ask the readers: how to figure out what career you want

I’m throwing this one out to the readers for suggestions. A reader writes:

My cousin is graduating from college in May, and I was just talking to her about what she is going to do afterwards. I was able to give her some job searching/applying advice, but she does have a problem that stumped me a bit, and I think this is pretty common among young people: She doesn’t know what she wants to do. She is majoring in psychology and business, which gives her a pretty wide range of options, but I think she is overwhelmed and having trouble narrowing things down.

Do you have any advice or resources for people to help them figure out a career path? Obviously your first job out of college doesn’t have to be a “dream job” or the “perfect fit,” but I think it’s hard for young people to even figure out what direction to start in.

I’m curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this, but my main piece of advice is that it’s okay not to know right away what you want to do. Lots of us who now love our jobs stumbled around in the beginning, trying different things and figuring out what we were good at — and eventually ended up in something we wouldn’t have predicted at the start.

This is really common for liberal arts graduates, who aren’t pointed at one specific career path. Lots of people just sort of take what they can get and do that for a while, while they figure out what they like, what they dislike, what they’re great at, and what they’re not so great at. There’s absolutely no shame in that path — it’s most people’s path, in fact — but it’s not something most grads are prepared for when they come out of school.

That’s just the theoretical advice though. What more specific advice do people have for figuring out what you want to do when you have no idea?

{ 206 comments… read them below }

  1. Dax*

    As someone who is slowly outgrowing the label of recent graduate, I think the biggest piece of advice that is needed is to NOT hold out for your “dream job.” Find a company in an area that you’d like to live in working for a company or organization you can respect, and see what happens. One of the great things about being young and unattached is that you are free to explore, and while that exploration can be scary at times, it pays huge dividends later in life. Best of luck to the OP’s cousin!

    1. Yuu*

      I think her problem is that she doesn’t have a dream job. I can totally relate! I stumbled into my current job because it was what I could find without really having a goal. And when you are new to the workforce, you really don’t know where you stand on what kinds of jobs are attainable for you and what aren’t.

    2. Steve G*

      That is unfortunately it. I putzed around in my early 20s freelance teaching (I’m bilingual) and looking for jobs where I could use my writing skills, and I made in the low $40s, which 10 years ago, was living with a roommate in a not great area of NYC. I got sick of the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle and eventually became an Excel guru and am now working in energy, something I never contemplated or thought I’d be good at – AND I get to present alot (using my teaching skills), and write regulatory filings (writing fetish), but spend most of the day automating complicated math and getting a high off of the “ew ah” feeling I get from colleagues. And I make $40K more per year + bonuses. So yeah, I wouldn’t stick with any notion I had in college.

      PS I know a few guys from business school who wanted to be accountants to have an easier path to a stable income. I was so jealous when they made $50K out of college. Of course, they worked 12 hours/day, sometimes to midnight though! Now, 12 years later, I work 10 hours, they are still doing those 10-12, and our pay + bonuses have converged. Glad I didn’t take that path!

  2. Colleen*

    One word: internships. Even a few months experience will help her clarify her goals. Also, I don’t know about undergraduate business degrees, but psychology degrees these days are not a ticket to a job unless combined with hands on experience. It is the fastest growing major and there aren’t enough jobs for all the grads (as in many fields).

    1. Laurie*

      Yes, internships! It might be too late for part-time internships since OP’s cousin is graduating in 3 months. And, I’ve heard one too many stories of serial unpaid interns these days, which must surely sound demoralizing to new undergraduates today, but at this point, I’d suggest internships or entry-level jobs in:
      1) a niche area that interested the OP during college, or
      2) a specific company that sounds like a cool experience, or
      3) something that bubbles up through her network
      3) while keeping in mind that if she doesn’t like a specific type of job (accounting, or sales, or whatever), she shouldn’t accept one even if it’s at Super Cool Company.

      PS. I’m at my third full-time job now, and I’m still figuring things out.

    2. Michelle*

      Yes! On a similar note, this isn’t applicable to soon-to-be graduates, but my university had a great co-op education program, and I would encourage any undergraduate student to participate if that kind of program is available to them. Being able to get three or four months of in situ work experience is so invaluable for figuring out what kind of environments, roles and tasks you enjoy, and it’s a low-risk way to explore different career paths.

    3. Laura L*

      But people with psychology degrees can do a lot of different jobs.

      If she’s in the DC area, she could check out the APA for jobs.

  3. B*

    I still don’t know what career I want. Probably does not make them feel better but they are not alone.

    The only advice I can give is if it sounds interesting, give it a shot. Take a look at aspects of things you like to do and go from there. But above all else, remember that only a few people actually have a “dream job”. It took awhile for me to realize this, but a job is what I do during the day…it is not what makes me. Sometimes you need things outside of your career to make you happy.

    Sometimes as much as you love a hobby, or people say this is what you should do, it does not always translate to a career. I like to keep my hobby and career separate so it gives me an outlet of enjoyment. Sure I could get a job baking, but I don’t want to make 70 lemon meringue pies every day because then I would never want to bake for fun. I would lose that sense of enjoyment and freedom.

    1. Anna*

      Sometimes as much as you love a hobby, or people say this is what you should do, it does not always translate to a career.


      People keep telling me I should turn my knitting into a career. This isn’t what I’d describe as good advice: I know people who knit for a living, and I doubt I’d be able to make ends meet. And anyway, I’d like to keep knitting what I want to knit!

      1. B*

        Yes yes yes. I like to bake what I like to bake. Having that as a job will take that away from me. I truly feel it would make me sad.

        Also, I had this “dream” of working for a baseball team because I love baseball, love the team, and knew a lot about it. Got an interview, and after it I realized the pretty dream was not the reality. So now my reality is a bit colored on what was a fun summer thing to watch. But I do not regret going on the interview because now I know it was not for me.

        1. DEJ*

          Oh yes, the pretty dream of working in sports is definitely not the reality (I work in college athletics). Most people think my job is cool until they find out there is no tailgating involved.

          And add me to the people who could not be a baker because that would take all the joy out of it!

      2. Elizabeth*

        About a decade ago, a friend got laid off from the tech industry. She had a fiber arts sideline that she used to pay the rent & buy groceries while she looked for another job. Primarily? She took plain dollar-store ankle white socks and knitted a little colored fringe with beads onto them. She could turn out a pair in about 15 minutes. Between the socks, beads & yarn, each pair cost her about $1.50. They sold at craft shows and in specialty shops for about $15, of which she got $8.

        By the time she had a full-time job again, she despised it. She felt like she never spent enough time working on it (she was doing this 12 hours or more a day), and it was difficult to get paid consistently. She lost track of time regularly and often didn’t know what day it was. It kept a roof over her head, but that was about it.

      3. Navan*

        There’s a difference between turning your hobby into your career and doing what you enjoy. I work with kids- and I love it. I’ likely do it for no pay, but people will pay me so I get to do something I enjoy and am invested in and enjoy!

        I’ve recently started my own small business for children, licensing a program from someone. I love it- and I never would have ended up here if I hadn’t decided to do what I enjoy.

    2. Annie*

      That’s funny you say that about your hobby because that’s exactly what my college-bound daughter says. She’s very talented in the arts – drawing and music – but she will not capitalize on either because then she wouldn’t enjoy them anymore.

      Me personally, would love to have a talent that I *could* capitalize.

      1. Hello Vino*

        In high school, I was convinced that I was going to go to art school for drawing and painting. I ended up going to architecture school, which seemed more practical and still allowed me to do plenty of the things I loved. Today, I’m a graphic designer. Sure, it’s not quite like drawing and painting, but not too far off, and I still pursue those activities in my spare time.

      2. Kelly*

        If she is really talented, she actually could be an illustrator. People need illustrations (magazines, newspapers, blogs, books, etc.) But if it is more like a hobby to her, then yes, it most likely wouldn’t work out. You have to WANT it. I loved art and drawing as a kid but didn’t want to be a “starving artist” so I was prepared to enter college as a pyschology major. Switched to graphic design at the last second and never looked back. :) And yes, I have a full-time job and a career that I love.

    3. Yuu*

      I recently went to a presentation by Matt Cohen, founder of “Off the Grid” food truck markets. His main point was, “Don’t do what you love. Do what you keep coming back to doing because you are good at it.”

      Off the Grid is an organization that paved the way for Food Truck gatherings like night markets. Matt got started by helping to throw beach parties (that got thousands to come) and then later organizing conferences. He realized he was awesome at organizing events.

      So make a list of things you’ve enjoyed doing in the past because they were wildly successful, and try to find the common thread, is one idea.

      1. Laurie*

        “Don’t do what you love. Do what you keep coming back to doing because you are good at it.” +1000
        This has worked excellently for my career so far. The trick is to find that combination that pleases you and is in line with your talents.

      2. PJ*


        I’m good at my job and I make more money at it than I can at anything else. I feed my soul on my own time.

        1. Matthew*

          “I’m good at my job…” – Stary working at something that sounds interesting and pays the bills, and go from there. I went into social services after the military thinking I really wanted to be a social worker…fifteen years later, with several transitions along the way, and I am a decent way up the ladder in HR and loving it. It wasn’t even on my scope when I started looking for a career.

        2. Leslie*

          I find what I love doing and what I’m good at are the same things. I thought that was true for most people?

          1. Jamie*

            Not universally true. My mom loved to sing, gave her great joy and she knew she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket so she saved it for family. Thanks, mom.

            I used to beg her not to sing even in church. She said God appreciated it – I’m pretty sure he was the only one. :)

            I know what you mean, though. Usually we love what were good at and are good at what we love.

      3. Piper*

        “Don’t do what you love. Do what you keep coming back to doing because you are good at it.”

        This, this, this! My job isn’t what I “love,” but I am good at it, it’s a promising field with explosive growth, and lots of room for income and career advancement.

        The things I love to do – photography, sketching, design…I do them as hobbies. Sometimes people pay me for them, but I’m not trying to make them my full-time gigs. That would take the joy out of it.

      4. Jennifer*

        So….data entry is my dream job, apparently. Or at least it’s the only thing I can do for money.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        This is why I feel I can write both on and off the job. One type of writing is completely different from the other, and I spend all my time on the computer anyway. So the boring tech/editing stuff can be at work, and I can write books at night and still eat. :)

        That said, I will probably get Dragon Naturally Speaking (I can get a discount through my school) and save my hands. I already have to wear braces when I’m writing for any length of time. :P

    4. Kat M*

      As a contrasting opinion, this is exactly why I didn’t pursue writing as a career for so long. And it’s true, I don’t write much poetry now that I write copy.

      But I love it anyway. DREAM. COME. TRUE.

    5. girlreading*

      @B, are you me? I’m 7 years out of college and still don’t know what career I really want. I’ve fallen into a career path that I like ok and it could make a good long term career, but it’s certainly not what I always imagined.

      I love to bake too, it’s a stress reliever for me; but people are always asking if I’m going to open a bakery. Heck no, that would make something I enjoy into something very stressful.

  4. CJ*

    If she can narrow it down to what she can/can’t do and what she will/won’t do, it could help land her in the right place to find her future career.

    Case in point: I had experience in babysitting, commercial customer service, and office administrative work when I had to get my first job after graduation. I liked child care but it was exhausting; I did not like and was absolutely horrible at commercial customer service (in a movie theater and office supply store), so I knew there was no way I could wait tables or do sales in a store; and I liked office work and was good at it, including the customer service part. Therefore, I applied to office jobs until I got a full-time job in a personnel office, which ended up introducing me to HR, which is now my career path.

    When I was in her place, all I knew was that I liked to “help people” and that I hated handling money. (I can assist angry or impatient customers all day with HR issues, but when money or an unfiltered general public customer base is involved, somehow it gets weird for me.)

    1. fposte*

      This is what I was thinking–you can pretty much make a flow chart based on your knowledge of what kinds of things you do and don’t like and are and aren’t good at.

  5. Rima*

    I am also a recent graduate with a BS in Business (focused in Marketing) and I still don’t know what career path to take. I am currently in a sales role to pay the bills but this is not what i want to do the rest of my life. I even purchased the “Parachute” book recommended in the comments here and I have narrowed my preferences with technology, social media, marketing, communications I would like a role in any of those fields but I don’t have the specific experience if anyone has any pointers on what type of company I could be looking into I would appreciate it!

    1. Chris Hogg*

      Rima – I hope you benefited from Parachute? Probably the next step would be to start developing a network of ever-expanding contacts, and start conducting informational interviews where you seek out information, advice and guidance about vocational fields that interest you. When you meet with people, ask them if they know of any fields or specific jobs that combine the specific elements you are interested in (technology, social media, marketing, communications ). Whenever possible, meet with people at a level that they could hire you if a job were available. And when you introduce yourself, be sure to tell them (and mean it) that you do not expect them to be hiring or know of any openings, but that you are approaching them for information and guidance.

