Top 6 Tips For Researching Your Career Path

No Idea What To Do After Graduation? No Problem!

Mary Bloomer, Founder, Early Career Launch

If you’re feeling  “adrift” about your future career, please know you are not alone!  I promise you that very few students emerge from their mother’s wombs saying  “Private equity is the path for me!”   At Early Career Launch (ECL), many of our clients have limited exposure to “professional” careers  – and therefore can’t judge whether a particular path is of interest or suited to them.

At ECL, we help you research careers to determine what type of job will appeal to you AND suit your personality and skill set.  We’ve developed a series of steps that will help you to research various industries and potential career roles.  (One caveat:  most of our suggestions are geared towards business -oriented roles, since that is our focus.)

  1. LOOK IN THE MIRROR:  WHO ARE YOU?  Write down a very simple list of your strengths, weaknesses, interests, skills, values and personality traits.  Be honest with yourself!  You’re going to refer to this list as you begin to explore possible careers.  Find a job that fits “who you are” and you’ll be much more likely to find a job you love.   For example, if you’re not a “people person,” you’re unlikely to enjoy a client-facing role such as sales.  If you’re a risk taker, a very large corporate structure may not be for you.   Not sure how to tell who you are?  There are many self-assessment tools, some more practical than others, in our opinion.  We often use a program called CareerLeader (a self assessment tool developed by professionals at Harvard Business School) and several other tools to gain insight into each client’s attributes and to help target specific industries and job roles.
  2. INTERVIEW FRIENDS AND FAMILY:  Talk to family members and friends to learn about their work experiences.  Prepare a dozen questions for these meetings.   Your role is to be the “interviewer, ” and your goal is to learn what these people do on a day-to-day basis, how they got to where they are, what they like/don’t like about the job/company/industry/skills required for the job, etc.    Try to talk with a good mix of senior and junior level people and gear your questions to your audience.  Junior people can be a good source for what the day-to-day work is like.  Ask senior people about their career path, the company and industry and general words of career advice.  Your “interviewees” are generally happy to talk about themselves and their experiences and to impart their “wisdom” in this no-pressure, informational interview. Remember, you are not asking for a job in these conversations!
  3. UTILIZE ONLINE RESOURCES:  There are great online resources available that  provide information on companies and industries.  My two favorites are:  Vault and Wetfeet.   They provide a good base level of knowledge for a broad range of industries and are a great place to start your research.   Most importantly, they’re written from an entry-level employee’s perspective.  (They also produce lists of “top companies” for various industries, e.g. “Great Places to work,”  “Greenest Places to Work,” etc. )  Before you walk into any interview, you should know what Vault and Wetfeet say about the industry and the individual company.  Most schools provide students with free access to these subscription resources; check your school’s career office or library.
  4. THE TARGETED GEOGRAPHIC SEARCH:  If your top priority is location (you definitely want to work in, let’s say, Chicago!)  the list of possible company targets can be well defined.  Hoover’s (available through your school’s library) allows you to search by location, company size (revenues, number of employees, capitalization) and by industry or SIC code.  Hoovers provides enough detailed company information for you to determine whether or not the company is of interest to you.
  5. USE ON CAMPUS RECRUITING FOR RESEARCH  If companies come to your campus to recruit, visit them!  Attend as many company presentations, industry panel discussions, coffee chats, as you can.  Even if all you learn is that you are NOT interested in that industry or company,  you’ve made progress.  If a company or an industry DOES interest you, introduce yourself and begin the networking process with that company.
  6. READ THOSE “BEST” LISTS:  So…you’ve done a bit of research and are starting to think that “xyz” industry is the one for you.  Guess what? There is usually a publication that puts out a list of “the top xyz companies.”  These companies don’t have to be your targets (the criteria defining “top” may be different from what draws you to that industry). But the lists will get you started with your research. There are best lists for all sorts of company attributes:  Most Innovative (Fast Company), Best Places to Work (Glassdoor and Forbes), Fastest Growing (Inc 500), Best Retail Brands (Interbrand), Largest US Non-Profits (Chronicle of Philanthrophy), Best Consulting Firms (Wall Street Oasis), Top Large Hedge Funds (Bloomberg Markets), Best Places to Work in IT (Computerworld), etc.   Crosscheck these lists with your Hoover’s research, use the same SIC code and your chosen geographic target,  and you should be able to identify a targeted list of companies that are a reasonable size and may be hiring at the entry level.

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