By Lexie Brada
If you’re under 25 and feel like every few months/years you’re doing a complete 180 and changing lanes in a totally different direction, that’s okay. If anything, that’s actually the norm nowadays.
Your parents/grandparents/guardians likely went to school, went to university or a tech college for their chosen career path, and perhaps even stayed on said career path up until the day they retired.
But that’s now how the world works anymore.
Did you know that young adults between the ages of 18-24 will likely change careers an average of 5.7 times? The definition of a ‘career change’ can vary. This study didn’t specify if ‘changing careers’ meant simply moving to a new company but doing something similar or throwing out the baby with the bathwater and learning entirely new skills in a different field of study. Either way, the data shows that young people are changing jobs almost every single year.
I hope that this is a comfort. To feel like you’re adrift at sea without a paddle can be terrifying, but it helps to know that there are thousands of others out there also finding new ways to paddle to a better fitting job.
Part of the new job-hopping culture may stem from a disconnect between college classes and post-graduate careers. As a personal antecedent, I honestly felt like only one of my college classes prepared me for the realities of being a teacher, and I know many of my other Education Major friends were feeling similarly. This is perhaps an oversight of the colleges we attended, but sometimes it’s inevitable. The concept of knowledge half-life or knowledge decay is the theory at which new information overtakes the old information. If you took a course like Roman History, even if people are researching this current subject, the rate of new information that would override the old information is slow enough that what you learned in your classes is likely still factually true. However, when it comes to a subject such as physics and other sciences, in which the half-life of knowledge is just four years, by the time that one graduates college, most of the knowledge they’ve been taught has already been rewritten.
So with that in mind, what do we do? Cry to the heavens and hope an answer reveals itself? No, of course not! Even if our classes themselves didn’t prepare us for the job we thought we’d be doing and we find ourselves needing to switch careers not knowing where to go next, we can still be smart about it.
Below are some questions to ask yourself that will help you determine if a career of any kind is right for you, as well as give you some parameters to research the sorts of jobs that might be the best fit.
These questions deal with the ‘what’ of the actual day-to-day work experience. They ask you about the sorts of places you’d want to work and focus on trying to help you figure out which types of jobs or companies may be of interest.
Remote vs In-Person? Mix?
Do you want a job where you work from home or a job where you go into the office every day? While lots of jobs are making the switch to remote, not all professions (such as doctors or product engineers or lawyers) necessarily have that sort of freedom. Or maybe you like the community feeling of being in an office and know remote work would steer you wrong. AIf you’re looking for a balance of both WFH and office time, perhaps you’re interested in a hybrid job that lets you split your time.
Office Setting vs Travel?
Are you the type of person that likes staying in one place to do a job, or would you prefer traveling? There is, of course, a sliding scale of how much a job may ask you to travel - sales reps and flight attendants, for example, may be traveling for the majority of their working hours. Many jobs, however, require domestic and/or international travel for a smaller percentage of annual workdays. When searching job descriptions, check to see if percentage of travel required is listed. Either way, you should be able to answer how much travel you’d be comfortable with doing if a job interviewer asks.
Start-Up vs Big Corporation?
There are pros and cons for both of these types of companies, and the choice is entirely up to you! Knowing the actual type of organization you want to work for can really help narrow down a job search, though, if you are taking half of the jobs out of the equation.
If you work for a start-up, oftentimes you’ll be part of a smaller team with more opportunity to try new things. You might not get as many benefits or standard time off, and you will run the risk of a company going under. Some of the perks of a big corporation include name recognition (It can be a huge boost to your resume to have ‘Netflix’ as a former employer). You might get better benefits as a bigger corporation may have more opportunity to offer such. If you’re a person that dislikes the very idea of what these companies stand for or worry you’d feel creatively stifled, then these may not be the types of jobs for you.
Project Based vs Ongoing?
Are you the type of person that would prefer a job at which you work really hard and put a lot of hours in to be done entirely with a project, or are you the type that likes to always have something to do, and so you spread your hours out a bit more evenly? For creative types, if your mind is always racing, having nothing to do after giving a big presentation and just waiting for the next project may seem terrible. However, if you’re a person that finds it difficult to plan long-term, knowing that you always have a task to work on even after another thing is finished might be overwhelming.
Salary vs Commission vs Contractor?
How would you like to be paid? Are you the type of person that likes to know exactly what the given salary would be? Pro is that there are no surprises when it comes to your paycheck. Con is that you may work overtime and it’s just counted as the work that you need to do (in other words, in many cases you will not get paid extra for putting in more than 40 hours).
If you’re getting paid on commission, you probably have a low base salary. This is ideal for people who have a certain drive or like to be competitive. The amount of commission you get is based on your ability to get that sale or find that perfect person for your recruiting company. Commission can be very lucrative; plenty of people double their base salary and then some due to commissions they snag throughout the year.
Or, are you the sort that wants to work as a contractor? This is often creative-based types, like photographers, writers, or artists. Contractors are paid per hour and log their own time. This is great for someone who wants to be in charge of their own hours, as it allows for flexibility that other jobs may not have. The downside is that contracts often do not come with benefits and don’t account for taxes. It is up to the contractor to make sure they’re working enough to pay their bills.
