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4 Uncommon Pieces of Useful Career Advice

A few tips to help you make good choices when choosing your next career.

Key points

  • Career tests and informational interviews can help you choose a career you might enjoy.
  • Researching jobs you might enjoy in advance of taking them on can save you time and money.
  • Discussing a candidate industry with multiple people working in it is a good way to get information about it.
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5 Common Pieces of Career Advice that Are Often Useless
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Lots of career advice is as common as a hot dog. We’re told to go to school, meet people, and find a job that ignites our passions without first learning how to start a fire. As a result, first, second, and sometimes third careers often fizzle out. It begs the question: what can we do to have the best chance of success at finding work we enjoy that also pays the rent?

Step One: Discuss Your Interests with People in the Industry

There’s a good chance you’ve heard someone somewhere tell somebody you should be a lawyer because you like to argue. It’s a fair description of the job—if one’s knowledge of the field is based primarily on television programs. Problem is, the research and writing that take up much of a lawyer’s time do not make for good TV. Odds are the boring bits of other occupations land on the cutting room floor, too. That’s the information you need: What does a typical day look like? What will I be expected to do? The best way to get that information is to speak to someone in the business.

A good starting point is to set up a series of informational interviews with people doing the job you’re considering. You can call or email, let them know who you are, what you’re trying to learn, and ask whether you can have a few minutes of their time. Often, people will say yes or refer you to someone who can help you out. However, before you make that call, it might be a good idea to...

Step Two: Narrow Your Choices

There are more than 900 possible careers in the United States. Research suggests nine may be more options than our brains can handle. Even if we can handle this many choices, there certainly isn’t time to review all their details. To work around this, I suggest taking a career test.

When deciding on what eventually became lawyer, I took two career tests online. This wasn’t me giving up control to a computer; it was me allowing the computer to compare the things I enjoy doing to the requirements of various careers. I could view the entire list, but I made my decision from the top twenty. Lawyer ranked number ten. One through nine were jobs I didn’t want.

While looking through the jobs, also check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook. This publication will help you get an idea of what the job is like, how much you might earn, and what the demand is for the position. With this knowledge in hand, you can...

Step Three: Ask Stupid Questions

Students often choose to not raise their hand and ask a question for fear of looking stupid. Same goes for people trying to choose a career. As a result, opportunities to gain useful knowledge are lost. However, having learned (1) you might be a good fit for a particular career, (2) something about the tasks and duties associated with the career, and (3) that someone is willing to answer your questions about the career, you have license to ask questions that might make you squeamish but probably won’t bother your interview subject. Also, if you follow these steps, you’ll be able to ask better questions than you would otherwise. However, asking better questions doesn’t mean you’ll get better answers, so make sure to...

Step Four: Ask Multiple People

If you’re lucky, you’ll speak to someone who has flawless knowledge and communication skills and who will provide you with every piece of relevant information you need to know, even if you didn’t ask. Odds are this won’t happen. So, it’s good to speak with several people. Learn from multiple perspectives. After a few rounds of questions and obtaining resources, you should have a good idea whether the career you’re choosing is something you might be happy with. In the case of significant prerequisites like law school, taking these steps could save you years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even if you take all these steps to choose your path, be advised: People adapt. We have multiple interests. Most of us have several careers in our lifetime. So, regardless of what you choose, you just might find yourself doing something different in the future. But, hopefully, these steps can again help you find something else you enjoy. It might even have something to do with hot dogs.

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