  6. VictoriaHR*

    I graduated with an English degree and worked as an insurance desk monkey for a few years before stumbling into HR, which I decided I loved and pursued successfully.

    I would recommend that she find a general office job (receptionist, administrative assistance, etc), assuming that she has the basic office skills required, and then get a feel for the different departments in the organization. Figure out which dept is the most interesting. That’s how I found HR.

  7. Sunshine DC*

    The MOST important advice you can give her is NOT to think first about what kind of “job” she wants, but what kind of LIFE she wants. That helped me tremendously. Does she enjoy creative of very formalized, procedural environments… Is her personality and energy suited to fields where she will engage the public alot, or better in a more quiet, back-office kind of thing… Has she studie other languages and is she interested in a work life filled with international travel… does she feel very passionate about certain issues or ideas around which many opportunities come together (governance, the environment, children’s health, animal welfare, etc.)… Is she most interested in a rural lifestyle or determined to be based in a big city… Is it more important to her to be in a “helping” profession” or to make the most money (there are careers where she CAN do both, of course – but it helps for her to assess her own priorities)?

    You might offer to help, over a few cups of tea, to do this – acting as an “interviewer”? She can sound out some ideas and impressions and you can assist by asking follow-up questions. Once she has an idea about the above scenarios, then you can help her discern what kind of jobs and careers lend themselves to those things.

    Best of luck!

    1. Sascha*

      I think is great advice, and that thought process has certainly helped me narrow down what I want to do. Also, it’s good for an “interviewer” to ask her WHY she wants to do certain things. When I was in grad school, the advisor asked me WHY did I want to write a thesis. I couldn’t give him a solid answer. And then I realized I didn’t need to be in grad school. If she can’t answer the whys in a concrete way, for a particular path, I would reevaluate that path.

      1. Nichole*

        I just read an awesome article related to this. I’m an academic advisor, and the article was about advising “forclosure students”-students who present as 100% sure of what they want to do, but in reality they made that decision without actually reflecting on why or determining if this is the best path out of the available options. Asking “why” is an important part of leading them to a willingness to explore those options. I’m hardly an expert after one article, but it was so interesting that within an hour of finding it the article was covered with margin notes and multiple colors of highlighter.

    2. Ornery PR*

      I think this advice is spot on. I think a career path is one of the most important decisions we can make in life, and we sometimes make it more than once. I think all too often, we make this decision reactively to other life circumstances, rather than take a true inventory of our life and ambitions and proactively seek the life we want. I saw a great, inspiring video on this the other day,

      I know it can all sound very idealistic and that the job market and life circumstances do play into the outcome of a job search. But, especially for a recent grad, it’s worth really discovering what you love to do and pursuing it. If that manifests itself as a hobby rather than a job, great. But I think all too often, a majority of us just “go along” without really trying to discover what could bring us the most fulfillment and then pursuing that.

      My advice, if your cousin truly is not sure what moves and motivates her, is to tell her to volunteer with a wide variety of projects/organizations. Even if those projects seem uninteresting at first or not immediately appealing. Sometimes we don’t know what we love simply because we haven’t been exposed to it yet.

    3. Emily M*

      This, this, this!

      There is no perfect job just as there is no perfect romantic partner. We would all be happy, albeit in different ways, with many jobs and many partners. But all of those jobs that could make you happy, just as all of those people who could make you happy, probably have a lot in common with each other, so whatever you can do to identify and articulate those needs and preferences will help. And, as many people have suggested, jumping into something that sounds interesting will be a good start.

      To give examples from my own path, 7+ years into my post-undergraduate professional life, I have learned that I work best in highly autonomous environments, that I’m more motivated by projects than ongoing roles, and that I get bored once I’m not on a learning curve. I have a deep desire for my work to engage both my head and my heart, and I tend towards a big-picture view, focusing on larger themes and strategies rather than details. Many, many, MANY jobs and careers fit this criteria and would leave me reasonably fulfilled with my professional life.

      One tool that has helped me to identify some of the themes important in my own life was the Franklin Covey mission builder: Maybe suggest she take an hour or two to reflect using their framework. It could also help your cousin in interviews: self-knowledge can compensate a bit for a lack of specific goals in an interview, especially when someone is young and unfamiliar with an industry (see Wilton Businessman’s comment below). “No, I don’t know where I want to be in five years, but I know I want a career in which X, Y, and Z.” can provide an interviewer with valuable information to judge if you’d be a good fit.

      And congratulations to your cousin! An undergraduate degree is necessary to keep your options open; it shows she can think, analyze, and communicate. And I would advise your cousin to get some professional and life experience under her belt before pursuing any post-graduate studies. If she finds she doesn’t like the path she’s on, but has identified something else she loves, a Masters can provide a perfect pathway to “pivot” her career later, or accelerate her career if she finds something she enjoys off the bat. Post-graduate studies are wonderful for these purposes, but are not a good way to escape professional ambiguity.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        One quibble because I’m a stickler on this: A degree actually doesn’t show someone can think, analyze, and communicate. I’ve seen far too many graduates of even prestigious schools who can’t do those things very well.

        1. Emily M*

          Valid quibble. Thanks for the correction.

          And, on the flip-side, there are people like my mother who didn’t have resources for formal education beyond high school but rose quickly through the professional ranks because of her ability to think, analyze, and communicate well.

        2. Kelly O*

          Seriously, I see people with degrees who could not find their way out of wet paper sacks… a degree does not competency show. (Particularly when you choose to talk like Yoda.)

          1. Jamie*

            This – 100x. I am a big fan of education, but I’ve found that a degree alone isn’t much of a indicator of talent, skill, or intellect.

        3. Anon*

          Going to toss in one of my frequent grumblings about credential inflation, loans, college costs, unpaid internships, etc.

    4. Foi*

      “what kind of LIFE she wants” = THIS.

      Not just in terms of what you want to do during the day (important), but what you are and are not willing to live with outside of work.

      For example, salary requirements (more money is good, but location/expenses/needs vary, so what are you willing to sacrifice for more money? I’ve refused jobs for way more than I’m currently making because I didn’t want to do the work…) Or schedule: if you want a family/kids/social life on standard hours, then working as a chef, in a casino, or in a field that requires non-standard hours or lots of travel may be problematic. “travel” sounds nice and glamorous, until you realize that it means being away from the rest of your life on evenings/weekends whenever you’re travelling.

      What you’re not willing to sacrifice to your career does actually clarify which careers (or companies… ) you shouldn’t bother looking into.

      1. Job seeker*

        Your post is so good. One of my son’s has his chemical engineering degree and is a recent college graduate. It took him a little while to find employment in his field and he is now in a supervisor position. He specifically knew this is what he wanted. He would also like to eventually get his Masters and his professional engineering license. My other son is now in college and has changed his majors twice. He still is not completely sure what he would like to do.

        I do believe it is important that you know the things that are the most important to you. I am job-seeking right now in hard circumstances. I am trying to be a care-giver to my mom and I have certain things I am looking for. Long hours are not possible for me and I do want to work somewhere I can plant myself for a few years. I am not wanting to be a job-hopper and I am picky. I have probably been too picky for someone that has little experience to offer. I am trying to find some time to address this. I need a balance. I want to work and help take care of things here.

        It is very important that you make a list of what you would love in a job and what you think would make your life hard. Right now, I feel like I am doing everything for everyone else and I don’t know how I can do my list. Do not take something that you know upfront isn’t you. I am not looking for the perfect job, I will do my best to make it perfect for me.

  8. Matteus*

    The sad fact is, and one that is almost never discussed, you can be happy doing the most drudge-filled drecky job, and you can be miserable in the most exciting, dynamic and challenging job.
    ‘What career should I look at’ is so individualized , so dependent on the jobseekers preferences and personality, it’s really hard to give a blanket suggestion. The best general advice is if you find something that gives you financial security and that gives you anything approaching opportunity for personal and professional growth, don’t dismiss it offhand because it’s not exactly in line with your passion or specific interests.

    1. Liana*

      I completely agree! Even if you do not enjoy the work itself in a particular job (although hopefully there is something there to be enjoyed), you may still thrive if the people and organization are supportive, honest, and direct. Also, having an open mind to try new things and a willingness to learn from all experiences (good and bad alike) definitely helps.

  9. Sarah G*

    Thinking back to what I did right out of college, I just instinctively sought out work in an industry that I already supported and cared about, which led me to finding work in an independent nonprofit natural foods store. I loved my job and my co-workers, and worked my way up to being a buyer and manager there. The money was awful but I didn’t mind; I had roommates, rode my bike everywhere, and got a decent amount of free food, so my cost of living was really low. I worked there for 3 years until I left the country to teach English, which led me onto a different path. Otherwise, I might have built a career in the natural foods industry (not retail forever, but there were plenty of other options).

  10. Lily in NYC*

    It’s helpful to think about what you would do with your life if you were independently wealthy but still had to choose a job. Sure, some of the answers won’t be feasible (sadly, no one wants to pay me to hug puppies all day) but it will at least give you an idea of where to start. If everything you choose give you lots of freedom, then maybe a traditional 9-5 office job isn’t the place for you. Think about if you prefer to interact with people all day long or if you like to work alone. It’s important to first decide in what kind of an environment you would thrive, and then delve deeper into what industries provide that environment. Easier said than done, I know!

    1. The IT Manager*

      This! Narrow it down. Does she want to work in an office in a 9-5 job? Large business, small business, non-profit government? Is she creative? Does she want to sit all day in front of a computer? Talk on the phone to people? Does she want to work alone or in groups? Does she want to interact with customers or not?

      What did she like or hate about previous work experience? Be specific because hating a job can have a lot to do with her manager and co-workers and nothing to do with what she her position was.

      Also this a hiring market so if possible she she should look for jobs where her previous experience is relevent versus something where she starting from scratch.

    2. Anony*

      Have you got any advice for someone who would literally only want to do nothing?

      I feel hopeless now, because there is nothing I want to do. :(

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        LOTS of people would only want to do nothing, so don’t worry. It’s totally fine to have a job that you don’t love, but which you’re reasonably content to do. Lots of people wouldn’t do anything if they were rich — just find something you can do reasonably happily.

        1. Jamie*

          That would be such an interesting discussion – maybe the next open thread?

          I wonder how many people would really want to do nothing. If I were independently wealthy the best part would be the ability to pick and choose without having to factor in salary – and being able to donate my time to interesting and worthwhile causes…but I don’t think I could ever do nothing.

          1. AgilePhalanges*

            I guess that depends on what each person means by “nothing.” Surely no one would be truly happy in a blank room doing literally nothing, so some people might mean “play video games all day” while others might mean “nothing paid, but I’d be very busy volunteering and doing hobbies and traveling and…”

            Personally, if I won the lotto (not likely, since I don’t play), I’d buy a big horse ranch, staff it well so I could still travel whenever I wanted, and ride myself plus probably do charity-type riding as well as possibly other business models, too (boarding, lessons, events, dude ranch vacations, whatever). And I might actually become a midwife like I always wanted, and knit during the boring parts of labor.

  11. sr*

    It’s not really a ‘take what you can get’ hiring environment for new grads anymore, which makes it important to also answer the un-asked question: once she figures out a couple things she think she would like, how does she target her current CV and potential future internships to fit those kinds of jobs.

    It took me a while to figure out what those couple of potential things would be, but what helped me was sitting down and making a laundry list of things I am good at, like doing, are bad at, don’t like doing along with the types of topics I am interested in and not interested in, what would I do even if I wasn’t getting paid. This can then turn into a mapping exercise (think, write all of these on post-its and rearrange as necessary) until a path begins to emerge.

  12. Xay*

    I would also recommend internships.

    Also, check with your major department or school’s Alumni Relations office or Career Center and see they have a directory or programs to reach out to alumni that share your major. Not every psychology major or business major remains in that field. Psychology in particular can be a surprisingly marketable major if you know how to represent your background and if you can pair it with some work or internship experience.

    1. A Career Counselor*

      I second the point about going to her school’s career center. Beyond offering a list of alumni, a career counselor can likely sit down with her to ask pointed questions and brainstorm various career fields based on her skills and interests, in addition to suggesting resources for exploring careers (some of my favorites are, and, all of which are free). Assessments have already been mentioned, but many college career centers offer Meyers-Briggs, Strong Interest Inventory, and other, less formal assessments.

  13. Christine*

    Ugh I am far from a recent college graduate, and even becoming a not-so-recent graduate from grad school, and I too have struggled with finding my path. I keep going round-and-round between my loose ideas, and I keep waiting for some sort of “a-ha!” moment. I really wish I were back where the OP is: young, just out of college and not being afraid to experiment. I’d love to perhaps see a separate post for more experienced job seekers looking to reinvent themselves or at least change directions, but haven’t been able to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

    One piece of advice for the OP: Don’t get stuck in “analysis paralysis”. I’ve been in-and-out of that trap for years, and it gets you nowhere.

