In my experience, students usually fall into one of two categories: those who know exactly what type of career they want (for example, industrial engineer, graphic designer, journalist, doctor, lawyer) and those who don’t! Both groups need to do research to help attain desired careers, but that research is likely to start out differently.
If you who know what you want to do, research can focus on developing a realistic understanding of the path you need to follow to achieve your desired career. This means talking with your professors, with people already in those careers, and, if possible, with people who belong to relevant professional associations to ensure that you are taking the right courses, earning the right degrees or certifications, planning for graduate school (if it’s required), determining the locations with the most opportunities, and learning about the future prospects for jobs in that field.
In addition, there is also an excellent resource to help with this research. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook each year, and it provides a wealth of information about different job titles, including
- What an individual in a particular occupation actually does;
- What type of environment this type of employee would work in;
- What you need to enter the occupation;
- What the typical salary range would be;
- The number of job opportunities predicted for the next ten years;
- Occupations (job titles) similar to the one you’re looking at.
As you read through the information you find there, and as you talk with your professors and career professionals, make notes about keywords that you can incorporate into your 1st Gig profile to enhance the likelihood of a match with the type of career you want.
For students in my second category, your first task is to figure out what careers could be right for you. You do this not to limit yourself to a specific job title, but to broaden your awareness of the range of possibilities that could be appropriate for someone with your skills and attributes.
If you have some idea of the type of work you’d like to do, but just aren’t sure what careers or job titles would incorporate that work, your college or university career center is the place to start. But you can also use online tools to help. While the general consensus is that the mega sites such as Monster.com are rarely helpful in finding a job, they can provide you with a list of potentially relevant job titles. All you need to do is enter some type of descriptor—a verb about work you enjoy doing (writing, editing, designing) or a noun that generally describes a field (math, computer science, botany)—and the results can get you started thinking about your career choices.
Once you have a list of possible job titles, you can start doing the type of research I recommended above for those who already know what they want to do.