Personal Finance Basics: Career Planning
Up next in the Personal Finance Basics Series is a task that I personally should go through myself: Career Planning. I have discovered what I’m good at doing, for the most part, but I haven’t actually taken the time to sit down and figure out what I want to do with my life…career-wise at least. So while I instruct you on how YOU should begin planning your career, I think I’ll take down a few notes for myself.
In “Your Job, Your Future“, we walked through why people work and the various attributes that you should understand about yourself before delving into the arduous task of “figuring out what you want to be when you grow up”. For something that you spend about 86,000 hours doing between college graduation and age 65, you should probably like what you’re doing, right? Well, few of us actually make an effort in choosing their career appropriately.
Steps in Career Planning
In my senior year of college, all I knew was that Information Technology was hot. I’m not a programmer, but I could BS my way out of many things. I interviewed with about 2 dozen firms, and in the end took a job working at a systems analyst/developer on some new-fangled technology. I totally lucked out career-wise in that my field is still a hot market 7 years later.
But then again, I don’t really like what I do. I have a few ideas of things I’d rather be doing, but now that I’m being paid a very nice salary and don’t really need to worry about finding work, I’m just not motivated to do career planning. And that’s how many of our high school and college students feel as well. Thinking about the real world just isn’t an appealing option when there’s other stuff to keep us busy.
But as I said, career planning is essential because of how much time you spend at your job. It involves careful investigation and analysis and can take years to complete. It involves the following four steps:
- A Plan of Action
Let’s look at these four steps more closely.
I already touched upon this in “Your Job, Your Future“, but I’ll restate it here that you need to determine and understand your needs, wants, values and life-style. You need to know what you’re good doing (and what you’re not good doing) and what you’re interested in. Once you understand all of these traits, beliefs and interests, you can begin to match them up with potential career choices.
When we consider a career path, we may tend to only think about what jobs are familiar to us. But such a big decision requires more research than just your own experience. You need to utilize all resources from guidance counselors/advisers (if you’re in school), pamphlets, articles, counseling centers, employment offices and, of course, the web.
As your career options expand through research, you can then begin narrowing them down based on your interests, etc. However, be careful not to throw out an idea simply because you don’t think it would be interesting. Be sure to research all jobs thoroughly because not all literature is well-written. If something strikes your fancy, try to find someone in that field to better learn about their job, daily routines, growth potential, salary (if they’ll disclose it) and anything else that might be important to you.
For example, if you like bugs, visit the zoo and speak to an entomologist (I had to look that one up myself). But don’t limit yourself to a job that only deals directly with bugs. Check out businesses that contract on environmental impact studies, or maybe laboratories performing rain forest research. You’ll surely come across insects in more than just a zoo setting.
A Plan of Action
When you think you’re done with research and you’ve narrowed down your options to a select few, it’s time to create a plan of action. Now is the time to begin preparing yourself for that career further by developing job search techniques, taking courses, getting additional exposure to the field, and even seeking part-time or volunteer jobs to gain experience. Use this opportunity to not only understand your own job, but others’ jobs closely linked to your own. You may find that your job isn’t what you thought it would be, but a fellow intern’s might be.
This is the step I’m currently in. Although I have a steady, stable and well-paying job, I’m not much interested in writing test scripts or sitting in meetings all day (just some of my current duties). I’d rather be a car salesman, if I had the choice, or at least I think I would. But I don’t know whether I could hack it in the retail world, or if selling cars is a good idea during a recession. But I just need to research all of these career attributes further to determine if changing jobs is right for me right now. And I’m sure there are many other jobs I’d be interested doing, if only I made the effort to research further.
So right now I’m reevaluating my current career choice. I need to develop and then research alternatives, compare the pros and cons of the new career(s) to my existing one and then decide whether to switch or stay. It’s a cycle that all of us should do, unless we’re completely happy and content with our jobs. Personally, I feel unsettled in my career, but I’ll keep my eye on other opportunities as they come by (such as this website). Whatever your current job, I suggest that you not only keep your options open, but actively investigate other careers that may better match up to your interests, values and aptitudes.
You truly never know when “the perfect job” will come along, but you need to prepare yourself to notice it when it does.