    By the way, Alison: I was wondering what your stance was on career assessment tests. Do you see any value in them? I know they’re not supposed to give you THE answer, but I find that the results often draw from standardized data (mainly Bureau of Labor Statistics), and doesn’t really account for the different nuances in job titles and roles. Even with well-regarded careers books such as “What Color Is Your Parachute”, the text just gets too overwhelming with stories and “rah-rah” talk.

    1. Annie*

      I’ve struggled with the “what do I want to do when I grow up” question many times but now I’m way past grown up and though I have been pretty focused in my career, I think that it’s all wrong for me. In comes in What Color is Your Parachute … I couldn’t even get into the exercises, the whole flower/petal thing. I know what I’m good at and what I enjoy in my work but actually making the leap into THAT from what I’ve always done is the challenge.

    2. Lulu*

      +1 on both your request for a post for those of us who still haven’t been able to answer the question years later, as well as feedback re: assessments. I feel like I’ve taken every test known to mankind, and while some have been interesting &/or validating (particularly the Highlands Abilities Battery), I haven’t really found them all that useful. Other than to tell me it’s not surprising I haven’t liked any of my jobs, and the things I’m interested in aren’t remotely lucrative/employable… which is not really the result I was looking for!

      I wish I had some advice for the OP beyond temping if she can, and figuring out the “why”s (as someone else mentioned), but I’m currently running in circles on this process myself even with years and years of theoretical input. At this point, I do feel like the answer is “it doesn’t really matter what you want to do, just matters what someone will pay you to do”. I envy those who are able to sort out the intersection of ability, interest, credentials and employment market…

    3. Diane*

      Yes please! I’m in the same boat. I know what I do well, I know I need to save the world or be part of big change, and I know I need variety and continuous learning. That leaves open a lot of options. I’ll go back to school if I see value in it. I’ll even intern. I have a few ideas, but I want to make sure I haven’t overlooked something.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      By the way, Alison: I was wondering what your stance was on career assessment tests. Do you see any value in them? I know they’re not supposed to give you THE answer, but I find that the results often draw from standardized data (mainly Bureau of Labor Statistics), and doesn’t really account for the different nuances in job titles and roles. Even with well-regarded careers books such as “What Color Is Your Parachute”, the text just gets too overwhelming with stories and “rah-rah” talk.

      I TOTALLY agree with this. That’s always been my experience too, and to be honest, even though everyone in the world recommends “What Color is Your Parachute,” I never do, for exactly that reason.

      1. Mark*

        As someone who works in a college career center (don’t eviscerate me please, some of us come from hiring in industry and haven’t drunk the higher education kool-aid), I have to echo this sentiment with regards to career assessment tests. I don’t think that they are useful in the way that job seekers believe that they might be useful, and I think that the issue comes from a disconnect between what a career service practitioner believes/knows any particular tool to be, and what a student/job seeker is actually trying to get out of it. Career assessment is viewed by practitioners as a way to start a dialogue with students about reflecting on what their values will be in a job, what matters to them, and what interests them. Often, that dialogue simply does not happen. As a one-off, assessment is not useful to anyone; career advising, generally, is not useful as a one-off.

        If you want to be successful, have a lengthy relationship with those service providers, leverage them to gain experiential education like internships and co-ops, because we can generally help in that capacity. If it sounds like bad advice to you, don’t take it. Use your gut. Universities will never be as dynamic or adaptive as industry – it gets stuck in its ways, in its convention, and it will always be more oriented towards pie in the sky than rooted in pragmatism the way an employer is.

        Practitioners fall into the pitfall of thinking that because something works within academia for their purposes, it will apply outside of those walls. Take the objective, for example. Let me make myself clear – I hate objectives. For the conventional job search, they are worthless at best and harmful at worst since they make you naive. From the point of view of a practitioner they have value – they encourage self reflection of a student, they make it easier for a practitioner to critique at a glance since they know the intended outcome of the resume.

        Of note, they actually are asked by employers who take part in things like career fairs or who utilize internal hiring systems that the university might provide/support. They have value as a sorting/organizational function alone – employers ask us to have students use them because they are often interviewing for many different sorts of positions when they’re conducting hires on our campus or using our system.

        That’s what I believe is lost on practitioners – that that is not the way the hiring process is outside the ivory tower. There are no mass on-campus interviews, hiring managers are hiring for a single type of position at a time and so they know what candidates applying for off hand when they receive a resume/cover letter. Practitioners give advice that is predicated on an infinitesimally small slice of hires as if it fits into the process at large, which is a significant issue.

        Plus, many of them are counselors at their core, have neither had HR recruiting backgrounds nor hired as a managers in government or industry. They operate based on career development theory which are written by academics. Ask critical questions of your career advisor – if they’ve never hired before, think twice about listening to what they have to say because they’re more likely interested in teaching you something about yourself, helping you grow developmentally, than they are in helping you get a job.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This is such an insightful comment and really sheds some light on what’s going on with many college career centers. Thank you! (And please keep commenting — this is fascinating stuff.)

      2. Heather*

        It’s such a nice change to hear someone say that…I hated, hated, hated that book and every time somebody recommends it I start grinding my teeth a little. ;)

    5. girlreading*

      What stinks is that it’s often not until AFTER college when you’re truly out in the business world that you understand what you really like and hate to do (not what you think you’ll like), and at that point it’s too late to go back if you regret your major. Not everyone has the time or money to go back to grad school and may be worried about it’s value if a bachelor’s has been of little value.

      And it’s not just a matter of figuring out the career you want, but getting someone to hire you for it. If it’s something different than your previous experience (especially in the current economy), it’s really hard to convince anyone to take a chance on you (understandably).

      1. Rana*


        As I’ve noted in a more extensive comment below, my problem was not in assessing my skills and preferable working conditions; my challenge was figuring out for which careers those skills were desirable, beyond the specific one for which I trained.

        It’s all well and good to say that you like X, you are good at Y, and Z is a deal-breaker, but you also need to match that up with a specific industry and job position, and persuade hiring managers that you can do the work, especially if you lack direct, in-field experience.

        (A caveat: I failed at this, and ended up going into business for myself as a result. I think now that this is for the best, but I do wonder sometimes if there was some way I could have made the transition to a new career more gracefully.)

        1. Lulula*

          I’m glad to hear others talk about this – I don’t know anyone else dealing with this issue, and it’s such a tough one to deal with! I’ve been fortunate to have some offers of help with coaching etc, but I haven’t been able to get any specific input on what I could target beyond the obvious (“you were an English major? You should look into freelance writing or PR…” And no, neither of those is a remote fit.) I keep getting asked what I want to do, and it seems lost on them that a) if I knew that, I wouldn’t be talking to them! and b) what does it matter if there’s no market for it, or you need 7-10 years of direct experience to get hired?

  14. Lanya*

    I was lucky in that I was born with artistic talent, and all my life I felt that my career as a graphic designer had been pre-determined for me. It was an end result that I had been headed towards since I was about 6, and I love my career every day. (I don’t love my job every day, but I do love my career choice!)

    But for people who don’t have an innate talent that would help them figure out what their career path should be, I think it would make sense to consider the following:

    1. Figure out what you like to do for fun in your spare time.

    2. Figure out what career track will get you as close as possible to being able to get paid a livable salary, while doing that thing every day. Even if the only thing you love to do is sit around and watch movies, figure out what it is that excites you about it, and find a way to apply it to a career path.

    3. Get an education that is broad enough that your skills could be transferable to a different path in case you decide you don’t love the first one. (Get a business degree but minor in marketing. Get a French degree but double-major in education.)

    I don’t think there is such a thing as a “dream job” but I do believe it is possible to make money doing what you love to do. Even if you love basket weaving or snail racing.

    1. Jamie*

      (I don’t love my job every day, but I do love my career choice!)

      Well put – I feel exactly the same way.

  15. Wilton Businessman*

    Why do people spend $160,000 on post-secondary education and they don’t know what they want to do? I just don’t get it. Would you buy a house for $160,000 just because your lease is up? No. You figure out where you want to be and you make a plan on how to get there.

    Your friend is in a situation not unlike many pending graduates. The fact is that it is a difficult job market out there. The people that have a better chance of being hired in this market have internships while in school.

    While it’s true that you seldom end up doing what you think you’re “supposed” to do, coming out of school not knowing what you want to do is going be a big stumbling block. That lack of direction is going to come across in any interview. When I hire recent grads, I want to see a passionate goal oriented person to fill this role.

    If that’s not the case, your friend is going to have to start working her network. She is going to have to find something that interests her and pursue opportunities in that vein.

    1. Darcie*

      Ooh! I can comment on your rant!

      I am a (soon to be) recent university grad. I came into university with a plan, and of course, the experience and maturing naturally led me to change my mind. Now I’m another one of those aimless, terrified seniors.

      I also know a number of people from high school that came from well-to-do backgrounds and their parents declared “you have to go to university NOW, or else I won’t pay for it.” Or, a similar ultimatum like “move out, or go to school”. I have student loans and I’m independent, but many of my friends weren’t mature enough to assert themselves. Some people feel lost and it’s a natural, logical thing to do after high school.

      1. The IT Manager*

        “you have to go to university NOW, or else I won’t pay for it.” Or, a similar ultimatum like “move out, or go to school”.

        I can say from a distance of 16 years out of college that these are bad reasons to go to college and rack up student loans. But I made some good choices for really dumb reasons 20 years ago. A lot of it was luck so I can’t really toss stones.

        The soon-to-grad’s undergrad decision is done. Only thing to advise now is to not use grad school to put off entering the real world if she doesn’t know what she wants to do and if it requires a graduate degree.

        1. Wilton Businessman*

          Good point. While Grad School may be the next logical step, it’s also the next tier of costs. If you don’t know what you want to do now, a Master’s Degree in French Theology of the 15th Century is not going to help you figure it out.

          Also, I didn’t want to come across as discouraging. There are jobs out there for people with College degrees. It’s just you may have to kiss a few frogs before you find the prince.

          1. Xay*

            Unfortunately, grad school isn’t a sure bet for people who know what they want to do either. Even in the precious STEM fields.

          2. Matthew*

            That sort of master’s degree might not help you figure out the future, but it sure would be interesting to pursue if you had plenty of cash to spend.

        2. Darcie*

          Oh, absolutely, they’re terrible reasons. Many of those people crashed and burned because their heart wasn’t in it. It’s too bad that their parents didn’t allow the privilege of financial stability to be used to expand their horizons and allow them to try things before committing. University was a huge decision that I know I made without thinking about it enough.

      2. Jamie*

        Some people feel lost and it’s a natural, logical thing to do after high school.

        I don’t necessarily see this has a bad thing in every instance. As we all know the job market is bleak out there – especially for young people just out of high-school. I don’t think there is wrong with going to school immediately after hs to get the core classes out of the way, which you’ll need for most degrees.

        If one can’t find a job IMO it’s better being in school to help prepare than staying home unemployed in many cases.

        Yes, it’s different if you’re racking up student debt – but if you’re living at home and your parents are paying for school that’s a very good option.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Thank you for saying what I was thinking! Now admittedly, I knew from the age of 5 that I wanted to be involved in space. No amount of roadblocks could deter me from that. Bur I also knew that the whole point of university was to prepare me for a job (not just get an education) . I went into engineering instead of astrophysics because of that. The internships cemented that I had made the right career choice. The “what do I want to do with my life” conversation should really happen before you spend the big bucks. This, knowing that things could change later on.

      But this doesn’t help the OP. I would suggest volunteering in various ways to get a feel for what you enjoy. Also go to work groups and see if you get excited. I think one thing is really important- there are a lot of strange career choices out there that universities never acknowledge. Just watch “Dirty Jobs” to see all the jobs you never knew existed.

      1. Kat M*

        You sound just like my sister. Her only two requirements for the colleges she applied to were that they had to offer aerospace engineering as an undergrad major, and they had to have a fencing team. That narrowed it down pretty quickly!

        Anyhow, after putting in her time with the military doing mostly civil engineering, she’s excited about getting out, going back for a master’s degree, and getting back to the DESIGNING COOL SPACE STUFF she loves. :)

    3. Lulu*

      I literally just finished reading an article about the increasing requirement to have a BA/BS for *any* job – so I imagine they assume it’s no longer optional if there’s any way they can swing it, and just keep their fingers crossed that they’ll sort it out within 4 years as that’s what everyone else appears to do. Some people are fortunate enough to do so, others notsomuch. I know even 20 years ago, there wasn’t a question of “if”, the only question was “where”.

