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How to Find a Career Niche

Bringing life experience to the table when finding an ideal career calling.

No author listed, pxfuel, CC free for commercial use
Source: No author listed, pxfuel, CC free for commercial use

If you’re an expert at something, you’ll feel better about yourself, make a more significant contribution, and perhaps make more money. But in what vocation should you become an expert?

One way to choose is to amalgamate a core ability, knowledge, and value. A client today should be instructive. I change irrelevant details to protect the client’s anonymity.

He was interested in biological psychology because he had long suffered from low-grade depression and felt it was physiologically caused. Indeed, he graduated with a degree in biological psychology and a 3.5 GPA from a prestigious university, having enjoyed working in a molecular biology laboratory. He applied to prestigious doctoral programs in the field but got rejected from all. He came from a family that valued professional degrees, and he told me he wants to apply to law school.

I asked how much of that desire was based on family pressure, prestige, and potential income rather than a predisposition toward or interest in the law. While he agreed that the former factors were dominant, he insisted that he wanted to go to law school. All he wanted from me was guidance on his application essay. We agreed that he might differentiate himself by proposing a possible career goal that amalgamated his interest and experience with mental illness, his biomedical degree, and law school. Our discussion led him to conclude that he’s intrigued by the goal of increasing the accuracy of forensic experts in estimating if mental illness caused the crime. That’s what he decided to describe in his essay and now is his tentative career direction.

Here are other examples of amalgamations: The person who was a rebellious teenager who had an autistic brother and enjoyed working in education might become a teacher of autistic teens. The psychologically oriented person who is good at dating and whose parents were engineers might become a dating coach to techies. The artist who fears poverty but has a facility with numbers might pursue being an accountant specializing in artists. The entrepreneurial sort who has a relative in the industrial paint business might wisely follow that. The burned-out physician who had always had an interest in liberal politics might transition into public health work.

If this notion of amalgamating your attributes into a niche appeals to you, answer these questions:

  • What would you consider your best native ability or two?
  • What would you consider your best acquired skill or knowledge base?
  • What value do you hold dear, for example, the liberal mentioned above (or conservative or libertarian) ideology?
  • How might you combine two or three of those?

There is danger in excessive specialization. You could get bored of a narrow niche. It could become unviable. But my clients have generally not found that. They develop a command of a niche and thus avoid the imposter syndrome. They’re more hirable than is a generalist—If we need surgery on our hand, most of us would prefer a hand surgeon to a general one. And if bored with a microniche, it’s easier to pivot to or add something than to try to make it as a lifelong generalist in an ever more specialized world.

I read this aloud on YouTube.