These days, with the rising cost of higher education and the shaky job market, students need to be on a dual-track: one eye on their education and one eye on the future.  While I am not generally a proponent of selecting a major based on career plans (see my blog post on this), students who fail to consider career options as they go through college are often at a disadvantage in the job market come graduation. The major isn't the key factor: it's how well they have used their time in college to gain experiences, and developed their ability to articulate their value to an employer. And career books can provide much-needed information and resources for college students struggling wih career decisions.

When I wrote my book, "You Majored in What", my goal was to help college students who, like me, greatly enjoyed their education, but were a little lost when it came to knowing what to "do" with it. One of the most popular exercises with my students is "Possible Lives." In that exercise, students jot down all the careers they have considered or would like to consider from the serious (medical doctor) to the fanciful (American Idol winner) to the dream (Photographer for National Geographic). They love this exercise-- and I do too, because I learn so much about their hopes and dreams for the future. And then we get to develop the scaffolding for those dreams and help them find ways to move forward.

But some students struggle with that exercise for one simple reason: they don't know what jobs are out there. Sure they're aware of lawyers, doctors, CSI investigators, and even ghost hunters (thank you, television), but the rest of their career knowledge is severely limited. And even when they do know some job titles, their understanding of what goes on in an average day in the field is negligible. And helping students learn about the vast spectrum of jobs isn't easy: resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or the Dictionary of Occupational Titles certainly contain a wealth of information, but are rather dry for general reading.

Enter a new book, Dig This Gig, by Laura Dodd, a graduate student at Columbia University's School of Journalism. After graduating from Washington University, Laura took one of those dream jobs my students would list as a "Possible Life" (production assistant on a television show). But within a year or so she and her friends found themselves questioning their career choices-- wondering if that's all there is and longing for days of more adventure. They quit their jobs, moved to Australia, and, in Laura's case, began pondering just what career she would want to pursue next. This started her on an interview quest: finding people with interesting jobs in a variety of fields (environment, entertainment, nonprofit, education, government, publishing, etc.) and developing profiles of their work life. 

In Studs Terkel fashion, Dodd's interviews help us picture what people do in these fields. We get a better understanding of the ups-and-downs of their daily lives, what they enjoy and don't enjoy about their work, as well as on-target and blunt advice for those entering the field. Dodd has wisely chosen to focus primarily on young people in the field-- newcomers who are still exploring what their field has to offer and can speak directly to students. She also includes a smattering of interviews with "old pros" in the fields, so to speak: leaders who can see where the field has been and where it appears to be going. Dodd knows her readers: she very smartly includes quick summaries at the end of each profile with key advice and suggestions for anyone considering the field.

Through her research Dodd uncovers two key themes throughout their stories: it's hard-- very hard-- to pursue a dream, and-- it's worth it. These two lessons are invaluable for students just starting out.

I enjoy Dodd's writing style and found the stories compelling. I don't know whether she will stay in the career genre, but I look forward to reading more books from her in the future. For career services professionals this is a great book for a career library, and would be an excellent secondary text for a career class. For students (and worried parents of students...) throw this one in your suitcase and take it to school. Your future will benefit greatly.

But succeeding in a career these days is about more than just identifying the field in which you want to work and creating the best application materials.  And that's where Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future by Dan Schawbel comes in. 

As long as we're tossing books into your suitcase, throw this one in too. I have recommended Dan's blog many times in my blog posts. Schawbel has cornered the market on branding advice for college students. His book focuses on all aspects of transition from student to professional, including a four-step process involving discovering, creating, communicating, and maintaining your brand. The book is comprehensive with lots of tips for everything from blogging to finding a job through Facebook. I know we tend to assume that college students are computer savvy-- and many are-- but their knowledge of computers doesn't always extend to online branding and personal marketing programs like LinkedIn. Everyone needs a brand: even Classics majors or graduate students whose planned career in academia has hit a snag. Schawbel's book will help them craft an online presence that will appeal to potential employers and position themselves powerfully for whatever career they choose to pursue. 

These are two of my current favorites-- more reviews to come.  In the meantime, college students should visit their school's career center: most career centers have extensive career libraries (not to mention valuable online resources you would pay to get privately) where you can get even more in-depth information about your possible lives.  Wander in and explore.  

© Katharine Brooks, 2011. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter.

Photo by David Weekly

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