      1. Kat M*

        Eh, I don’t have a degree. But I do have a useful license from a trade school, so I make twice as much per hour as my husband with a BA working in a call center, and no student debt to his $27,000. It really depends on your field.

        1. Lulula*

          I guess I should have said “any office job” – and of course, you still needed to decide on training and getting your license as opposed to going the college route. FWIW my friends who are in trades or service professions make far more than I ever did, so I’m definitely part of the camp that would encourage high-school students not to disregard those options at all if they have the aptitude or interest. I personally think it sets you up for a much better career trajectory (as you’ve found!), unless you’re committed to a high-demand career that requires college. But if you want to work in an office setting, even the lowest grade job tends to require a degree these days; I know people with years of solid work experience but no degree who are having trouble finding work because of that.

          1. Kat M*

            That makes a lot of sense. I worked in an office for a grand total of three months, and realized it was absolutely not meant for me. My husband, on the other hand, finds that spreadsheets and databases make him happy. I would die. :) But it takes all kinds, and that’s what makes our world go ’round!

            I wish that, an intelligent child of an academic I’d learned earlier on to be confident about following my own path. To be honest, I still have some self-esteem issues about not being in a high-status, intellectual field, but as my career progresses I’m happier with my decisions.

    4. The IT Manager*

      I do agree. I am someone who sees college as career preparation and not a place to learn how to think or to postpone real life. Now I did change my major within my first six months and came out of college knowing I did not want to do the work that my degree most prepared me for, but I had a job lined up because of my degree and the fact that it was sought after.

      I think the choice of psychology and business degrees should signify some path the soon to be grad had in mind. But I think (don’t know) these are two of the most common undergraduate degrees and neither lead directly toward a particular field unfortunately.

    5. K*

      Historically, a college degree in anything has statistically been a good investment. That may or may not no longer be true; it’ll take a while for the numbers to shake out. But there’s a reason the paradigm of just getting a college degree in something you find interesting and figuring the career thing out earlier developed, and it’s not entirely irrational. (You could argue that those kids would have done even better had they waited until they knew exactly what they wanted to do. But you could also argue that the opportunity cost of those lost higher earning years, combined with the networking benefits of being a “typical” undergrad that forms tight bonds on campus with people who will later go on to do a wide variety of things might outweigh that. I think you’d have to look at actual evidence on that one to come to a conclusion.)

    6. Yuu*

      I actually blame the colleges – they should be doing more to help students think about these things. A lot of colleges (especially liberal arts) don’t really teach any skills that directly apply to the real world, so when students reach it, they feel bewildered.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep. HUGE problem. Students and their parents think colleges are selling career preparation; colleges generally think they’re selling a well-rounded education to make you a more critical thinker. Then students are stunned when they graduate and (many) discover they’re not particularly marketable.

        1. Esra*

          It’s really night and day between university and college. I went to both in Ontario and was (pleasantly) surprised at how practical many of my college courses were, where the university courses were much more theoretical. A lot less hype at college too, it was just more straight forward in general.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            In the US a college is generally part of a university, ie: I graduated from the College of X at Y University. My understanding is that this is very different from the rest of the world. Thus, Americans tend to use the words college & university interchangeably.

            1. fposte*

              To clarify, smaller institutions with no graduate program are often named colleges even if they aren’t part of a larger university, but they’re just as high-quality and often more focused on their undergraduates.

              And the general term in the US is “going to college” the way the UK phrase is “going to university.”

            2. Esra*

              Ah, I wasn’t sure at what point Americans would use university over college. I’ve always found it a bit confusing.

              1. Laura L*

                Most people say “going to college” even if they attend a university.

                I’m not entirely sure how schools determine whether they are a university or a college. I think it has something to do with the availability of post graduate degrees and the number of undergraduate pre-professional degrees (e.g. nursing, business, etc) compared to general degrees (e.g. physics, psychology, history, etc).

                1. Julie*

                  My small, private, liberal arts college actually changed it’s name after my first year from “College” to “University.” I think there were some technical aspects (number of degrees offered, money they were able to get, etc.) to how and why they did it, but I remember one of the main reasons being so that they would be able to appeal more to international students.

                  It really fracked with all the sweatshirts and other paraphernalia I bought from the school store after my first year, though, when it all had the wrong name. ;)

                2. Laura L*


                  My mom’s and brother’s alma maters (both small liberal arts colleges) did that. In the case of my brother’s school, I think it had something to do with over half of the degrees they awarded being in nursing or another pre professional area. Also, they added some master’s and PhD programs.

                  So, that’s where I got my assumption from. I have no idea if it’s right! My alma mater has not done this and I’m pretty sure it won’t because the liberal arts education thing is a huge part of it’s identity.

                1. Maria*

                  Not quite, but similar. College is almost like an intermediate stage, between High School and University. It does have more focused education and there are trade programs within Colleges, but Universities are the end goal.

        2. Tim*

          I don’t necessarily disagree, but I also think there’s a group that wants “career preparation” yet can’t find a place to get it without becoming welders, which is not their goal. I don’t have a solution for that, it feels like just the way the white collar world works, but it is nevertheless a problem.

          1. Lynn*

            I agree. I wish the colleges/universities would stop acting so *surprised* and *unprepared*. “Wow, where does everyone keep getting this weird idea that we prepare students for careers? Just because that’s what people think they’re getting, and just because there’s no place else to go to prepare for white-collar employment, why should we make any efforts in that direction at all?”

          2. Esra*

            I think universities could use more college-style courses. I was so happy in college that my profs were actually talking about how we would use what we were learning in the workplace. They talked about resumes, we did videotaped test interviews, etc. There was still theory work (I studied graphic design, there might be less of that in more trade-based programs), but it was balanced by a healthy dose of practical work and teaching.

        3. Christine*

          I kinda feel that way about grad school too. I erroneously thought my Masters program was going to give me practical skills and knowledge; instead, it was very theory-based, which I think is hard to apply in internships and employment.

        4. Jamie*

          I adamantly agree with this. I am a huge fan of life long learning and education for the sake of it – I really am – but we are not wealthy and putting the kids through school is a sacrifice. One I’m more than happy to make, because I want to give them the best possible start with no debt – but that means absolutely means planning education around a career.

          Sure, careers change, no one knows that better than I – but without a goal in mind they have even fewer options.

          I know too many people with general liberal arts degrees with a general focus and they are struggling even harder than those who have some core business classes or a specific degree.

      2. bean*

        liberal arts is getting such a bad rap lately. i find it irksome.

        i didn’t go to college for specific career training. i went to get exposure to ideas, experiences and people that i would otherwise never get. by learning about these different things, meeting new people and being involved in campus activities, i was able to hone in on what i wanted to do. granted, i’m more of a goal setter than most and i thought i knew exactly what i wanted to do… but the things i pursued in college, as liberal and as artsy as they may have been, definitely provided a foundation for my career.

        it’s impossible to prepare at 18 for a specific job you will have at 21 or 30 or 40 in this day and age. many of these jobs don’t even exist yet. but there are basic fundamentals, some of them STEM related, some of them humanities related, that will give you the background you need no matter where the market goes.

        but you have to be in the game to know the positions. not going to school significantly decreases your chances of playing.

        1. Rana*


          Yes. I did not go to college to learn how to become a better widget-maker. I went because I was a brainy kid who loved learning, and who always felt like a round peg in a square hole in the more materialistic environment of high school. What motivated me was a desire to add to human knowledge and improve society, not the promise of a better paycheck. I was lucky in that I was smart enough to earn some scholarship money, and came from a financially stable background, and had my parents’ blessing in such a pursuit. I recognize this is a luxury not available to many people, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong to think about college education this way.

          Now, grad school was where I wanted to learn the skills that would turn that desire into a functional career, but even then, it was more about figuring out how to get paid to do what I was already doing and enjoying and was good at, rather than learning things in order to get paid.

          Is this the right approach for everyone? No. But I would argue that it is just as valid as the “go to college so I can have a decent job afterward” one. And I think it’s telling that we expect institutions designed for the first task to be good at the second. I don’t know any professors who think that what they teach is meant as a form of vocational training – most would readily admit that they have no training in it, having followed the path I described, with little direct experience of how non-academic work environments operate. What they do have training in is teaching people how to think about new information and about exploring ideas and concepts and other ways of doing things, and to find and analyze information independently. While skill in those area may have monetary value outside the university, that’s not the criterion by which a successful effort is judged within it.

          If you want to blame someone for the mismatch, it’s the administrators seeking funding and tuition monies who claim that a university education is a form of vocational training that lacks a working-class taint, and the society at large that insists that the only institutions worth funding are those that make money and train others to make money, while at the same time denigrating institutions that are purely vocational in focus.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t have any beef with learning for learning’s sake, but the problem is that parents/kids think they’re buying one thing and schools are offering another. And it’s not like schools don’t know that. LOTS of people wouldn’t pay for college if they realized it wouldn’t prepare them for work.

            1. Heather*

              Totally agree – I think Rana’s last paragraph hits the nail on the head about why that’s happening.

            2. K*

              I don’t know – I’m not sure how well colleges prepare people for work has much effect on the market for entry-level employees. I haven’t seen any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that businesses would be hiring new grads if they were better trained; instead, it just seems like the job market has shrunk all over except in the low-paying and unstable retail and hospitality sectors. And for those decent jobs that do still hire entry-level employees – well, they are in a position to and are demanding college degrees for the most part.

              Which is not to say trade school and vocational training isn’t a great option for a lot of kids. And certainly putting kids in 6 figures of debt with no job prospects at the end is an awful, awful idea. But I don’t know that our current model would be fixed by colleges giving better job training (though it may be a good idea for other reasons).

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Well, if students got something more akin to real-life work experience in college, I do think it would make them more marketable when they graduate. But even if not, I’d argue the key thing is that colleges be clear with students what they are and aren’t getting with that degree. Too many kids come out of college assuming they’re now qualified for jobs and are shocked and frustrated when they realize that they aren’t. They need to understand from the beginning what the degree will and won’t mean.

                1. Jamie*

                  Very few people can write their own ticket, I’m afraid. But with the dependence on technology we’re kind of considered a necessary evil on the books.

                  But absolutely in the last several years IT departments everywhere went from understaffed to a staff of 1 trying not to die from exhaustion. There have been a lot of cut backs where you’ve got a generalist in house and the fancy stuff is outsourced to consultants.

                  It’s definitely not the cush gig it once was. My dad was in IT before anyone knew what IT was. He was lucky enough to work at one of the first companies to automate with computers and wrote his first code in 1959 (the days of Fortran). When he was up and coming “computer people” as they were called had this cloak of mystery and genius about them – because truly no one understood what they did. Especially in the 60’s – early 70’s most people had no exposure to computers except on TV.

                  We went from sacred geniuses to keyboard monkeys in one generation!

              2. Jamie*

                it just seems like the job market has shrunk all over except in the low-paying and unstable retail and hospitality sectors.

                There is some good news on the IT front. January 2013 saw the biggest gains in IT employment in the last five years.


                I know things look bleak out there – but some sectors are picking up. Besides IT I know a lot of companies in manufacturing are still struggling to fill jobs for CAD/CAM and production programming. Our HR runs into several of our competitors every time there is a job fair at a local college – trying to woo the same small pool of candidates.

                Overall it still sucks, though.

                1. Lulula*

                  LOL You can tell I’m not in IT, I always think anyone with IT skills can write their own ticket – probably because I see so many tech skills requested/required that are out of my reach (and the high number of listings on I think I assumed that was a field not impacted by the implosion…

    7. Sam*

      Thanks for soapboxing. I feel similarly and find it very disturbing that it’s somehow acceptable to be graduating from college without knowing what to do, especially in light of the monstrous financial burden. I don’t mean this on a personal level, but on a macro- societal level. How is it okay for a generation of young people to take on so much debt with such cloudy career plans? How is it okay for colleges to be churning out graduates with no idea what they actually want to do?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree, Sam.
        Is this our next bubble? Does our world need more critics (critical thinkers) or more doers?

        Maybe it is just me but this critical thinking stuff seemed to boil down to “Quick think of something negative to say!”

        1. Heather*

          The “critical” in critical thinking doesn’t have anything to do with criticism in the way you’re thinking of it. Critical thinking is learning how to evaluate information, including the source and the assumptions behind it, in order to make a decision or formulate an opinion.

          Believe me, our society is *extremely* short on people with critical thinking skills. We have “doers” all over the place, but whenever somebody tries to look at the rationale behind what is being done, or its consequences, they’re ignored or shouted down. For example, the financial crisis happened because the Goldman Sachs and AIGs of the world were so blinded by the potential for short-term profit that they ignored all of the people trying to warn them about the risks of their strategy.

            1. Laura L*

              Yes, from what I’ve read since, I think the people at Goldman Sachs and other big investment banks knew exactly what they were doing. And they were making lots of money, so they kept at it until it imploded.

