How to launch a job search when you're not sure what you want to do
For college seniors not sure about the next step, narrowing down the options can help.
Eden Castaneda graduated from California State University-Long Beach in December 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing — and no idea what she wanted to do with it. “I had a general idea that I wanted to pursue a career in business and I enjoyed my marketing classes the most,” she says. But when she went to search job websites and typed in “business,” everything popped up, including jobs like financial advisor, executive assistant, marketing and more. “It was a bit overwhelming,” she says.
Fortunately, she knew some things about herself. “I knew that numbers were not my best friend; therefore, a job in finance or accounting would not make sense. I knew that I enjoyed being creative, but was also Type A and preferred to coordinate things and have order. This lead me to believe perhaps operations, administration or marketing may be a good route to travel, which was still very broad.”
Before she graduated, she reached out to professionals in different fields and asked about typical work days. She made a list of her strengths and weaknesses and what she enjoyed doing, then compared that to skills requested on job listings. “In doing research, by learning about individuals’ real experiences, evaluating my skills and preferences, and looking into my future, I decided that a marketing coordinator was the perfect position for me as a college grad,” Castaneda says. She is now marketing coordinator at Weber Logistics.
If you’re not sure what you want to do and, like Eden, need direction for your job search, here’s what you need to know.
Do some research
“Figuring out what you want to be when you grow up is a pretty normal part of the entry-level job search process, and it's perfectly fine to spend your first couple years in your early career gaining clarity around your ultimate path,” says Noelle Gross, founder of NG Career Strategy. She recommends a self-assessment to at least give you a rough idea of what you might be interested in.
“Then, start to departmentalize your skills so that you have a basic idea of where you might belong in any organization, such as marketing, finance or sales,” she says. Once you have a general idea of where you fit in, tap into your network or check with your college’s alumni office to find people doing your future dream job and start to identify the types of companies and roles they worked in after college in order to gain a sense of where you might start out.
Your first job doesn't have to be perfect, says Brian Carter, one of the authors of “The Cowbell Principle.” “In fact, if you don't know what you want, the more jobs you try, the more likely you are to find what you're looking for,” he says.
Remember that if you’re looking for your dream job, it might take some time to get there. Being open to new experiences and being willing to learn can help. “The fact is, many of your peers will not have the gumption to stick with it and grow,” Carter says. “If you want to get somewhere exceptional, you'll have to stand out in your motivation and your persistence.”
Carter also says that being willing to question yourself is important — what would happen, for example, if your dream job turns out to be doing something you thought you’d hate? “Adopt a scientific attitude, and test yourself at a variety of jobs,” he says. “Then you can look back and figure out which ones really were dead ends and which ones have promise for your future.”