Each year in the LaGuardia Mellon Humanities Scholars program, we put on a workshop about career goals to help students identify the careers that best suit their interests and abilities, and to help them prepare materials that will help them in their applications for schools or jobs.
For the last two years, I always start the session with this first activity to identify their ideal career. The venn diagram is pretty simple. This iteration was created by Simon Kemp for his blog, but the concept of this venn diagram seems to be ages old, as I wasn’t able to find the first person to come up with it.
The concept is simple, but the prompts that you use for this exercise are important. When you ask someone “what they’re good at” in the context of a career search, they tend to think about sitting at their desk, or being at a cash register, or their normal place of business, and then think of things that supervisors have complimented them on. While that’s certainly a part of what a person is good at, it’s not the only thing. The point of the exercise is to consider themselves as a whole person – their experience in their often-temporary jobs, as well as in school, in extracurriculars, in volunteer organizations, with friends and family, or simply on their own. Being more specific about the prompt, allowing them to begin from a place of openness and emotions, helps them approach the process in a more holistic and creative way.
Activity 1: Defining Your Ideal Career
- What you care about: Take 2-3 minutes and write out all the things that you love to do. When you think of this, think of waking up in the morning with nothing to do that day except work all day long on one thing. What would make you feel excited and energized to get out of bed to do? Be honest with yourself. Even if that is playing video games, write that down. List as many things as you can that give you that excited, tingly, warm feeling that makes you motivated to work!
- What you’re good at: Take 2-3 minutes and write out all the things you’re good at. These should be things that take you absolutely no effort, and create no stress. Think about the things that people ask you to help them with, or that you help others with without thinking about it. These aren’t necessarily things you’re trained to do, but things that you’re so good at that you forget they’re even a task. You can do them almost without thinking. These are things you are naturally inclined to do or things that have become routine for you.
- What pays well: Think for a moment about what you mean when you say you want to get paid well. We all know more money is better, but let’s be realistic about how much your chosen field or industry gets paid. How much do you need to live on? How much do you want to make eventually? And, in what timeframe do you expect to earn that sort of income? Now that you’ve done that reflection, look over your first two lists. What are some jobs that combine the skills and activities from those lists that will pay you the income that you want? If you don’t know any, you may want to do some research, or ask someone else in the field about what jobs are possible.
This exercise is meant to give you guidance on what field(s) you’re most compatible with, and to allow you to reflect on what skills or interests you are not currently incorporating into your career plans.
I find that the most challenging part of the first activity, particularly for community college students, is the third question or prompt. I invariably ask this question, and receive the exclusionary response of “doctor, lawyer, dentist” regardless of what the student excels at and is passionate about. It’s as though, as a society, we’ve drilled in these high-paying jobs so much that they are the only careers that students now believe “pay well”. Often times, I do this segment of the exercise as a group brainstorm for each student. I have one person read off the things they care about and the things they’re good at, and then everyone jumps in with ideas for possible careers that combine those interests and skills. This helps students identify a myriad of career possibilities that they can research and talk to mentors about.
But, as one of my mentors once reminded me, it’s not really enough to identify your career based on just what you want to work on; you also need to know how you work best, or what type of work environment promotes your best work. And, this is just too true.
I once had one of the most social, talkative people I’ve ever met come up to me and announce that after a nice chat with a data scientist, they had decided that would be a perfect career for them! I then asked if they were aware that data scientists often spent all day just on their computer, working with data and databases, and rarely talked to other people – maybe had one or two meetings a week. I asked if that was something they felt would fit their personality. They went very, very quiet for the first time ever, and eventually said, very softly, that they would rethink their career again.
Even for the most seasoned professional, it’s a little hard to spontaneously offer their work environment priorities. Most people know if they prefer a quiet environment, or if they need the bustle of other people. Sometimes, people can offer up a thought or two on the managerial style they prefer the most. But, that’s where the spontaneous listing usually ends.
