If you’re one of those people who’s known since third grade what you want to be when you grow up, you suck! (just kidding, of course – good for you!!) I’d say most of us go through high school, and even a lot of college before we even begin to understand what exactly we want to do when we grow up.
Even if you know you want to be in a STEM job, there are so many different directions you can go. How do you know that where you start is where you want to finish?
And that’s ok. Even if you go in to college absolutely sure of your career path, it’s not unheard of to change your mind. I changed majors entirely between my master’s and PhD. Mr. SciGuy is changing his profession entirely 10 years into his career. It’s all about finding something you really want to do the rest of your life.
So if you’re just starting out, how do you know if you’re doing the right thing?
My best advice for you is to get as much experience in your field as you possibly can – hands-on if possible. You can get experience from lots of places.
The absolute best way to gain experience in your hopeful job field is through a co-op job or internship. With a co-op job, you’ll get to go into the workplace and see what people in your field really do on a day-to-day basis. The job you’re doing will likely be entry-level and more mundane than what an experienced employee would do, but on-the-job experience is so informative. You’ll have access to speak to all the other employees at your company, who can give you their perspectives and advice and see first-hand what the best and worst parts of the job are, what the benefits and pay are like, and what the expectations are for employees in different roles.
An added bonus, if you decided you DO like the job, is you’ll have your foot in the door at a company in the industry you like, PLUS, when you interview for your full-time position, you can talk about your relevant work experience.
After being on the job, if you decide you DON’T like it, you still have time to change up your career goals while you’re still in school, instead of getting all the way to your first real job and realizing you made a huge mistake.
Jobs were tight in the early 2010’s, but from what I’ve heard (at least in the automotive industry), companies can’t find enough co-op students to fill the positions available now. I heard at one job fair in March of 2015, companies were hiring co-op students to fill positions as far in the future as summer 2016. The jobs are there for you, you just have to go out and look for them (more on that in future posts!).
If for whatever reason, you can’t do a co-op, there are still opportunities to get experience. Try joining a club or professional organization in your field. You’ll have the opportunity to interact and share experiences with other students in your field, and possibly get the opportunity for mentorship from professional members of the club or organization. The other members of your club will quickly become your study group, your support network, and likely some of your best friends.
Networking is another good option to learn about your job. Talk to your teachers, professors, parents, and friends about your career goals. Chances are, they may be able to offer you good advice, or put you in contact with someone who can give you great advice. This could even lead to potential job shadowing or internship opportunities down the road. On-line networking through Linked-In can also be a great opportunity to find people in your desired profession (but remember to keep your profile professional!).
So, be brave, get out there, and start trying things. THAT Is the way you’ll figure out what the best fit is for you. If you find that the first job, or two jobs, or three jobs, or more – aren’t perfect for you, don’t worry. It takes time to find your perfect job, but you’ll get there. It just takes some trial and error, and the willingness to try new things.
So, tell me – do you think you already know what your dream job is? If not, do you know what direction you might want to go in?