These are things I wish someone had told me when I was younger.

You may think you are too young to start thinking about your career, but anyone in Middle School or older should really put some time into this. If you are getting ready to enter college, wouldn't it be smart to invest the next four-to-ten years and $100K to $1M wisely? If you are already working, you are probably already on a career path -- but you may be interested in making some intelligent adjustments since you probably still have 20 to 40 years of work ahead of you.

VENN: Motivation, Abilities, Service

Here are the first three work-related question groups you should be asking yourself:

  1. Motivation: What motivates you? What seems interesting? What things do you like to do? What do you want to do? What seems like play to you that seems like work to others?
  2. Abilities: What things are you good at or what can you become good at? What comes somewhat natural to you? Where do you seem to have an advantage? Of these, which one or two are you willing to put the time, effort and money into to become an excellent professional?
  3. Service: What might you do that could help others, help your family, and/or help you make sure you can take care of yourself? A career that has a larger purpose than just making money will carry you through the tough times, boredom, and "burn out". What can you do that people are willing to pay you for?

Look for the intersection of motivation, abilities and service -- and brainstorm for possible career choices. If you have many options, that's a positive. Focus in on the best few. You can think about your "dream jobs" at this point -- the bullseye of the target. The graphical representation of this is as follows:

 Career VENN Diagram

Brainstorming

If you aren't coming up with many ideas at this point, you need to spend some time on the Internet,  with parents/guardians/spouses, with mentors, and with teachers to generate some possibilities -- especially the Internet. Spend some time on sites like this: https://www.careeronestop.org/ExploreCareers/explore-careers.aspx or https://www.thebalancecareers.com/career-exploration-525632  Pick a company you always dreamed of working for, and find the Careers pages to see what openings they have. Read about the responsibilities. Have fun with this to open your mind. You are worth it! Don't just "settle" for the careers everyone around you is interested in or may be promoting. Brainstorm! Investigate! 

Day in the Life

Another thing you should do is Google "a day in the life of a ....". Read about the career you are considering. Look for videos if you don't want to read. It is amazing how many people have taken the time to write these informative articles. Hint: If you aren't interested enough to read a few of these about your future career, you may not really be interested in this career. Example: https://www.cranerental.com/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-crane-operator/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqAvjeukUFk

Target Thinking

Now, let's consider the idea of a target. There is a bullseye -- your ideal job. This is the dream or one of the several dreams from the intersection of the VENN diagram above. Everyone wants to hit the bullseye, but we don't always get 100% of what we want -- do we? However, if you will think about the rings of a target you can still be incredibly successful in many careers that meet the VENN diagram criteria!  Think about jobs that are similar in many ways:

  1. Same industry but "lesser" role -- like PA instead of MD or high school basketball coach instead of NBA player
  2. Same function but different industry or with a competitor -- like CFO in the computer business vs. CFO in real estate
  3. Entry job that can get your foot in the door to eventually be discovered -- like audio production vs. solo artist in the music business 
  4. Employee vs. entrepreneur -- like hotel management vs. owning a hotel (at least until you learn the business)

You are still involved with the "thing you love". You are positioning yourself for the "ideal" if an opportunity presents itself. Look at the target diagram and come up with some alternatives related to you interests:

Career Target Planner

So, if you are really interested in helping people be healthy, for example, you could be very happy and make major contributions being a Biomedical Engineer even if you didn't get accepted to Medical School. You could be the best RN in a large hospital and help more people than if you were a surgeon. You could be an ophthalmologist instead of a neurosurgeon. You could be the CEO of a hospital instead of an MD. You could design hospitals. You could be the IT person who keeps the computer systems running for the entire hospital. You could service, update, and calibrate LASIK machines or surgical robots. Get it?

Golden Opportunities

Don't end up on a target that has no connection to your VENN diagram(s) just because some random opportunity presents itself.

Don't take a short term "deal" for a few dollars. One student I knew quit high school to get a $10.50/hour job in a poultry processing plant. I took a job with one company over another because the one offered $30/month more. 