So, I created a simple questionnaire about work place environments based on a questionnaire once given to me by one of my mentors. As the instructions say, it is meant to be a fast-paced exercise, where the person fills out each question as quickly as they can, without second-guessing or refining or reflecting. After filling out the entire questionnaire, the person sets it aside for a day or two, and then comes back to review it on their own or with a mentor or peer to discuss what priorities stand out in a workplace environment.
Activity 2: Refining for Your Ideal Work Environment
Modified from a questionnaire created by Prof Cathy N. Davidson
This activity is meant to be fast-paced. Don’t think. Don’t question yourself or the answers that come to you. For this to work, you have to get into a flow state where you’re answering questions as rapidly as possible. Don’t think. Just write. Write as fast as you can.
Answer the following questions as quickly as you can:
1) Think about your previous jobs. What are the three things that you LOVED and really miss in these jobs?
2) Are there things from any of your previous jobs that you HATED and that you are really happy you do not have to put up with in the future?
Rate the following 1-5, based on your responses to what you “love”(5) or “hate” (1) above.
5 (high) = love, important, or total agree
1 (low) = hate, trivial, disagree
3) I am totally comfortable taking financial risks, including taking out loans, borrowing money, or other high-risk/potentially high-yield start up possibilities.
4) I need to be the leader, not the follower.
5) I need to be the follower, not the leader.
6) I love being #2 or #3 in an organization—where someone else is ultimately responsible but I have a good deal of freedom, responsibility, creativity for starting and implementing ideas.
7) I’m happiest working on a small team.
8) I’m happiest working on a large team.
9) I’m happiest working in a small organization.
10) I’m happiest working in a medium organization.
11) I’m happiest working in a large organization.
12) I must work in a nonprofit.
13) I must work in a for-profit.
Top three kinds of areas I would most like to work:
Worst three kinds of areas where I would work:
14) I need to be rewarded for excellent work.
15) I need to be praised or acknowledge for excellent work.
16) A collegial workplace is important to me.
16a) By “colleagiality” I mean I am friends with all my colleagues and that is important to me.
16b) By collegiality I mean everyone gets along well and works together effectively in the workplace.
16c) By collegiality, I mean everyone pulls their own weight, no one is allowed to be a slacker.
16d) By collegiality, I mean my supervisor strives for an open and friendly environment.
16e) By collegiality, I mean my supervisor strives for the most efficient, effective, productive team possible, with highest possible productivity and innovation.
16f) By collegiality, I mean my colleagues and supervisor communicate well and I communicate well and am expected to communicate well.
16g) By collegiality, I mean my colleagues and supervisor have similar values.
16h) By collegiality, I mean my colleagues and supervisor have similar goals.
16i) By collegiality, I mean my colleagues and supervisor share my work ethic.
17) I am willing to spend two to four years earning a credential, such as a Bachelors or Masters degree, to help me move ahead in my new field.
18) I have the resources to devote myself to earning a new credential.
19) I want my next job to have a clear pathway for advancement to other positions.
20) I want to be able to stay in my next job for 10 years.
21) I want to be able to stay in my next job for 5 years.
22) I want to be able to stay in my next job for 1 year.
23) The most important “next thing” in my life is career.
24) The most important “next thing” in my life is “personal life” (love, family, children).
Back to General Questions:
25) My ideal location is (name the place):
26) If I cannot live there, I at least want to be able to achieve the following in terms of where I live:
26a) I want to live in a city
26b) I want to live in [region]
26c) I want to live near family and/or friends
27) When I decide on the career that would most ignite my mind/heart/soul, I think about:
28) It is most important for my next job to be in a major new ________ [Field? Region of the country? Kind of institution? Work environment?]
Put this survey aside for a day, if you can. Then, look it over to find out what’s most important to you in your work environment. Wanting to work in a big corporation that you can work at for a long time is a very different goal than wanting to work in a small nonprofit where you can be good friends with all your colleagues. Knowing this will help determine the types of employers you are looking at.