              1. Heather*

                Oh, I wasn’t implying that they lacked education – although since they were probably b-school grads, I doubt critical thinking skills were a huge part of the curriculum. What I meant was that our society (especially the business world) rewards action and holds caution in contempt. In the housing bubble and the financial crisis, anyone who tried to warn about consequences was dismissed as a naysayer who didn’t understand the new way of doing things.

                There’s a lot about this in Quiet (the Susan Cain book about introverts). She uses Harvard Business as a case study to show how introversion and introspection are considered liabilities there. All the glory is reserved for the “deciders”…even when they are dead wrong.

                1. Laura L*

                  I agree with you, but I don’t think ignorance was the sole cause of the financial crisis. I think a lot of the “deciders” knew the products they were selling were bad for their clients and I would bet that many had at least some idea that the whole thing could come crashing down, they just didn’t care because they were earning boatloads of money off it all.

                  That’s what I meant.

                2. Heather*

                  Replying to Laura’s comment below: It definitely wasn’t ignorance – more like greed and hubris. At least some of them (probably most) knew what could happen and didn’t care. But there were people who knew what could happen and did care, and executives and regulators didn’t listen to what they were saying because they either couldn’t or wouldn’t look past the shiny surface.

                  I’m pretty sure we are in total agreement and I’m just doing a crap job of explaining. I may not know what I want to be when I grow up but at least I know I can’t be a teacher or a talking head ;)

                3. Laura L*

                  Ok, got it. We definitely do agree!

                  I think I was focusing on your comment that “anyone who tried to warn about consequences was dismissed as a naysayer who didn’t understand the new way of doing things.” Which I inferred to mean that the people at the top didn’t know what they were doing, when they knew exactly what they were doing.

                  I also don’t think they lacked critical thinking skills.

                  But I definitely agree that a lot of people knew exactly what was going on and just didn’t care.

                4. Heather*

                  Yeah, the banks weren’t lacking in critical thinking skills, they were lacking in a conscience! But I think some of the crisis might have been prevented if people had more skill at evaluating whether a claim was realistic – maybe fewer people would have fallen for the mortgage brokers’ “You can afford a $500k house on $50k a year with an interest-only loan! Home values are only going up!” b.s.

                  Or who knows, maybe willful blindness will always overcome any amount of critical thinking lessons in situations like that. There’s a depressing thought to start the weekend ;)

      2. KellyK*

        The flip side of that is that a college degree is treated the way a high school diploma used to be, as a basic, bare minimum requirement for a lot of positions. (At my company, one of the VPs doesn’t have a bachelors, because she’s just been in the industry forever, and it didn’t matter then. But now, there are very entry-level positions that require it.) So even if you don’t have a clear plan for what you will do with the degree, *not* getting the degree cuts off a lot of options.

        I’m also curious whether “grads not knowing what they want to do” is actually a new thing. It’s only been ten years since I graduated, but I recall having a lot of classmates who weren’t sure what they wanted to do. (And then there were those like me, who did their planned career for a couple years, hated it, and did something different.)

        I think it used to be much more that, when the job market was good, it didn’t matter so much if you knew what you wanted to do right when you graduated because unless you majored in underwater basketweaving, you had a number of options just by virtue of the degree. Now that it’s so much more of an employer’s market, you might have to have not only an exact major but relevant internship to get a job in a given field, so heaven help you if you changed your mind and weren’t planning that path since you were eighteen.

        Added to that, the cost of college keeps going up. What might make sense for 10 grand in debt makes a lot less sense for 30 grand and none at all for 100 grand.

        1. Heather*

          This whole comment is spot on!

          I think the fact that so many jobs now require a degree (in order to be hired, not in order to do the job) is actually part of why the cost of college keeps going up. When you pump up demand like that, the suppliers can keep charging more and more. And as a result, you get people saying that you shouldn’t even bother with college unless you know exactly what you want to do with your life, because you’re paying too much to not come out with a good job. That’s backwards – we should be finding ways to make education more affordable for people who want it instead of saying that it’s pointless for anyone who doesn’t have a game plan.

          I think this is partly a divide between STEM and non-STEM types. Thinking of my science major friends, they pretty much had to plot our their coursework from day one if they were going to fit in all the labs they needed. You don’t have to do that with liberal arts because you’re not spending as much time physically in class. So maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg thing.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          I couldn’t disagree more! I know that my generation used to have career discussions on high school. You went into the armed services to learn a trade, or to trade school to learn a trade, or to university to earn a trade. You were actively discouraged from going into flooded fields. Sure, there were a few rich kids going to school just to go to school, but they were in the minority. And while you could take a class in underwater basket weaving you couldn’t major in it.

          It is true that college is the new high school diploma. It isn’t the discriminator it once was. Which is why people should be thinking about employable career choices before spending that money.

          And by the way, it is true in STEM fields too. As I said, I went into engineering (jobs) Vs astrophysics (no jobs)

          1. fposte*

            Some of that’s situational, though; I don’t think you and I are that different in age, and I grew up suffused in the post-war go-to-college-to-make-yourself-an-educated-person world, which had nothing to do with learning a trade.

            1. K*

              Yeah, I think an awful lot of this depends on the social milieu in which one grew up. I think there are plenty of people even my parents’ age (late 50s) who grew up being told “get a college degree; it doesn’t matter what,” and plenty of people now who are told “make sure you know what you want to do and don’t go into debt and post-secondary education should be practical.” And there’s a variety of reasons for that and a reason why that’s the lesson middle class and higher people have been giving their children in recent years. Not because it’s amazing advice and the cosmic way of the universe, but because socially college degrees have opened up career doors (that maybe they shouldn’t have).

              Even in this current recession, college graduates have fared much better than high school graduates. The question, I think, is whether going forward a college degree will, by itself, be enough to outperform the debt incurred.

            2. Heather*

              Yes, I’m 35 and as I said, this is what I grew up with. It may be the suburban middle-class upbringing, but if you were one of the smart kids in high school, you went to college. Not going to college would have been like announcing you were joining the circus. It sucked for the kids who were good in school but would have preferred a trade school (or the circus :D), because that was considered a track only for the less academically inclined kids.

              1. Jamie*

                Per the bureau of labor 63.3% of 2011 high school graduates were enrolled in college as of October of 2011.

                For my son’s high school (and where my older two attended) 96% of kids from class of 2011 went to college.

                Not everyone will finish – or finish on the 4 year plan – but the stats are showing that it’s more like a transition (like jr. high to high school) than an option for the vast majority of kids.

                It wasn’t an option for me – nor the kids with whom I went to school…but back in the 80’s it was an option for my husband and those with whom he grew up. If they went to college they needed to pay for it themselves…so a lot of guys joined the PD/FD/SD. He couldn’t get on the force without college now.

                It’s not a ticket to a great career – but it’s a pre-requisite in most cases.

                1. Heather*

                  It really has become a requirement for so many jobs that really don’t need it. It’s the flip side of “college as career prep” – instead of saying that only people with a specific career goal should go to college, it’s saying that everyone should go regardless of their career goal. They’re opposite ends of the pendulum, when the middle would be best – if you want to get an education for its own sake, and/or you need it for your career goal, then you go. Otherwise, you could pursue other options.

                  I think it also ties back to the blue/white collar divide. If your family expects you to go to college, you go, and if they don’t, you stay home. So you end up with kids from the middle/upper classes going to college even though they don’t want to, and kids from the working classes not even seeing it as an option although they’d do well with it. (This is of course a huge generalization with a million exceptions!)

                2. Jamie*

                  Oh I agree with you and I totally bemoan the lack of paths without college – because it really is a specious requirement in many cases.

                  It’s just become more expensive high school.

                  This is a personal struggle for my son who has severe and pervasive learning disabilities in addition to being on the spectrum. I am seeing him fight and claw against a math based disability trying to learn quadratic equations because it’s required.

                  It’s hard to stress that it’s necessary when my husband never took this level of math and he’s open about the fact that he’s never needed it and has no intention of learning it now.

                  Tears, books flying across the room, more foul language than you can imagine and all because of required classes to check off the box.

                  It makes me sad – but what’s the alternative? It’s rough out there.

                3. Heather*

                  That’s sad and infuriating. I hope your son becomes a huge success in whatever he wants to do and this ends up as just an unpleasant memory.

              2. Anon*

                +1. As a society we’ve put a lot of pressure on kids to make a choice, as long as it’s on the approved list for their race, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic region, etc., etc., etc. All white males in suburban Wichita are not well suited for KSU, so why are we treating them like they are? Let ’em spend a year or two in the circus if they want, then we can talk.

      3. Maria*

        The wrinkle is that we’re talking about a generation of individuals who were basically at the turning point of what a college/university education meant in the long run. From the parent and institution standpoint, it will give them the background they need to get a job. From the industry standpoint, it is a piece of paper. NOW we know that it’s just a piece of paper and kids making the college/university decision are a bit more knowledgeable about this, but when I was starting college/university, this was not the case and there wasn’t the information about the value of internships over the actual degree.

        Now that I’m done, I’d love a do-over, knowing what I do now about what you’re actually getting from the degree and what you need to have with it to make it valuable. This is especially true in families where he/she might be a first generation college/university graduate. Parents don’t know these things, so they’re not making the educated decisions about it when they go in.

    8. summercamper*

      Yes! I’m a recent grad of a religious, private, expensive university. While I managed to escape unburdened by student loans (and no, I don’t have wealthy parents – fantastically poor ones, which helped me get a lot of scholarships), I’ve got a lot of friends who came out some $100,000 in debt with no idea what they wanted to do, or who landed their first job in their chosen field only to discover that they hated it and will have to go back to school to make the major career changes they desire.

      While this won’t help the OP much, I advise nearly all recent high school graduates to consider cost-effective options for figuring out what you want to do, even if it means temporarily delaying university. Community college is great for this, job shadowing even better. While a college degree often opens the doors for greater earnings later, it’s not for everyone – I’ve got a sibling in skilled trades who earns significantly more than my college-graduate husband and I combined, and loves the work.

    9. Anonymous*

      “Why do people spend $160,000 on post-secondary education and they don’t know what they want to do?”

      Because our parents told us we had to.

  16. Colette*

    The first time I was laid off, the outplacement company I worked with recommended an exercise. Basically, you started with several accomplishments (work or personal), wrote down what you did, then figured out what skills you used. The next step was to look at your master list of skills and figure out which skills you enjoyed using. Finally, you figured out where they intersected – i.e. what skills you could successfully use AND enjoyed using.

    It might be useful to start by thinking of things that way – knowing what you are good at and enjoy helps narrow down what’s important to you in a job.

  17. Jubilance*

    My best suggestion is trial & error. Now that she’s graduating, it’s probably too late for internships, but I always suggest those to students. You can either fall in love or figure out that its definitely something you don’t want to do, but either way you learn something.

    I think the student’s best bet is keep an open mind & try out a position for a year & and take inventory of what she likes & doesn’t like. Then when applying to new positions, she can have a better idea of what she’d like to do. Also during that year, try to build up her network & do as many informational interviews as possible.

  18. Steph*

    Most college career centers can at least talk through some of this with students and help them figure out a path or at least understand what they are good at. Example: I went to a workshop at my college and took an assessment that told me I should be a dance therapist. This was crazy to me for many reasons at first (primarily because I’d never been a dancer). The career center staff helped me to process it, though, and realize that there were elements I could take away and look for in a career – namely creativity and a helping profession.

    If assessments aren’t available as a starting point, I agree with another poster’s reply to analyze the things you enjoy – what classes were most interesting and exciting? what activities does she participate in that might be a start to a job/career? Understanding how to leverage the skills gained through campus activities in a job search is something else that career center staff can assist her with. I work in colleges, so I may be biased on this one, but generally speaking students don’t utilize career center staff to the best of their ability and while they aren’t going to be placing students in jobs, they can help them process interests and find leads.

  19. Lulu*

    In addition to her talents, she should think about her personality and what kind of environments she’d like to work in. For me, I thought I wanted to be an advertising copywriter, because I loved writing, marketing, and branding. However, sitting at a desk tweaking headlines all day proved to be NOT what I was looking for, and PR ended up as a much better fit. I can still write and strategize, but is much more social and fast-paced, which suits my personality. People in college had always told me I’d be good at PR, and I didn’t know what it meant. Had I really thought about it, I would have realized that, as the social of my sorority, I was already planning events, and I was always looking to connect with/meet new people. Another thing: during that year I was miserable in advertising, I considered becoming a personal trainer. I’d always been a gym rat, so it seemed like it might make sense, at least until I figured out a bigger plan. Well, I got certified, then had an informal meeting with a trainer in my gym, then realized that I had no interest in the actual science of musculature, let alone touching other people’s sweaty bodies all day. Even though working out was my biggest hobby, and they say do what you love and the money will follow, I realized that I liked working out ALONE, and for ME; it was not something that suited my career personality.