Non-Profit vs Corporation?
This one speaks to your personal ethics. Certain companies and nonprofits have certain political and moral affiliations that you might not be on board with. It’s up to you to decide to what extent you’re okay with getting paid for supporting those affiliations by proxy.
A corporation may be more stable, but you might feel like you’re a cog in the machine. In comparison, you might feel like you’re doing some good for working at a non-profit or adding value to life, but non-profits can be often very hard to work for due to emotional toll, demanding hours, and often lower pay. The stereotypes can be true to vice versa, however, so this one comes down to doing research on any individual employer you’re considering.
In either case, be sure to do your research. Look up which other companies are getting donations from them or which big names support this company or non-profit before applying.
During the interview process, ask questions that are applicable to the ethics you care about. However, make sure to avoid asking illegal questions of your interviewer. Before any interview, be aware of the questions the interviewer cannot ask you, and make sure not to broach any of these topics with them either. If the company you’re interviewing with is a religious non-profit, for example, you can ask about the organization’s affiliations and religious stances. You cannot, however, ask the interviewer about any of the personal beliefs.
Off vs On Call?
Would you rather have the trade-off of having fewer days off but being able to use them as full days off for vacation, sickness, appointments, or personal needs, or would you prefer to be able to take more time off, but maybe have to be at least checking-in or answering the occasional email while you’re off the clock?
Set Number of Days Off vs Unlimited PTO?
Are you the type of person that thrives with structure, so you’d rather know how many days off you have or are you filled with joy at the idea of unlimited PTO? Be careful though, this study shows that people with ‘unlimited PTO’ traditionally take less time off than their friends that have a set number of given days. Make sure to ask specific questions of your potential employer and direct supervisor to try to avoid a cloudy unlimited PTO situation.
Choose Days Off vs Set Days Off?
Are you the type of person that would rather have the freedom to choose whenever you want off, or would you be willing to exchange a predetermined set of days off for different perks? For example, if you’re a teacher, you get any vacations off that the kids do…but you can’t decide to pack up and go to Hawaii at a week’s notice. And those summers aren’t really ‘time off’, like most people seem to think. Other jobs require you to be more ‘on the ball’ at certain times over others ( ex. The job you take determines how easy it will be to take vacation and when).
Typical Work Week vs Off Hours?
Would you prefer a job where your hours are standard (ex. A customer service job from 8/9 AM - 5/6PM Monday through Friday), set, and unchanging, or would you enjoy off-hours or abnormal hours (ex. A medical or events job that may require nights and weekends)?
This section of these questions ask you to think about yourself! What did you excel at in school? What can you bring to the table? What do you enjoy doing? What’s something that you already do that you could be making a salary out of?
Creative vs Analytic? Risk-Taker vs Structure Oriented?
Are you a creative mind that needs a job that asks you to think of new avenues to find a solution to each problem, or are you an analytic mind deeply interested in the data and formulaic values that will provide logical solutions to a problem? Will you take risks to find the answers, even if it means you may fail, or do you like to rely on already proven methods?
Team-Oriented vs Independent?
Do you like to have the support and step-by-step instruction of a team or team-leader and work best with others, or would you happily only ever send emails and your finished projects and be able to totally do your own thing?
Introvert vs Extroverted?
Does your work-style require less interaction with bosses/customers/others or does interacting with others pump you up? Jobs in computer coding and tech are more often internal whereas jobs like recruiting or HR require lots and lots of human interaction, and more than that, require a certain charisma to be able to win over your employees or potential recruits.
Oversight-Driven vs Self-Driven?
Do you need or want your work to be periodically checked and do you thrive using a checklist to complete tasks? Or are you more of an independent worker that is okay with having your work occasionally checked but is more comfortable working at a pace that feels right to you?
High Stakes vs Low Stakes?
Do you want a job that has very high stakes, such as most medical professions, airplane control, or new technology testing, where you’ll experience high adrenaline and often high monetary rewards? These jobs can be great if you thrive under pressure but can burn you out very quickly if you don’t have a good coping/relaxation system in place (or have higher anxiety), so think very carefully about this! You may be better suited to a low-stakes job where screw-ups aren’t life-or-death.
Meaning vs ‘Clock-In/Clock-Out’?
Do you need to have a job that has meaning (whatever that definition is for you)? Are you excited to spend your time on the clock, making a difference in the world and helping people, or do you see a job as just a job? If you place more importance on your outside hobbies and home life, the sense of fulfillment found in a more cause or passion-based job may not provide enough value to outweigh the trade-offs.
Think very carefully about all of these questions, and be sure you know where you stand for each of them, to be able to weed out jobs that would not work for you or jobs that might be a good option. And if you don’t know all the answers, that’s alright too! Simply beginning to ask yourself these questions you may have never considered before may be the first baby steps you need to restructure the way you approach your career pivots and job applications.
Once you’ve worked through the above, come back to check out Part II of this blog, where we’ll be taking you through a few different careers and breaking down which of these personality types and logistical environments they fit into!
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