Picking a path through the stones: How to develop your career path
When you finish university, it can seem like you’re cast out into the sea without a lifeboat. You’ve got the degree, now you’re supposed to get a job, right? It’s not even just a job - you’re supposed to start a career, that terrifying concept of an occupation lasting a few decades, and to what end? What are you supposed to be at the end of all of it, and how do you figure it out?
The answer is, of course, step by step. Like most things in life, this big problem is best tackled as a series of little ones. With the use of a few external tools and a bit of self-analysis, it’s not too difficult to develop a set of goals and motivations which you can use to analyse each decision as it comes.
This is the best way to approach your career path. “Path” isn’t really the right word at all, since it's not one line from beginning to end, but rather an organic route through a series of stepping stones which you navigate as you go. Here’s the best advice on how to navigate these decisions, what to expect out of your career, and how to get the ball rolling in the first place.
Don’t expect to go in a straight line
A lot of people think of a career path as a straight line from A to B - where you start, to where you want to go, with everything in between as an intermediate step. This might have been true a few decades ago, but careers rarely take this form anymore.
Instead of a ladder, the modern career path is more like a series of stepping stones that radiate from the middle. While you may have an overall trajectory in one direction, all manner of sidesteps and diversions are possible, and you can step all the way over to the other side of the circle if you like.
Each stone is a project or role you could have - as the nature of work becomes more modular, and we enter the “gig economy”, you step on more and more stones. This is how career paths become non-linear. Instead of looking at your end goal, try to figure out the best decision for the moment and trust that a series of right decisions will take you to the best place for you.
...but some direction is a good thing
That doesn’t mean that you should just freestyle the whole thing. There are plenty of benefits to sketching out a bit of a career path, the main one being that it gives you something solid to refer to when you’re trying to make each of the aforementioned decisions. A non-linear visual aid can be helpful here. Put different roles you’re interested in boxes and draw arrows between the most closely related ones to see what the various directions you could take might be.
For example, if you’re interested in accounting, you could start as a graduate accountant but from there, you could move in many directions. You could stoke the fire of the environmentalist within you by applying your knowledge to cost-benefit analyses related to environmental policies and pollution, or you could take a completely different route and become an actuary, figuring out odds for sports betting.
By establishing your goals at the beginning of your career, this decision becomes easier to make - if you wanted to make a difference to the environment, you can refer back to your goal and remember that no matter how good the pay is, doing odds on basketball games isn’t going to help you achieve that in the long run.
Use this tool to help you set goals
It can be helpful to use external frameworks to make decisions. One that’s relevant to you setting your career goals is the G+P+V formula. That stands for gifts, passions, values.
Gifts are to do with what you are good at - your skills and talents. Good career goals could be those which aim to make use of your gifts to allow you to make the biggest impact you can. Passions involve what you care about - what kind of difference in the world you wish to make in your career. Finally, values are about the kind of conditions you want to work in. So, whether or not you want to be self-employed, for example. A lot of these decisions relate to how much autonomy you have in your work life.
If you identify your gifts, passions and values, you might find it easier to set good goals, which in turn help give your career path meaning.
Seek outside help
If you’re still overwhelmed, don’t worry - there are plenty of online career quizzes and tests that can help you in the right direction. The government’s own is called CareerQuest and that’s the best place to start, since it is specific to the New Zealand job market. For extra information, try any number of these other tests. All of them have different specificities and uses, so try a few.
Alternatively, you could seek help from career path services at your university or high school. These services are in every educational institution and the staff have years of experience helping people like you plan out a career path. Everything becomes easier once you talk to a professional, so don’t be shy!
Try different options
At the end of the day, the best way to figure out what you want to do is to try things out. Don’t get caught up in thinking that a job you’ve been offered is permanent - you can always quit and try something else if you don’t like it. Plenty of people do. You can also try a fixed-term contract or an internship to get some experience, and get your ball rolling, without a long-term commitment. Once you’ve tried a few different jobs in the professional sphere, it will naturally become clearer to you what you like and what you don’t.
Internships are particularly valuable because they often allow you to rotate through different roles within the same company to help you gain experience in different roles quickly. Most graduate programmes also do this - be sure to ask if this is an option when you’re exploring your possibilities.
Let it happen
There’s only so much planning you can do with a career path - sometimes, it just has to develop naturally. By being open to new things, keeping your goals and values in mind, and referring back to your established framework for making decisions, you can keep making the best decision at every juncture. You’ll really only see your true path when you look back - that’s the nature of the game. As long as you remain open, thoughtful and positive, it’s hard to go wrong. Have fun out there!
by Jack Buckley, Wellington