    1. HB*

      You hit on a great point here – think about what leadership /extracurricular activities you have been involved with, and what you liked about your roles as well as what you are already good at.

      Do you love organization? Are you good at budgeting and keeping track of money? Are you the social butterfly of the group, planning outings and events? Do you do your best work in team environments, or by yourself? Do you need a quiet, solitary environment to study? Are by nature a procrastinator who needs a looming deadline to get going or can you self-motivate? Considering some of your study habits/personality traits may help you identify some skills and types of things you’d be good at.

      For example, I have always gravitated towards leadership roles in my extra curricular activities. I liked doing anything where I was running the meetings, training new members, making announcements, leading team bonding activities, etc. I knew I liked teaching/leading, but wasn’t 100% sold on the idea of being a school teacher. Years later… I’m a community health educator, and I LOVE IT.

      Knowing your personality can be very helpful too, although some of this self-realization only comes as a result of being in a miserable situation, unfortunately. My most unhappy job was in an internship doing data analysis – I sat alone in a basement office with no one to whom I could even ask questions. I am also a terrible procrastinator and struggled to stay motivated with no deadlines at all. For some, this would be an ideal work environment, but it was my own personal hell. I learned that I need a lot of human interaction as well as a pretty structured work environment in order to be the most happy and the most successful in my job. I work best when things feel EXTREMELY URGENT. Understanding these types of quirks about yourself can help you recognize work environments where you’d thrive, and where you would struggle.

  20. Amanda*

    I will be watching this thread closely because I have a similar issue, except I am not a recent grad. I’ve done a lot of things I enjoy and there’s about five different career directions that I think I would be very happy with, but there’s not one that stands head-and-shoulders above the others. I have eliminated a few paths through informational interviews and thinking critically about what I really want my career to look like.

    Unfortunately, it seems like this is a bad time to be a generalist. I did experiment with different paths and I’m finding that I’m having a hard time piecing together enough experience in any specific function to meet the “3-5 years” requirement that even the most menial entry-level job has. I have plenty of experience overall, but it’s a hodgepodge of public health, public history, community outreach, international development, fundraising, teaching and project management, without the 3-5 years in any specific skills.

    I’m not saying DON’T experiment though. Better to experiment now than go down the wrong career path for 20 years and then end up pigeon-holed and unable to change careers. But it’s a tough right now if you don’t have a very specific and marketable career path.

    1. Lulula*

      I’m encountering the same thing – I have a lot of experience in aggregate, but not enough in any one thing to meet the very specific requirements I see. My experience does tie together somewhat (though I admit, completely unintentionally), but apparently not enough to be appealing. I think early on, ALL experience is helpful, as you get a feeling for working in professional environments. But it seems a bit of a Bell Curve if you can’t narrow it down at some point – I’d probably have more opportunities now with less experience behind me!

      I have to say, it’s also odd to me that so many people think it’s unusual not to have a career mapped out before you even enter college: when I was 18, I had such limited experience of the world, let alone potential job titles, I’m not surprised I didn’t have a specific direction in mind beyond gaining some kind of foundation that would help me later on. I wish college had involved more discussion of what was realistic for me to do rather than just what I was interested in, as the latter went nowhere fast after graduation…

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Actually, being a generalist in many fields and a specialist on one is the new employable paradigm. But you have to have deep knowledge in one area.

    3. Christine*

      You’ve hit upon pretty much everything I’m dealing with too; that is, what I call a “mish-mosh” of jobs, internships and volunteering that probably make me look like a jack-of-all-trades within my field, but not a master in any one thing. Believe me, it wasn’t intentional at all.

  21. Mary C.*

    I think this is really unfortunate. I was in the same boat and I would give anything to go back and have a clearer idea of what I wanted to do so that I could strategically plan out a career path. I sort of fell into what I did for the first five years out of college and I loved my work. When a personal crisis curtailed me for about a year, I was never able to get back into that field (I’m now a secretary and full of bitterness and anger that fills all other aspects of my life, sadly, I hate my life). I would never encourage anyone to go to college without having some idea of what they want out of life. They may not need to have a five year or ten year plan, but having no idea could turn into self-loathing regret, as it has for me (and I used to have a fulfilling career). I would really encourage informational interviews of anyone your cousin knows, no matter what they do. Ask as many questions as possible!

    1. Job seeker*

      It made me sad to read your post. I feel so bad for you that you hate your life. If I knew then what I know now has been running through my mind. I love my life but I wish I had continued my education after high school. I would make a few different decisions. I did go back to school a year ago only for a year and I loved it. If I could go back I think I would have considered nursing. I love the medical field and I love helping other people.

      It is too late in the game for me to do this now, although I really loved going back to school. There are so many things I do not know and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to learn. I say this to encourage someone else to keep after your dreams and do this while you have the opportunity do not waste time. After all, it is your story it is up to you.

    2. glennis*

      Mary C, your comment also makes me sad. I am wondering why there isn’t a way to get back into the field you were in where you are happy. Is it something that requires a specific skill, like ballet dancing or paragliding, or sword-swallowing that is now beyond your physical capability? Or is it something with a unique work environment that doesn’t exist where you now live – like undersea diving when you now live in the Midwest? Or is it so specialized that there are only a few employers, and none in your area?

      I am not asking to be snarky – I am in a similar state. I worked in a very specialized field in the arts for some 20 years. It was almost a secret brotherhood. Age, physical ability and a family relocation caused me to change focus, but I was able to find administrative jobs related to the field and my previous experience was an asset.

      Doesn’t the field that you were in also have businesses that would need people with the administrative skills you now have? Or are there suppliers to that field that you might be able to work for? In either case you would maintain a connection with your former interest.

    3. Jean*

      Mary C, I hope that in the not-too-distant future you will again find happiness, either on or off the job. Surely there’s something that makes you smile–potted plants, handcrafts, volunteering with children? Life doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing business. I wish you well.

  22. Ann*

    For me, internships were huge. There was no way I could have broken into the competitive industry I’m in now without them. Plus, during my internship I was able to see what kind of roles were available and picture myself in those positions. I got a fantastic recommendation that helped me land a full-time job later on (not without a lot of rejection beforehand though, it took time). I think it also helps to talk with friends and family. That’s how I even became interested in this industry. As an English major, I assumed I would be a teacher, but a friend said, “What? You don’t want to deal with whiny kids all day. Try this instead. My mom’s friend does that type of job and you could too.” She was right. I didn’t want to be a teacher but I thought that’s all I was qualified for. Sometimes those kind of conversations can help you realize what you really want.

  23. Liz in the City*

    –What do you like / don’t like doing? What will you do / won’t do for a paycheck? It helps to think of past positions or jobs you’ve held and what you’ve appreciated / despised about each. (I hate: answering phones, dealing with the public, selling in general, anything with numbers)

    –Where do you want to live? If it’s a major consideration, then narrow your search to those locations and make sure your industry hires in those locales. (I wasn’t going to happy in anywhere but a city. Also, some cities are known for certain industries. Cleveland, for example, is great if you’re in banking or insurance. Not so much if you’re in fashion.)

    –What hours / time commitment do you want? 24-hour plug-in, 9-5, or shift work? (I like 9-5, with total focus on my real life.)

    –You might not be able to determine this until you get a job, but have you gravitated to large colleges or organizations where you’re just Worker #1, or to smaller settings where everyone knows your name?

    –Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. I’ll never be a trail guide, a stellar salesperson, or adept IT person. But I can write a 500-word article in 30 minutes, come up with creative ideas on the fly, and learn the ins and outs of a social media network in a hurry.

    Good luck to your cousin! If it helps (and it might not), many have been in the same place. I think it’s rare for someone to leave college knowing exactly what they want to do, or even if they do, end up in that profession for the rest of their lives.

        1. Heather*

          Ooh, then I have a question for you! How much of your job is *writing* copy, as opposed to just editing someone else’s? Because I am absolute crap at the “500-word article in 30 min” and “creative ideas on the fly” things, but really good at editing. But it seems like more and more companies are combining the functions of copy editors and copywriters, and I just do. not. have what it takes to be a copywriter.

          1. Lulula*

            Damn you Heather, are you reading my mind? ;) I get very burnt out with marketing writing, and realize that I enjoy editing & proof reading more than the “creative” element. But in addition to the 21st century trend of the 5(or2)-in-1 job, there’s that pesky fact that I get the feeling that there are a lot more of us than there are proofreading/editing jobs looking for people without 10 years of experience and major ad campaign writing skills. Despite what my career coach keeps trying to tell me.

            1. Heather*

              Either I’m reading your mind, or we are the same person ;) Right down to the career coach!

              (Are you on the AAM Linked In group? We should chat!)

  24. mel*

    It’s been said (finally!), and I am the last person to be able to give anyone advice EVER because I’m in such a bad place but…

    … add me to the list of people who think it’s strange to spend so much on tuition for no reason. Universities have such powerful marketing!

    But hey, lots of people work on the side and pay tuition out of their pockets, or get good scholarships. I’ve spent money on education that turned out to be useless for me, but no loans here!

    (I was sucked into the whole “we pay pastry artists $20/hour to start!” which quickly turned into “we will pay you minimum wage and demand you buy a car first.” Powerful marketing.)

    On the bright side, if you’ve got one of them fancy degree things and your biggest issue is choosing which job you want, I’d say that’s a pretty darn sweet problem to have.

  25. Coelura*

    Another option for the student is to get a job with a temp agency that staffs offices. She can work for a few months or a few years rotating through different kinds and sizes of companies, learning & experiencing different options. When she finds what she wants to pursue, she’ll be in a good position to chase it.

  26. AB*

    I’ve recommended this book here before, and will do so again:

    So good they can’t ignore you — the book was written by an MIT student during his quest to figure out what path to follow after finishing school:

    It’s really eye-opening for all people, but particularly useful for someone in a position like the OP’s cousin.

    1. ggg*

      I agree, this is an excellent book.

      My advice would be to just DO. SOMETHING. Get going on a path. Doors will open. Interesting opportunities will come up. You may end up doing something you never dreamed was possible at the start.

  27. E.T.*

    My suggestion is to go the temp agency route.

    A temp agency can place you in a bunch of different companies to try out (and earn a little pocket money in the meantime as well). An added bonus, if you are a temp, you usually can get the inside scoop on what jobs are available in a particular company. Or, if you do a particularly good job, some companies will go out of their way to create a permanent position for the temp. Finally, a temp agency can sometimes provide some help when negotiating salary because they have salary comparables of the local environment. If a company offers a salary below market, you will bet the temp agency will fight to get that salary raised for you as their commission is also tied to that salary offer. (All of the above happened to me).

    However, not all temp agencies are created equal. Some focus on administrative work. Some focus on accounting/bookeeping. And some focus on construction work or the medical field. Some are national (which means they tend to reqeust a larger commission, so their clients also tend to be larger corporations). Some are smaller and local (so their clients may also be smaller and local). Also note, some agencies have multiple offices around the country, but just because one office on the West Coast has outstanding service and a high placement rate doesn’t mean that their counterpart on the East Coast will be the same.

    You can ask temp agencies which companies they work with. That may help you narrow down which agencies you want to work with.

    Finally, most jobs the temp agencies place you to try out or apply for are entry-level positions. Please don’t snub your nose at those positions. You have no idea now much you can learn from an assistant position and use it as a leaping off point in your career. Once I went from temp to Admin Assistant to HR manager. Another time I went from temp to Marketing Assistant to Marketing Director. My point is, especially for a recent grad with limited previous work experience, don’t expect the temp agency to get you that executive manager dream position.

    Good luck.

    1. Mary C.*

      On the other hand, I would caution strongly against going to a temp agency because you could get labeled as a permanent temp with little option to transition to full-time positions. On every HR/Career-related blog, people say you can overcome this, but working in recruiting and as someone who has gone the temp route in hopes of a) paying my bills, and b) transitioning the role into a perm role (I’ve spoken to placement agencies that say, flat out, we won’t put you forth for a full-time role because you’ve temped so much before), I can tell you, it’s such a huge hurdle, I have personally given up. I am now in a job I hate, killing time (and my soul) as I let time pass so I can remove the stigma of job-hopping (even though everything is listed as contracts) from my resume.

      1. Silhouette*

        Oh, Mary C, I feel for you. The exact same thing happened to me and I lived in a pool of misery and bitterness for years. The one day I fell back in, completely by accident. Please don’t give up hope – you never know what’s round the corner. If someone had told me I would get back to my old field, I would have said that there was no possible way that it could happen. Good luck.

