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Ask Brianna: How Do I Pick a Career I’ll Actually Like?

Jan. 26, 2018
Loans, Student Loans
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“Ask Brianna” is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

“I’m graduating from college and my major is really broad. I have no idea what to choose as a career. How do I pick one I’ll actually like?”

I can feel the stress radiating from your question. But try to let excitement be your dominant emotion right now, not anxiety. You’re about to start a career from scratch, unlike those in their 30s, 40s or 50s who are unhappy in jobs they chose and have to reinvent themselves in a new field.

Besides, “Ten years out of school, less than 20 percent of people are doing anything having anything to do with their major of study at college,” says Bill Burnett, co-author of “Designing Your Life” and executive director of the design program at Stanford University.

No matter what you studied, you can find a job you love. Think about what fires you up; explore related careers in short-term, low-risk ways; and make sure you’ll earn enough money to cover your needs, wants and future self.

Start with what you love

When you’re truly stumped by the direction to take, don’t look to other people for ideas. Look inward. Kate Gremillion, CEO and founder of career coaching company Mavenly + Co., recommends asking, “What do people traditionally come to you for that isn’t work-related?”

Are you the friend who gives great relationship advice, who designs T-shirts for your friends’ bands, or who initiates the group text to organize a night out? Those skills can translate to a paying job: as a marriage and family therapist, a graphic designer or an event planner.

The job you’ll most enjoy is one you’d do for free anyway.

Try before you buy

Talk to people in the line of work you’re considering and find low-risk ways of trying it out. Use your school’s alumni or career services office to find former students with jobs that intrigue you. Ask them to have coffee or speak on the phone so you can learn about their career paths.

At this stage you’re not asking if they’ll forward your resume to human resources, Burnett says. Instead, ask what steps they took to get to that role, what they like most about the job and what problems they’re facing right now.

That might give you the chance to offer your services as an intern, part-time assistant or consultant. Or you can ask to shadow them for a day.

Such experiences are helpful research, because for most people, job satisfaction has less to do with salary or title, says Gremillion, than with what they’re actually doing throughout the workday.

Keep money on your mind

Your career also needs to feed and house you.

“It has to be a match between what you’re excited about doing and what the world actually needs done,” Burnett says.

How much money is enough? Assess your potential paycheck against the 50-30-20 budget: 50 percent of your income should go toward necessities, 30 percent or less toward your wants, and 20 percent of more toward savings and debt. If rent and student loan bills will eat up more than half your income, you may need to look for a higher-paying job, or cut back on expenses.

Or scrutinize jobs based on this definition: A “good job” for a college graduate, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, is full-time, pays more than $53,000 per year and offers benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan.

Ignore everyone else

Finally, do your best to shut out messages from people who have their own agendas (except for me, of course).

Parents, especially, want their kids to be able to support themselves; when giving advice, “they default to positions or roles that they think will be safe and stable,” Burnett says. But not everyone will succeed at or enjoy being a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Your happiness matters more than what you’ve been told to do.

It will probably take a job or two to figure out what you want out of a career. Enjoy the exploration; after all, Gremillion says, “Work is allowed to be fun.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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