We all asked ourselves this when we were kids: What should I be when I grow up? When you were finishing high school, the question was all the more urgent as you decided where to go to college. Now, graduation is around the bend and uncertainty is inevitable. A lucky few of you loved your major, aced your classes and have no doubts that you want to be a [insert profession here]. But even then, there are unanswered questions: Do I need to go to graduate school? Should I do an internship? What if working in my field isn’t as glamorous as I imagined?

And for others, your major was a bore, but you were too far in to change it. Perhaps you went with something that would make your parents happy. Or, you were overwhelmed with all the options so you randomly chose something. For you, graduation may feel like a scary ending to the safe life of a college student.

Maybe instead of, “What should I be…” you should ask yourself, “What can I be?”

You are at a crossroads and it’s time to explore. Explore whether your major will lend itself to a fulfilling career. Explore the possibilities of graduate school. Explore career options that you may not have thought about before. With a little dedication, time and direction, you will find a path towards a successful future. The prospects are unlimited.

1. Talk to people. If you know someone that has a cool job, set up informational interviews. This is not the same as an interview; it is a low pressure and informal meeting to gather information. Buy her a cup of coffee and ask about her job. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, so it should be easy to schedule something! Prepare specific questions and be respectful of the person’s time. Do not bring your résumé because you are not asking for a job. Some sample questions:

  • How did you choose this career?
  • Did you get a graduate degree?
  • What do you like best about your job?
  • What is something you would change?
  • Has this been your career from the beginning?

2. Assess your talents and affinities. If you still cannot figure out what path to take, use some assessment tools. Figure out what kind of learner you are, what kind of personality you have, your work style, social/cognitive traits and communication style. There are online tools you can access for free or for a fee. For example, if you are risk-averse and have a shy personality, a commission-based sales position probably won’t be a good fit.

3. Ask yourself a lot of questions. Starting a career is very personal. You know yourself best — what you will like, how you will thrive, and what you want to avoid. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I need to get additional training (certificate or degree) before I am qualified
  • Do I want to work at a big company, a smaller one, or a not-for-profit?
  • How much flexibility do I need?
  • Is traveling involved, and how much?
  • Do I work best independently, or as a member of a team (or mixed)?
  • Is passion more important than salary, or vice versa?
  • Do I want to stay close to home or move far away?

Once you have answered these questions (and any other questions that are important to you), do more research. Talk to more people. And continue to trim down the options.

4. Get out there and test the waters. The best way to really know if something is the right fit is to actually do it. Get an internship for the summer. At the end of two or three months, you may have a permanent job offer, but you don’t have to accept it if it’s not right for you. The good news is that the experience will help you narrow options down, and you will gain some valuable transferable skills you can apply towards another type of job.

This sounds like a lot of work, but think of it as an investment in your future. You owe it to yourself to find a way to make a living and have a fulfilling career.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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