        1. E.T.*

          There are ways to not become a permanent temp:

          (1) If you do not like the company, you are not obligated to stay. Ask the temp agency to send to to another assignment. Also, you can sign up with multiple temp agencies at the same time. Let all agencies know you are available if you are not happy with your current assignment. If you can give a valid reason for your dissatisfaction (they are paying below market, work responsibilities have changed from what you thought it would be, they moved their office and the commute is now unreasonable for you, etc.), even better.

          (1) Treat your temp time as a valuable opportunity to assess whether the company will be a good fit for you. Are the employees happy? Will you be satisfied with their benefits? Also, how you are treated as a temp may very well be how you will be treated as a permanent employee. If a company looks down on you as a temp, that is probably an indication they do not value their employees. If they hesitate to consider you for a open position because you are a temp, they may refuse to promote you later on when an higher level position becomes open.

          (3) Also, since the cousin has just graduated, that person doesn’t have a long history of temping. If the person really did not want future companies to know about the temp assignments, just leave the temp jobs off the resume. However, if the person has not had any previous work experience, having a temp job or contracted position on their resume may actually be better than no professional experience at all.

          (4) Treat your time at your temp position as an opportunity to network. Even if the company stresses they are do not have any open positions after you finish your assignment, their employees may know of other available positions in their clients’ companies, or their spouses’ companies, etc. Also, if you make a good impression on a senior-level person, sometimes they will be willing to give a recommendation letter or be a reference for you in your future job search.

          (5) Finally, due to the current economic environment, temp/placement agencies (like layoffs) may not have the stigma it used to have. Many highly educated and previously senior level employees are now using these agencies while they still actively look for work. And since hiring the wrong person eventually becomes costly for a company, some companies also like “trying out” a potential employee now before they bring them on board.

          I used a temp agency when I first graduated, and two times later when I moved across the country (once to get married, and once due to my husband’s job). I’ve always liked temping for a short while because I can get a lot of information on companies while I temped.

          As I mentioned in point (1) above, the companies that treated me well later hired me for open positions, and in one case created one for me; they all later promoted me through the ranks.

          As for the ones that didn’t, I immediately asked the agency to remove me and place me somewhere else (and I can only recall one instance – they contracted me to help them with their database, but paid very much below market value, so I asked to be removed; I later found out they were having financial problems and laid off some people) .

          Again, to reiterate, if someone is really worried about being labeled as a permanent temp, just leave it off the resume while temping. Especially for a recent grad out of school, a short-term temp experience may provide many insights into what companies are hiring, what kind of work environments are out there, salaries and benefits that are commonly offered, and potential career paths.

    2. Lulula*

      I usually recommend temping, and that’s how I’ve gotten all of my jobs. Of course, I’m not really the poster child for that, given my current long-term unemployment/lack of career, but that’s not the temping’s fault. It definitely gave me an opportunity to learn both new skills and the variety of opportunities and environments out there when I was first starting out, and obviously the temp-to-perm scenario worked out well for me multiple times. I think these days quite a few companies seem to abuse the “permatemp” scenario vs legit temp-to-perm hiring; the only way to avoid that is to set a deadline for yourself beyond which you will not stay at the same company if they’re not hiring you full time, if that’s a concern. I’m not aware of there being any stigma to being a long term temp (i.e. someone who’s done a lot of different temp jobs, as Mary C. seems to be talking about), but it’s also been many years since I last dealt with an agency, and I’m aware much has changed in the world since then. Or there could just be jerky agents/agencies.

      That said, I’ve also found it tough to get in with the agencies now, although I’m about to try it again. So it may be a tougher path to utilize these days, but still one to seriously consider.

  28. Hello Vino*

    I agree that it’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do. It’s common to try different things and normal to stumble around a bit. If you have the right attitude and motivation, everything will fall into place eventually. Figure out what you’re passionate about and take it from there. Networking and internships made a big difference for me when I was fresh out of school. Don’t immediately assume that grad school is the only way to get started on your career path (obviously depends on the industry).

  29. Ash*

    I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. I had some nebulous things that I thought would be fun or interesting, so I started working on a degree towards that. Half-way through (luckily it was a double major I could change) I found out I liked doing something else, really, really liked it, and enjoyed it, and it was something I had never even knew existed as an actual job. I found it through the organization I volunteer at, and am now working towards doing that as a career. It combines a lot of skills I already have, plus ones I’m developing, and it’s a job I could get anywhere. It’s also a field that you can break in to by just having a good portfolio and demonstrating needed skills, instead of needing to have a specific degree or certification. There’s also a huge, well-known professional group associated with it, that will help with networking and further skill development. I’m excited!

  30. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I think finding the right job or career can flow one of two ways. One is that you know what you want to do (ie: IT) but don’t really care what industry you want to do it in. The other is more applicable to the OP’s cousin – you’re going to have to start looking at industries and find what you want to do from there. There are many jobs that you have no idea exist until you start working.

    I’m sometimes leery of people who think they know exactly what they want to do fresh out of college, because generally they don’t have enough experience to know what opportunities they might be overlooking.

  31. Silhouette*

    I recommend Barbara Sher’s book, “I could do anything if only I kenw what it was”. (Apologies if someone’s already mentioned but the thread is long and I’ve skimmed!)

    Also, what I was advsied to do and have found effective is to go to the paper and websites and “clip” every single ad that you thing “hey! that sounds great!” about. I mean jobs you’re not qualified for. Your collection might include Mayor of Wichita and charity event planner and oncology nurse, or whatever. Then go through and work out what it is in common between those jobs. That is your touchstone. Then if you know what job you’d want when you “grow” up, work out what you need to get there in terms of experience and qualifications. Then go get it!

    1. Heather*

      I’ve got to re-read that. I think I read it once a long time ago but I don’t really remember it.

      1. Lulula*

        Same – I think I may have lent it to someone permanently years ago. Although I think my core problem is my interests do not translate into income, so I need the book that talks about working around THAT ;)

  32. T*

    I know the feeling. I’m a recent grad working in HR at a construction company, but my passion is for international affairs (what I majored in). None of my professors really had suggestions for utilizing tis degree outside of peace corp, state department or getting my PhD, and while my dream job is state department, I know I probably need 2-3 years work experience and stronger language skills. Ive had a hard time trying to find out what other jobs there are that are similar to state dept/peace corp…any advice ?

    1. Toxqan*

      Ha!… I did the Peace Corps, applied to the Foreign Service 4 times and am now thinking about a Phd. The Peace Corps was a life changing experience. If you have serious interest in international development or diplomatic work there is no substitute. State jobs are very competitive and the process is rigorous. The positive thing is that they neither require language skills nor work experience, even though it can help. Ironically, speaking fluent Chinese and spending time in China has been a blessing and a curse for this job. Be prepared to take the exam multiple times though. I’ve heard of people succeeding after six attempts and some after one. I have progressed further each attempt to the point of eventually getting a conditional offer. (I couldn’t get clearance though. A different story) . It pays to be persistent…. and keep reading the Economist.

    2. Diane*

      Look at nonprofits or trade associations that do international work in areas you find interested. Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, . . . there are as many causes as countries.

  33. Not So NewReader*

    OP, some really great posts here for your cousin. I hope she is reading. I agree with most of what has been said here. I have tried the testing stuff and that left me more confused, not less. I have tried the follow your heart stuff but there is not much money in it.

    FWIW to your cousin, OP:
    Don’t, don’t take this decision making process too seriously. It’s just not worth it.
    Instead make some promises to yourself and take those promises seriously.
    “I will do my best every day and I will remember that not all days are equal.”
    “I will find a job that is a reasonable starting point.”
    “I promise me that I will keep looking for ways to better myself and better my position, once I find my starting point job.”
    {Fill in your with your own promises that mean something to you.}

    It’s not like marriage or family or any other life long commitment. You’re not going to marry the job. I think remembering that is hugely helpful- it keeps the process from growing into a monster.

    Make a few short promises to yourself and KEEP the promises. Employers/jobs/careers can let us down and disappoint us. But when we let ourselves down and disappoint ourselves that is the biggest hurt. I believe that once we decide to commit to doing right by our own selves, then everything else becomes easier to navigate.

    OP, I hope your cousin is reading AAM. I have learned more here (about the workplace) in a few short months than I ever learned in college.

  34. HAnon*

    She sounds a lot like me. I got a degree in a particular field that I loved, worked in the field for a year and a half and realized a few months in that it was not the right industry for me. I would never have known this without taking that job, and I learned so much about what I don’t want in a job or a company that has helped me to navigate my career path to this point. I still do the thing I got my degree in as a hobby/part-time freelance work, but it’s not my full-time job.

    In an economy like this I think it’s particularly vital to remember that no job is perfect, and while you might be more ideally suited for something else, your job doesn’t define you or your life. It’s a big part of your life, so if you can find something that you enjoy and derive some satisfaction from that’s great, but that probably won’t come from the first couple of jobs you have, and sometimes you have to eliminate things you don’t want to figure out what you do want. In addition, even if you find your “dream job” you will still have to deal with difficult bosses/managers/clients/co-workers for the rest of your life, so there is no real “dream job” in the sense of being sans typical job frustrations. I think a lot of recent graduates are trying to “skip ahead” to the next stage in their career by bypassing the first stage altogether. I know a lot of people who decided to pursue their master’s degree simply because they didn’t know what else to do and they didn’t want to “settle” for a job that isn’t ideal. Personally I think that’s a really bad idea…unless you’ve got a decent ROI coming your way, better to get some real-world experience for a few years.

    I agree with the advice about figuring out what you want from your LIFE (for the most part). The first few jobs you have, you can’t expect to have too much of a work-life balance, unless you work for a particularly awesome company. Unfair, but that’s just how it is. If you expect to work strictly from 9-5, M-F without any infringement on your “personal time” you’re going to come across as entitled and like you’re only in it for the paycheck. Which would be ok except for the fact that there are a million unemployed people who are more qualified than you who would gladly take your job and work their butts off to keep it.

    I’ll also mention what I recently told my brother (he’s about to graduate from college) — there are going to be difficult things about the first job or two that aren’t necessarily problems with the job itself; entering the workforce full-time is an adjustment, and you need to have enough self-awareness during that time to sort out if what’s bothering you is actually an issue with the job or the work environment, or if your issue actually stems from adjusting to being a full-time member of the workforce and all of the responsibilities that come with it. It’s a big adjustment, after all. You don’t get to stay home because you’re not feeling well, you have to put on a smiling face when things aren’t going your way, you have to deal with people on a regular basis that you would avoid like the plague in your personal life, you can’t be spontaneous about making plans because you have to run them by your boss, you encounter bureaucratic red tape on a regular basis, your boss is a micro-manager/doesn’t manage/is ineffective, etc…things that are true of pretty much every job at some point.

    I would also advise people to look at where there are actually needs in the world — what industries are growing to meet those needs and why. And then see if that’s something you can see yourself contributing to. But mainly, just put yourself out there, work hard, and when you find that what you’re doing isn’t working and it’s time to change course, figure out a way to do that where you can build on the knowledge you’ve gained from these initial experiences.

  35. Lynn*

    I’d recommend she meet a lot of people in different fields for informational interviews. She probably thinks she doesn’t know anyone but other confused college kids, but there are people. Neighbors from when she went to high school, church people, friends of relatives. Once you get out to two degrees of separation from the cousin, you’re looking at a lot of people who are not too distant to ask. If the OP spoke to some of her friends and said “hey, my cousin is graduating from college, and she would be really interested in meeting with you for an hour about what it’s like working in education/law enforcement/tech/medicine/etc”, I bet some of them would do it.

    I am looking at this from the other side. My step-daughter is finishing high school and doesn’t know what she wants to do, and therefore has decided to make a career out of her fast-food job without considering any options. My husband and I could introduce her to lots of people in all kinds of fields, but she’s just not interested.

  36. fposte*

    I also think a lot of us only have a “career” in retrospect, and many people have several of them. This isn’t being named to the Supreme Court; you’ll do this for a while and learn a lot more about what you’re good at and what’s rewarding, and then you’ll do something else that will involve a lot to a little of what you did before but require that knowledge, and so on. “Don’t be a job hopper” doesn’t mean “don’t ever leave the field you enter at age twenty-one.”

  37. jesicka309*

    I second all the advice in here about advised your cousin to think about what kind of LIFE they want, not career.
    At the end of high school I wanted to be a journalist, but I missed out on the course I wanted and got a similar course in media. I figured, hey, if I’m bad at it, or I hate it, I’ll change to journalism. I was good at media, and the course was kind of easy for me, so I was aceing it. However, there were GIANT red flags I should have been watching for:
    1. Everyone that wanted to go into films were real hipster types, and I HATED working with those people for groups (I’m not joking, I was far too conservative for that course, they’d all sit around and smoke and talk about their bands that they promoted for :-/)
    2. I hated working with the equipment. I’d always try to be producer on the short films, and would close my eyes and hope the people who liked doing that stuff made me a HD film.
    3. I wanted to stay in Melbourne and work a 9-5 job, as the stress of doing odd uni hours was killing me.
    4.There is no money in the media industry, and I wanted a comfortable life, not the below poverty existence my lecturers had.

