It’s a terrifying thought: what if you go back to college, graduate with your degree, and then land an “ideal job” only to discover that you can’t stand it? What if you choose the “wrong” major when you return to school and head down a miserable career path?
This happened to Paul Stuart from Caledonia, MS. After high school he wanted to be a coach and a teacher, so he earned an associate degree to prepare for a career in education.
He explains what happened next: “After I got out into the school I wasn’t sure if I could handle the classroom and it made me start looking at other things… when I was helping with an 8th-grade history class, that’s when I panicked.”
Paul’s experience in the middle-school classroom made him do a career U-turn. He stopped his college and started working in manufacturing instead.
As Paul discovered, the fear of majoring in the topic and choosing the wrong career path is paralyzing.
But how can you avoid unhappy career surprises? Here are 7 ways to discover if a job (or college major) is a good fit for you BEFORE you dive into more education or job hunting.
1. Google it
Curious about a certain career path? Move those questions out of your brain and into your browser.
No surprise here, but it’s amazing the answers you’ll get when you ask the world for their opinion!
- good career for someone who likes agriculture
- high-paying culinary jobs
- what do construction managers do all day
The internet is even better than a library full of books for offering up-to-date information. Read a wide variety of current articles and search different questions. Explore the pros & cons of different careers.
If you don’t know where to start (maybe you’re still asking: “What do I want to do when I grow up?”), try browsing a list of education pathways from a local college. Click on anything that looks remotely interesting and see where your internet search takes you!
2. Interview someone
Okay, “interview someone” sounds really formal, like a sportscaster holding a foot-long microphone in front of a football player.
To put it another way: ask a real person questions about their job or career.
This takes your Google searches to the next level because you can ask follow-up questions and feel the emotions she conveys about her job.
It might take some work to FIND someone to interview with your career questions, especially if it’s a career that would be outside of your circle of friends.
If it seems intimidating to set up an interview with someone you don’t know, remember that people LIKE to be asked for advice, and most people want others to find a rewarding career.
Just send an email or make a call and politely ask for 15 mins to ask a few questions as you explore your next career move. If the person you ask isn’t available, it’s likely that they will connect you with someone else who can help.
Compile a list of 5-8 questions or concerns you have about their job and ask away. Everyone has different experiences with their jobs, but hearing from people will help you know if the job is right for you, too.
Do all the Googling and interviewing, but also try to get hands-on experience in a career field you are exploring!
Volunteering can be the easiest way to get experience in a field.
Not sure where to start? Here are some volunteer opportunities you could pursue:
- Do you want to become a teacher? Volunteer in classrooms or anywhere you can discover if you like being with kids/teenagers for hours on end. If you don’t have your own kids in school, talk to local elementary or high schools about volunteer options. As COVID restrictions loosen up, schools have more opportunities available
- Are you exploring the medical field? Volunteering in a hospital can help you discover if you thrive in a medical environment where you’re around a lot of sick and hurting people. For instance, UMMC Healthcare has an extensive list of volunteer positions available, even though some positions are different due to COVID.
- Wondering if you’ll like engineering? Locate a robotics or engineering club for kids in your area and volunteer. You’ll interact with other engineering professionals while having fun and learning along with the students!
What other volunteer opportunities can you think of? Whatever career you’re considering, there is most likely a way you can give some time to a cause. Help others while also narrowing down your career choices.
4. Do a free or paid internship
An internship is a step up from volunteering. Getting an internship usually requires a formal interview/selection process, especially if it is a paid opportunity.
However, an internship will often give you an even clearer picture of the career. In many internships you get to work alongside people who are doing the jobs you you’re considering.
If you do find an internship, try to experience as many aspects of the job as possible. Don’t settle for just filing the papers in the corner and waiting for people to tell you what to do. Be proactive to meet people and learn about other roles in the organization too.
Pro tip: if you can’t locate a good internship or can’t commit time to one, at least ask around to see if you can shadow someone in your chosen field. As you follow him or her around their job for a few hours or a day, you might start to “see” yourself in that role… or not.
5. Get a job in the industry
No internships available? Maybe you can get a job instead!
Even some entry-level jobs can give you an idea of the industry. For instance, working in admissions at a hospital is not the same as being a hospital administrator, but the job will show you if you thrive in the fast pace of a healthcare environment.
Choosing a job in a smaller company or organization might give you more experiences than working in a large corporation. For instance, working at an independent doctor’s office might give you more insights than working at a huge hospital where you may only experience one aspect of medical care.
As with internships, take initiative while you work there. Learn all you can:
- Read the company-wide newsletters.
- Introduce yourself to people in the lunchroom.
- Volunteer for tasks, even if you have to be taught how to do them.
6. Take college classes
So what if you haven’t chosen your college major or your career future yet? You can still take college classes, and these can actually help you narrow down the options!
Exploring the medical field? Take an anatomy & physiology class. Curious about being a teacher? Try a “Foundations of Education” class. If business is your pathway but you’re not sure where to focus, you can enroll in Management, Marketing, Human Resources, and Finance classes over a few semesters.
By taking classes, you’ll most definitely discover whether you DO or DO NOT want to learn more about a topic. Classes and textbooks rarely give the real-life experience you’ll get in some of the other options in this list, but they can expose you to subjects that you may not have even considered!
Mississippi offers a program called Complete 2 Compete (C2C) which offers resources for adults returning to college. If it’s too hard to choose a specific career path, C2C participants can get a degree in University Studies, which combines credits towards a bachelor’s degree. Many students only need a few classes to graduate. If you’ve taken various college classes as you explore your career future, the University Studies degree is a great way to put those credits to use! (Learn more here)
7. Get help
People outside of us can often see our strengths and interests even better than we can see them ourselves. Once you’ve explored the careers you find interesting, talk with someone else to see if they have ideas for you.
Adults in the C2C program are assigned a C2C Coach, who guides them through degree options and helps them save time and money in college. The coaches can often help with career resources too, so if you’re struggling to find the answers you need about a career, you should start by completing the simple C2C survey to get connected with a representative.
A happy ending
Remember Paul, the education major who realized he couldn’t take the middle school classroom? After a few decades of work, he returned to school and completed his bachelor’s degree with the help of C2C. He was able to put his prior college education towards his degree.
Ultimately, he did end up in education as a training specialist at the manufacturing company where he had worked for many years. He came “full circle” as he returned to an education role, only he was training adults instead of middle school students.
Now he is even pursuing his masters degree in work force education! It took him 25+ years to discover the right career for him, but he is thriving in a role where he can help other people grow too.
What to do if you already picked the “wrong” major or career
Did you make a “career mistake” too, and choose a major or a career that isn’t right for you? There are options… you don’t need to “stay stuck” forever! In a few weeks the next article will be published: What to Do If You Picked the Wrong Career or College Major.
You can’t steer a docked boat. While you’re figuring out your best career, keep moving forward. As you practice these 7 tips, you’ll gain clarity for your next steps… and maybe land in a career that you would have never imagined!
As you consider college majors and careers, a perfect first step is to complete the C2C survey to find out what resources you can access. It takes two minutes to discover what you are eligible for through the Mississippi program. Start here