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Is it more likely to get the career you really want or your backup career?

#career-choice

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Subject: Career question for you

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Wayne’s Answer

Gina, you raise an interesting question. Ken's answer above has a lot of good information and is a great guide for selecting a career. I believe your question goes a little deeper though as in "what are my chances of getting a job in the career field I really want before having to get one in my backup field?"

There is no simple answer to this question since there are so many options available in most career fields unless you are going to specialize in a small area. If you specialize in a small area such as being a brain surgeon, then the chances are pretty good that you will get a job in that career, assuming there is not much competition. If this is not the case then you need to look at your career choice to determine if there is an opportunity to specialize within it. Example: a Biology major may have opportunities in health sciences, physical therapy, marine biology and many others, but if you specialize, say focusing on the way nerves react to jelly fish stings, you limit your options but chances are pretty good you will find someone who needs that expertise.

That being said, I've found that a "career" is a journey and not a destination. You don't have to settle on a specific career and feel like you are settling for second best if you don't get a job in it. A career is a constant learning process. Any job you get will be adding to your knowledge and experiences which in turn will be transferable to other jobs. Example: what skills do you get from being a line cook at McDonald's? Organization, process control, customer service, time management, teamwork, and many others. For every job, look at the higher skills you are developing instead of the drudge of doing the work. If you have to "settle" for your backup career, get to most you can out of it. Develop the skills it provides and continue to look for opportunities in your preferred field. Personally, I began my college career believing I wanted to be a Physics major but graduated as an Animal Science major. I got a job in the retail meat industry and have been working in the high tech computer manufacturing area for the past 20 years.

The key thing to remember is that what you think you like today may change over time so be open to change and new opportunities. Use the knowledge you gain in one job to help in your next. Enjoy the journey and don't get too obsessed with one particular job unless you are specializing. Your chances of getting a job in a particular field is always dependent on the amount of competition you are facing so focus on getting the most out of what ever job you get and if that leads you back to your preferred career, great. If not, enjoy the journey.

Wayne recommends the following next steps:

Break down your preferred career into its higher level components (management, detail work, working with people/animals, team building, analytics, communication, etc.) See if these are what actually draws you to that career.
Many of those abilities can be found in multiple career fields so look for opportunities to develop those rather than get bogged down in seeking a specific job just because it is in what you believe is your career path.
Use other resources (as mentioned in Ken's response above and you may find that there are many more opportunities out there than you can see immediately.
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Ken’s Answer

You can achieve your desired career if you take these steps:

  • get to know yourself to assure that you are following a career for which you have the suitable personality traits to match those who are successful in that career area and
  • pursue interpersonal, face to face, networking to become familiar with the many aspects of your career area to discover if it is a comfortable match.


Getting to know yourself and how your personality traits relate to people involved in various career opportunities is very important in your decision making process. During my many years in Human Resources and College Recruiting, I ran across too many students who had skipped this very important step and ended up in a job situation which for which they were not well suited. Selecting a career area is like buying a pair of shoes. First you have to be properly fitted for the correct size, and then you need to try on and walk in the various shoe options to determine which is fits the best and is most comfortable for you to wear. Following are some important steps which I developed during my career which have been helpful to many .

Ken recommends the following next steps:

The first step is to take an interest and aptitude test and have it interpreted by your school counselor to see if you share the personality traits necessary to enter the field. You might want to do this again upon entry into college, as the interpretation might differ slightly due to the course offering of the school. However, do not wait until entering college, as the information from the test will help to determine the courses that you take in high school. Too many students, due to poor planning, end up paying for courses in college which they could have taken for free in high school.
Next, when you have the results of the testing, talk to the person at your high school and college who tracks and works with graduates to arrange to talk to, visit, and possibly shadow people doing what you think that you might want to do, so that you can get know what they are doing and how they got there. Here are some tips: ## http://www.wikihow.com/Network ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/nonawkward-ways-to-start-and-end-networking-conversations ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-questions-to-ask-your-network-besides-can-you-get-me-a-job?ref=carousel-slide-1 ##
Locate and attend meetings of professional associations to which people who are doing what you think that you want to do belong, so that you can get their advice. These associations may offer or know of intern, coop, shadowing, and scholarship opportunities. These associations are the means whereby the professionals keep abreast of their career area following college and advance in their career. You can locate them by asking your school academic advisor, favorite teachers, and the reference librarian at your local library. Here are some tips: ## https://www.careeronestop.org/BusinessCenter/Toolkit/find-professional-associations.aspx?&frd=true ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/9-tips-for-navigating-your-first-networking-event ##
It is very important to express your appreciation to those who help you along the way to be able to continue to receive helpful information and to create important networking contacts along the way. Here are some good tips: ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-informational-interview-thank-you-note-smart-people-know-to-send?ref=recently-published-2 ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/3-tips-for-writing-a-thank-you-note-thatll-make-you-look-like-the-best-candidate-alive?bsft_eid=7e230cba-a92f-4ec7-8ca3-2f50c8fc9c3c&bsft_pid=d08b95c2-bc8f-4eae-8618-d0826841a284&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_20171020&utm_source=blueshift&utm_content=daily_20171020&bsft_clkid=edfe52ae-9e40-4d90-8e6a-e0bb76116570&bsft_uid=54658fa1-0090-41fd-b88c-20a86c513a6c&bsft_mid=214115cb-cca2-4aec-aa86-92a31d371185&bsft_pp=2 ##
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