If an incredible opportunity does present itself, however, you may want to rethink your VENN diagram. Just don't "take the bait", however, without thinking about the VENN diagram to see if it is a fit for you. Something you never thought about or something a relative/mentor offers may be the best thing that ever happened to you -- so be open to possibilities.

Take the time to talk to others who are actually in this business and job. Don't take the word of recruiters or the hiring company. Talk to current employees. Look at the financials. Have your CPA friend help you. Check their market position. If your job is in sales, make sure you talk to some customers and customers of their competitors at length. Have your most technical friend help you understand the product, whether it works, and whether it has a future.

Don't jump companies because you like a particular manager. He/she can change jobs (inside the company or jumping to a competitor). This happens 50% of the time within 6 months in most industries.

Don't change jobs more than once every five years (on average). You will gain a reputation as someone who is a job-hopper and good companies won't want you. You can have a few unusual situations, but the average needs to indicate stability.

Free Advice "Tips"

Take every opportunity to intern or coop during your college Summers. Even if they don't pay you anything, you will learn whether you like this work, you will have experience you can cite on your resume, and you can make contacts who will either serve as references or, best case, want to hire you.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, don't think of it as a mistake to go to work for a company in the same business first. You will learn a lot. You can make mistakes on someone else's "dime". You can make contacts. You can save some money that can pay some bills in tough times with your own business.

If you are interested in a career with a company, pick a company headquartered in a place you might want to live. If you do get promotion opportunities, you won't have to turn them down because your family doesn't want to go.

Even if you are working for a company, continue to build your resume in terms of certifications, industry contacts, and skills as if you might have to leave and start your own business at any time. This will make you more valuable to your own company, more interesting to competitors, and more able to go out on your own if you decide to.

Look at https://www.salary.com/research/salary for additional insight into jobs that are very similar to what you are interested in -- but pay 20 to 100% more. (Also use salary.com to determine whether an offer is competitive, by the way.)

If you have a specific company in mind, go to their careers or jobs pages and look at the qualifications they have in mind for the job you are interested in. Build your education over the next few years to be a good match.

Work as if you are running your own business. Have "departments" that handle marketing, sales, finance, R&D, production, distribution, information systems, etc. Make sure you have a plan, processes, and investment (primarily your time) in each functional area of your "business". Don't ignore any of them.

  1. Marketing and sales are listed first here because many younger people overlook these areas. This advice isn't aimed at overly aggressive marketing or a "hard sell". It is merely an attempt to remind you that you need to put some effort into promoting yourself -- making sure management knows that you are contributing.
  2. "Finance" is your budget, making sure you are getting paid equitably, handling your expenses, etc. 
  3. R&D is your investment in learning and increasing your value.
  4. Production is your work product. Do you add value and make the company more profitable? Do you solve problems and turn them into opportunities?
  5. Distribution is making sure that your work product is communicated and leveraged. If you have solved a problem or developed a system, do you go the extra mile to let the whole company benefit?
  6. Information systems is making sure that the power of IT is being used to leverage everything you do and increase your productivity with these tools. Are you doing it the "old fashioned way" or the way that gives you 10X "super powers"?

Work every day as if they had the option of bring you back, or not, the next day.

If you are faced with a project, quota, deadline, meeting or team situation you don't initially prefer, consider it a learning experience. Make a list of five things you can learn and five ways this can be turned into an opportunity. This is the attitude that will pay you great dividends.

It is much easier to land the next job if you are still employed -- especially if employed by a competitor and you are doing a great job.

Summary

Don't wait until you are in college to think about your career. "Declaring a major" shouldn't be the result of a few minutes of thought or trying to figure out what will impress the girls or get your parents off of your back.

If you are already in a job, see how this advice can help you improve your long term career satisfaction. Don't quit what you are doing without a plan. Many companies will pay you to go to college at night and get a degree that will allow you to redirect your career.

You can do the VENN diagram exercise many times, but you need to settle on something and execute because "boldness has power in it" that will transcend being on the exact right path.

Some say that 'if you find something you love, you won't have to work a day in your life'. There is some wisdom in this, but they wouldn't have to pay anyone to do the job if it was all that pleasant every day. Work is going to involve challenges. Your attitude toward those challenges is going to make a major difference in your satisfaction and success.