what the profession is like so that you can really tell if it is for you or not. This means asking about people's level of happiness with thier job and reflections about the market's future. Also, ask tough questions of yourself, don't just follow the herd, imagine your life and make it happen.

These tips are just a few things to get you thinking about where you are going to end up when you change lanes to the real word.

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