As a new or recent college graduate, you’ve got a long career path ahead of you. First-time job seekers will likely spend the next 50 years in the workforce, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to find a career and job that is motivating and exciting.
After college, people often wait too long to start thinking about the process of finding a career and creating the life they want to live. As a career coach, I’ve had many young graduates come to me in May and when I ask them what they want to do, they say that they just want a job. They haven’t yet given their job search a deep level of thought, although that’s really the starting point of a successful career.
When it comes to being successful and exceling in a career, it’s not all about intelligence. During my tenure in human resources with The Gillette Company, I ran the national college recruiting program and we commonly recruited at Ivy League schools to find new talent. While they all came highly educated and experienced, some become more successful than others.
What separated the high performers from the rest of the pack was focus. Some people had a crystal clear vision of what they wanted to do with their life, and as a result they had passion. This passion provided the fuel they needed to go out and achieve at an elite level, and be happy.
As soon as the cap and gown comes off this May, many students will default to scrolling through the endless array of online job postings, unsure of what they are hoping to find and applying furiously to jobs.
While it’s important to start the job hunt as early as possible, students should be prepared. Before mounting a full-fledged online job search, there is a better starting point: self-reflection and analysis. You need to find a peaceful area to sit, look internally and figure out what skills are in your portfolio. The key is to determine the answers to two simple, although very challenging, questions:
1) What is it that you like to do?
2) What is it that you do best?
These questions should be applied to all of your experiences: current and past jobs, academics, community service, hobbies and even sports. The skills that you apply in one endeavor may very well be applicable in another. As you think about what these things are, write them down on a sheet of paper.
Once completed, you need to organize your answers in to four different categories using what I call the Strategic Career Matrix™.
Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants. In one box you should list all the things that you like to do that you also do well – these are your “passions.” Label two of the other boxes “opportunities.” One should contain the things that you do well and don’t enjoy and the other vice versa. The last box is the “Danger Zone” which contains things that you don’t do well and you don’t like to do. Obviously, jobs that require these functions should be avoided.
Knowing what skills you can bring to your job is the first and most important step in managing your career. Believe it or not, many people never take the time to figure it out. Doing so will put you miles ahead of the majority of people who are already in the workforce. This doesn’t mean that you won’t make mistakes or transition through a couple different jobs. You will, however, begin your career search from a much more informed and deliberate mindset. In an interview, you’ll be able to answer truthfully WHY a particular job is right for you – and that makes all the difference.
On a final note, while your career search begins with introspection, it is always helpful to have some outside evaluation too. I was in the wrong job for a number of years early in my career until the goalie on my recreational hockey team told me I would be a good fit in HR and jumpstarted my career path.
Family members and friends can provide valuable advice, but make sure they are helping you pursue your goals, not their own. If you are not sure who to turn to, don’t be afraid to seek out a top-rated career coach in your area. Given the average length of careers these days, it could well be the investment of a lifetime!
Bob Kustka is a Boston-based career coach and the author of The Hire Ground: An Insider’s Guide to Finding a Career.