At Work

Students: Do You Know Where You’re Headed When You Start Working?

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Where are you headed?

Maybe you’re already on track for your “dream job,” or maybe you don’t even know what it looks like yet. At this point in your life, it’s okay not to have everything figured out. But the sooner you start thinking critically about your professional future, the more you can do to point yourself in the right direction while you’re still in school.

Focus on Understanding Yourself

First things first, you need to know yourself. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, you are yourself, but how often have you really focused on critically understanding your strengths, values, and limitations from a professional perspective?

To really do this well, you’ll need to invest in some serious (and honest) self-evaluation, and you may want to consider some psychological tests like the Myers & Briggs Personality Type test. Tests can help you see yourself in a different way and may identify areas of importance that you haven’t considered.

Recognize Your Limitations

In addition to strengths and values, you also need to recognize your limitations. One of the devotionals I read recently drew from Romans 12:3 and was right on topic:

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The author, Pastor Rick Renner, explained that the word “soberly” is the Greek word sophroneo, which means to think sensibly; to think reasonably; to think realistically; to think rationally; to think practically; to keep in proper measure; or not to think beyond the set boundaries.

In other words, don’t pretend to be more than you are. Recognize your God-given abilities and use them. But when you come to the edge of your limitations, be willing to say, “This is too much for me.”

Shape Your Goals

Taking your strengths, values, and limitations into account, you need to shape your goals. Ultimately, you’ll want to create a list of at least ten key workplace characteristics.

Think beyond the type of work you want to do, to include the culture of a company, the work team, and the elements of the job that best fit you.

Are you naturally competitive ? It might be crucial to have some element of “pay for performance” in your ideal compensation structure.

Do you have (or plan to have) a family? Work flexibility and family-friendly culture may factor high on your list.

Grad school is the perfect place to conduct your research. Professors are a valuable, but often untapped resource in this regard, especially the adjunct ones, because they tend to have the most recent practical experience in professional fields.

Show up to office hours. Ask to hear about their career path and what they value in a work place. Ask what they would do to try to figure that out for themselves.

Also be sure to ask what classes they feel best prepared them for their professional experience. You might not want to follow their particular path, but the more you talk to them, the better sense you’ll get for what you need to do.

Think Strategically

Finally, you need to think strategically. You have a limited amount of time in school, so you need to make the most of it.

Make early and ample use of your school’s career services office. Push yourself academically, and focus first and foremost on mastering the material you need to succeed in your chosen field.

Good grades are a definite plus in the job market, but there are other ways to distinguish yourself, too. The best “extra-curriculars” are things that you enjoy, but that also help develop skills or relationships that will benefit you down the line.

As you move forward, don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out at once. This is a process, one that may take many years. That has been the truth for nearly everyone I know.

If it is for you, then start today to learn about yourself, shape your goals, and think strategically about where you want to go in your career. The sooner you start the process, the more likely you are to get there.

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  • Thanks Diane! Really nice post! Your emphasis on self-awareness and humility is great and so important. It is really the foundation for anyone that hopes to have impact and influence over the long term – and so many professionals (young and old) fail to recognize this. I would make one suggestion – and that is to avoid the MBTI as a tool to help make any job related decisions. It wasn’t developed to do this, and there is very limited (if any) empircial evidence that it does this well. There are a host of great tools that measure personality and work styles for organizational purposes. These are based on the empirically sound Big Five framework for understanding personality. Adam Grant from Wharton provides a good, accessible summary of the many concerns with the MBTI. Thanks again for the wonderful post!
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-grant/goodbye-to-mbti-the-fad-t_b_3947014.html

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