Figuring out what you want to do for a living is no easy task. If I look at myself and the people around me, very few have a clear picture of what they want. So how do you go about the daunting task of applying to jobs when you don’t even really know what you want to do? Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith and give a job a try, but it definitely helps if you also try to think through who you are, what you enjoy doing, and what your skills are beforehand.
1) Get to know yourself
It all starts with getting to know yourself. If you’re not sure what you might be passionate about, start by thinking about what interests you. What do you read about, talk about, dream about? What topics are you hungry to learn more about? This will give you a good hint about what kinds of fields you are already drawn to and know a lot about.
Next, think about how you best think and interact with the world around you. Do you like thinking out loud and working with a lot of people, or do you prefer working in silence, by yourself? Do you like to dream about all the possibilities or would you rather be realistic and to the point? If you haven’t taken it yet, the Myers Briggs personality test is a great way to start answering these questions. It helps summarize the way you think, the things that drive you, and some of your strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, it provides some advice on careers that could be a good fit for your personality type.
Think about your soft and hard skills too—what are you naturally good at? What do you already know how to do, and what are you learning to do now? What career paths are commonly associated with your field of choice? College career advisors can often have good insight into this question.
It’s important to balance your passions with your skills. After all, you won’t be very happy if you pursue something that is highly interesting to you but for which you have little to no skill or talent. Doing well at your job is a great feeling (and gets you promotions); loving the idea of what you have to do but always giving a mediocre performance….not so much.
If you need some more suggestions, I recommend trying pymetrics’s games. Pymetrics assesses cognitive and personality traits using a series of quick neuroscience games. It’s designed to help companies find candidates whose cognitive and emotional make-up match their needs, but I found it to be helpful for me to learn about myself and get some career recommendations as well. Plus, it’s kind of fun and made me feel good about myself. Win-win.
2) Try some things out
I know I just told you to do some thinking, but sometimes, we feel so sure that we are either going to love or hate something; but we can’t really know until we try it. Like plantains—I hate bananas, and plantains belong to the very same family, so I knew they would taste terrible….but guess what: I finally tried them, and I actually really like them. We humans are weird like that (or maybe it’s just me). So, go for those internships while you can. Try the things you already think you like, and maybe try some other stuff too. Also, take electives outside your major that sound interesting. You never know what cool subject you might discover in that African Music or Women’s Studies class.
If you can’t find a way to get hands-on experience with something you’re drawn to, try talking to people who work in that field (leverage your mentors, family and friends’ connections, LinkedIn, professors, etc). Learn about the day-to-day, the really cool parts of the job, and the not-so-cool ones too. It’s important to know what you might be getting yourself into.
3) What do you care most about?
Think through what’s important to you now, and what will be important to you later, and try to map out a path that could meet these criteria. And don’t be afraid to ask others for help. These are the most common things that people care about when picking a job:
Challenge (constant learning)
Impact (feeling valuable/making a difference)
Growth (career progression)
Culture (having friends and being happy at work)
Perks (insurance, grad school...etc)
However, depending on where you are in your life, your ranking of these will change. Therefore, we recommend ranking these from most important to least important and using your ranking to guide you when making career decisions. Make sure that you go through the three why’s when ranking these.
For example, for me right now - I mostly care about impact, challenge, and culture. I’m in my 20’s so I want to ensure that I am learning as much as possible so that I can put myself in a position to positively impact the world while simultaneously liking the people I work with and feeling happy in my day to day life. However, I’m sure that once I’m married and have children, my priorities will change and I may care more about work life balance.
Maybe you care about something that is not on this list at all- if that’s the case then feel free to add that and rank it. The whole point is just to have some type of list to keep your priorities organized so that you can clear your thoughts and make good decisions.