    I loved doing the written work though, and my electives (PR, sports comm, cinema, pop music, modern asia) were erraticly chosen. If it had an exam, I avoided it. I was quite clear in tutes and self-reflection pieces about what I hated about the industry and what I liked, and to this day, I am SO disappointed that not one of my tutors in 3 years sat me down and said “So you hate making films, and don’t want to go into radio. Why are you here?”
    Just one person having that conversation with me would have been enough for me to actually think about changing courses, or tailoring my electives better. I missed my own red flag cues, and I’m disappointed that not person actually had a serious conversation with me about them, or at least pointed me to marketing and pr earlier than my final semester.

    Your cousin needs to work out what the red flags of her course were. Did she see the people who were really into philosophy and say “heck no! I won’t be like them!” Has she ever heard a lecturer moan about how little money they make doing XYZ and wonder “My gosh! I actually want a house one day, how can I do that being an XYZ?”
    Sometimes working out the deal breaker NO parts of your life that you can’t live with can help in finding a career you can live with.

  38. Anonymous Accountant*

    Take a career assessment quiz- my alumni career services had Discover Career Planning, which you answered questions about preferences and it was a great tool to show that you sought a career with intense people skills, preferred an analytical career, etc.

    Also, talk to many different people about what their jobs are! What’s their favorite part of their job, what’s a typical day/week like, and go from there. You may find there’s a career path you never considered before.

  39. OP*

    Thanks for all the information and insight. I shared the link with her (and had advised her to read AAM in general!) and hopefully it will give her some guidance.

  40. Rana*

    Speaking as a person who shifted careers in my thirties – and under duress – there’s one thing missing from the conversation here so far: connecting what one wants and what one is good at with actual job positions and specific industries.

    Knowing that you prefer structured environments and are good at working with your hands is useful, true, but the trick is then figuring out which positions such skills correlate to; while job descriptions are helpful once you’ve narrowed yourself down to a general area of interest, they’re not very useful if you have no idea of what industry you might be a good fit in.

    One resource I found helpful are the vocational/occupations encyclopedias found in most major public libraries’ reference sections.* The book set I looked at describes hundreds of different types of careers, from dog walker to submarine mechanic to historian to personal trainer to forest ranger… you get the idea. For each one it lists the skills required, the credentials or degrees people holding that position tend to have, what the typical working conditions are like, typical salary ranges, and whether it’s a field that’s growing or in decline. These things are a pretty amazing resource, and if the OP’s cousin has the patience to go through a few, I’m sure it will help her both notice patterns in what a “good” career looks like to her, and identify some specific fields to query further.

    If nothing else, it will give her some job titles to search for, and those in turn can be used to build up a set of key words leading to similar positions and to organizations that may be related to the field in question.

    *Examples include the Career Discovery Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. (Try to find the most recent one.)

  41. Sandrine*

    I’m almost 30. Started my first job around age 18-19. Currently in customer service.

    I still have no idea what I want to do when I “grow up” … I managed to be reasonable about my current job to keep it because I need to earn money to support myself, but other than that… ugh!

  42. Anon*

    I found the question what are you wearing when you think about your dream job useful. It was the only question I could answer. Smart suit walking around large office, occasional visits to other offices, talking to other people, lots of other people around in the office, quite a lot of discussion going on, not just sat staring at screens. I still don’t know what I want to “do” but I tend to get a better “fit” where I can find out what I want to do without having the problems of a bad fit.

  43. Katie*

    I’m just at the end of my first job out of university, and currently hunting for a new one.
    My advice would be to decide which “entry level” environment she would like to go into – retail, food/drink, care/nursing, office admin, sales, or whatever else. Think about how much she enjoys talking to people, sitting at a desk, standing on her feet, working independently etc, and how much she is bothered by gross things or boring things or being made to work ridiculously hard for variable pay etc.
    Then pick an area of entry level work which best fits in with her likes/dislikes, and write a good CV which is aimed at the skills needed for that area, and then apply and apply and apply some more.

    Choosing a first job which involves things which she thinks she will enjoy will give her experience in the skills which will later on be useful for advancing along a career path which fits her well.

    To sum up – find something you enjoy doing, and then do a really good job of it.

  44. KC*

    My advice for the newly-graduated:

    1. Find a job you think you won’t hate. If possible, try to get a job where you’re sure you’ll have a lot to learn to get up to speed.

    2. Come in the door with the mindset that you are going to ROCK your new job. But keep in mind that you really don’t know anything yet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re cashiering at a shop in the mall, being an admin assistant, waiting tables, or becoming a junior engineer: show interest and be a sponge. Ace your responsibilities. If you’re doing a fantastic job and you’ve got some extra time, ask your boss if you can help them with anything.

    3. Talk to people outside of your immediate sphere at work about what they do. If possible, help out with projects outside of your immediate sphere (if it’s cool with your boss). This will help you figure out what you like, what you’re good at, and what sparks your interest.

    4. Take advantage of any learning opportunities the company offers to employees. Do they have in-house classes on various topics or “Lunch and Learn” sessions?

    5. Regardless of in-house opportunities, keep pursing knowledge outside of work. Want to learn how to make a website, or meet other young professionals? Check to find groups that might interest you. That also gives you the ability to network and find out about what work is like in other sectors.

    6. Express to your manager that you’re interested in a particular area when you’ve figured out what interests you. If you’ve got a good manager, it’s his/her job to be thinking about how you progress as an employee. If you kick ass at your current job and your manager believes you’re capable, they’ll be willing to give you more responsibility. They’ll also be willing to put your name forward when something on par with your experience comes along in that area of interest.

    6. Stick with it. Unless a job is absolutely unbearable, stick with it for a couple of years. You’ll learn something and build your resume. Working with (and for) difficult people can be a good thing. Learning how to work with these types of people will benefit you in the long run, because these types of people are everywhere. If you can navigate them with panache, you’re ahead of the game.

  45. glennis*

    I honestly don’t know any method to recommend finding your path, but I think people can build a fulfilling career when their job skills are connected to their most ardent interests – no matter how odd, trivial, impractical or specialized they are. Let me give an example.

    I fell in love with theatrical lighting when I was in high school. I loved being backstage, I loved the sense of community and I loved climbing ladders. In college I got a BA in theatre, which most people would call “useless.”

    There aren’t that many jobs for theatre generalists. So I learned how to be a technician in small fringe-y avant garde theatres.

    From there, the road began to fork. Was it LIGHT that I was interested in? If so, what other ways to explore the properties of light? Art, architecture, television? Psychology of vision?

    Was it tinkering with the equipment I liked? Then what other venues use the same equipment? sports arenas and music venues, art galleries or museums. What other equipment could I be an expert in?

    If the equipment was more important to me than the theatre, I could work for equipment manufacturers, distributors, retailers.

    Or I could design equipment, invent new equipment, think up better equipment.

    Did I like the process of organizing the work of many groups and keeping it on track? Project management, production management, event management.

    Did I just like the ladder-climbing? Then I could learn about working at heights, rigging, and if theatre isn’t risky enough, learn serious high steel rigging, or work with cranes or helicopters.

    Was I more of a managerial type – then I could become a stage manager, a production manager, a tour manager. Or become the payroll manager, the booking manager.

    Was I really more interested in making art? Be a Director, impressario, performance artist, one-woman show, writer.

    Could I market, sell, promote? There’s plenty of retail and wholesale opportunities, from ticket sales to booking acts.

    Did I think how the theatre building could be improved? Become a theatre architect or theatrical building consultant.

    Did I just want to gather all my friends together and have a communally great time exploring art and our feelings? Found and lead a theatre company!

    Did I care so much about the theatre that I could talk money of other people to support it? Fundraising, development, grant writing.

    Computerization – an incredible field in theatre now, computerized lighting, motor control, audio, ticket sales management.

    Theatre can be risky, people can get hurt. Theatrical safety expert is a viable and valuable field. Crowd control is a booming field. ADA specialist.

    And you could probably pick any obscure hobby, interest or specialty and extrapolate careers out from there. Textile arts? Horticulture? Winemaking? Surfing?

    Whatever your generalist skills are, there is probably a market for them in something related to an interest you are passionate about.

  46. Sissa*

    The job market, at least in The Netherlands, is messed enough for me to start thinking “which education should I follow to actually get a job?”. Think dentists, construction workers, something you will need even if the economy is bad.

    I followed a audiovisual communication education back in vocational school, and even if I truly love being able to do this at the moment, my chances for finding another job should I leave my current one are so slim I’ve heard of people being unemployed for years while trying to look for a job in this field. I’m seriously considering totally changing careers for anything I could even remotely like and have bigger chance of success in the future.

    Does this kind of thinking affect anyone else out there? :)

    1. HAnon*

      I don’t have the same job by any means, but I’ve definitely changed my perspective recently from “what do I love to do” to “what’s out there that’s relatively stable that I won’t hate”…it’s tough in an economy like this to do what you love when you’re the only person supporting yourself or your family. I love art (that’s my degree) but I love not being hungry more…

      1. HAnon*

        Just want to follow that up because it sounds so depressing – I still have ultimate career goals I’m working towards that are more in line with the kind of life I want to have, I’m just trying to be very realistic about the fact that I might not find that job right away/for a few years.

        1. Sissa*

          Or you might be able to do what you love on the side and work full time on something that is at least a little related to what you like. But I’m one of those people who’d like to really work those 40 hours a week on something I love because the leftover hours I have other things I want to do..

          Good luck with your art job hunt, in any case!

          1. HAnon*

            Thanks! I actually am joining a group of artists in a similar position…people who have full-time jobs but are trying to keep their studio practice alive as well. Who knows, maybe something will come of it :)

  47. Katie*

    I/O Psychology combines both business and psychology principles and you can do many things with a Master’s degree in I/O. I got my B.A. in psych with a minor in business and then received my Master’s in I/O; I’m now working for an HR consulting company. Work in this field covers topics such as workplace behavior, selection and assessment, leadership development, performance management, succession planning, etc. Good luck!

  48. CW*

    This thread has given me so many ideas! Thank you all!
    I graduated 2 years ago with a BS in a very narrowed down education field, even got certified to teach in my state. However, there just aren’t any teaching positions where I’m at right now (besides subbing, which I tried for the first year out), and since graduating, I’m not sure I even really want to teach anymore. I love a lot of things about teaching, but a day in the life of a teacher is not my kind of day, certainly not a day I’d like to repeat 5 days a week, even with the benefit of a 2 month summer break! I resented more things about it than I enjoyed. I’m working in a management position in retail now, where I resent most all of it! I beat myself up on my original choice of major daily, even with the all-mighty completed degree in hand, (what was I thinking, why didn’t I pick a more broad and useful field of study, now look where I am!)
    I have no idea what I want to do now, other than preferably something that actually somehow relates/utilizes my degree, because I really don’t want those 4 years to end up being a big waste! So many people posting above me talked about hating their jobs and being miserable in their lives….I don’t want that to happen to me any worse than it already has. I feel like such a failure because my original plans didn’t work out, because I stuck with this glamorized idea for a “career” that I came up with in high school. What does anyone know about careers in high school?!

    Ugh. Anyway, I liked a lot of the ideas here, like temping, trying out a lot of different jobs and companies to get an idea of what you’re good at, what you keep coming back to, and the pros and cons of all of it. Just the idea that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to not know what you want to do for the rest of your life right now is like a weight lifted from my shoulders, such a relief to know that I’m not the only one in this confusing, frustrating boat! I hope the person who asked the question originally shows this thread to her cousin!

  49. Amy*

    I can relate to this situation – I was a Finance graduate who didn’t have a strong passion for working in sales or directly with retail customers, but also someone who didn’t want to be a quant and sit in front of a spreadsheet all day every day. What worked for me was taking a position in a large organisation, as a contractor on a project.

    It opened my eyes to a number of roles that I had never really known existed, and that is how I eventually narrowed down what was a perfect fit for me – that job being a business-facing business analyst, which is a great mix of people and analytical work, where I can use my finance knowledge on industry-specific projects.

  50. Jamie*

    Yea, I get if the food was awful you don’t want to bring it home, but the “oh, I don’t do left overs” is not ok.

    People should determine what is and isn’t okay for themselves. I have a few things I’ll eat leftover – I’m certainly not going to ask the wait staff to wrap my stuff so I can take it home and toss it after a certain amount of time.

    I agree that people should try not to waste – but if I go to lunch and order a sandwich and fries and eat half there’s no reason for me to bring the rest home…if you know you aren’t going to eat it that’s a lot of trouble for what is, in essence, bringing carefully wrapped garbage home.

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