Each year millions of students graduate from college, earning either two-year or four-year degrees. You read that right, millions of students graduate with degrees each year. In a recent article in the Washington Post, it was estimated that only about 27% of those graduates will be working in the field of their degrees. That’s less than a third of graduates who end up working in jobs that have something to do with the degree they just spent years and thousands of dollars pursuing. What’s more, more than 40% will be working in jobs that don’t even require a degree! To graduate and begin working only to realize that your work is not at all related to the degree you worked years to earn, or that your work doesn’t even require a degree, is a painful moment, and that’s before considering the burden of the student loan debt that you may have just accrued.
What if you could prevent that by just investing a few hours of your time? You would. Wouldn’t you?
You will need to spend a little time narrowing down your career choices using some specific criteria. This process is going to require some honest self-reflection and some research.
First, make yourself a list titled “Jobs I am Currently Considering”. If you have no ideas and nothing to write down, this is when career assessment tools can help you identify some jobs/careers that may be a good fit for you and that you can explore further. There are plenty of career assessments online and there are also people dedicated to helping you with this process in high school and college counseling offices, at local vocational centers, and in private counseling offices that specialize in career coaching.
Beside each job on your list, answer the question, “Why am I considering this job?” (Think about all the reasons you have put this job on your list. What draws you to it? Why do you think you would be good at it? Are you considering it because someone in your family thinks you should do it/ wants you to do it/ wishes they had done it? Do you like the idea of it? Is it the salary that appeals to you? Does it fit some desire you have for your lifestyle? And so on…) You may find you decide to cross a few jobs off your list after thinking through these questions.
Next, ask yourself, “Is this job a fit for my personality type?” (Again, this is where career assessment tools can be very helpful in identifying careers that fit your work personality and help you to eliminate careers that are not a good fit.) You also need to consider how each job might fit your vision for your life. Is the salary sufficient to support the lifestyle you desire? How many hours will you need to work on average each week? Does this fit with your desires for free time or family time? What will this job be like if you have children or need to care for an aging parent? All these questions should help you narrow down your list again.
With your revised list, you can now begin to consider what it will take to get each of the jobs still on your list. Does the job require a certain degree or training? How much time will that take? Can you get into such a program? What will it cost? Are you willing to invest that time/money? This may help you refine your list again.
Now, let’s examine this list from another angle. You have just determined that you are willing to invest the time/money that is required to work toward the careers left on your list. But we want to consider what they call in the financial world the “ROI”, or Return on Investment. Let’s say you have decided to pursue a career that requires a 4-year degree. You have determined that this degree will cost you 4 years of time and roughly $80,000 in intuition. What you want to consider is how much you will make in this new career (there is a lot of information about salary for various careers online) and does this merit spending $80,000 (and four years of lost income if you were spending that education time working)? One way to calculate this is to multiply the amount you can make per hour now in the job you have (or a job you could get with your current education level/experience) by the average number of work hours per year (which is about 2,080). Then you can compare this to the salary you could make with your new education/training/career and you will see how long it will take to “pay for” your education and start making a true profit from your new position.
You also need to consider the job market for the careers you are considering. You were just analyzing the “ROI” of pursuing each career based on how much you could earn, but you also need to know how many jobs in that career are typically available. This is often referred to as “career demand”, and again, you can easily find lots of information about the demand for jobs/careers you are considering online. What you want to know is that there is a demand for the job you are pursuing and hopefully that the demand is growing. You definitely want to think very carefully about pursuing a career where the demand is shrinking or a career that will be heavily impacted by rapidly changing technology.
Finally, you need to spend some time talking to people about what it is really like to work in the job/career/positions you have narrowed down to your “shortlist”. (There should be about 1-3 jobs still on your list. If you have 5 or more, you need to redo the steps above.) Try to find some people you know who are working in your target jobs so you can ask them all the questions you may have and see if the job truly is what you imagine it to be. You may have family friends or friends of friends who can help you with this process. Think outside the box. (For more about meeting with people in your target career, read this post Could a Cup of Coffee Change Your Career Path). This is an important step to gather all the remaining details and insight before you commit yourself to your new career adventure.
As you move forward from this point, you have done all the footwork to determine that you are drawn to the career for the right reasons, that it fits with your vision for your life, that it fits your work personality, that you are prepared to dedicate the time and money to pursue it, that it is a good return on your investment, that there is a demand for it, and that you have a realistic idea about what it will be like on a day to day basis. You have set your career path to be the best fit for you and you have successfully avoided becoming a statistic. Job well done.
George Martin, Head of Customer Relations for Careerfitter.com
George has been with Careerfitter for over a decade providing unparalleled leadership in customer relations for over one million users each year.