Not sure how or where to get started when it comes to your career journey? You might even be full on freaking out about it. Believe me, I know how you feel. Not knowing where to start might have you feeling lost, confused or alone. It can seem like everyone else has it figured out, and you start wondering when you fell behind, or what they know that you don’t.
Well, here’s the secret — you’re not behind! There’s nothing “they” all know that you don’t. The reality is, everyone goes along at different paces to “figure it out,” and each person is on their own unique path. *sigh of relief*
So that still leaves the question: Where do I begin?
Career planning isn’t something you want to wait until senior year to think about. In fact, you’ve probably started without even knowing it — it’s less formal than you think. Career development is a process that happens during all 4 years of college and continues beyond graduation. It’s a life-long process. The process is cyclical, meaning it’s ongoing and continuous, rather than linear. You’ll move throughout the stages and back and forth and keep going on and on as you have new experiences throughout your life.
Reflect & Discover
The process starts with YOU. During your time at Tufts, you’ll develop critical reflection skills and a strong sense of self. By the time you graduate, you’ll have done some clarifying about what’s important to you (values), what excites you (interests), and what you enjoy doing (skills). Having this awareness and clarification is the first place to start.
Being able to reflect on these aspects of your identity is critical, because you are constantly changing and growing as you have new experiences. It’s expected that these things may evolve over time, so it’s important to know how to continue clarifying them for yourself at various stages of your life. From this information about yourself stems the next step: explore.
Take what you know about yourself and start to brainstorm options and come up with ideas that fit. In this stage, you’ll research possibilities, learn about new connections between your interests, courses, and aspects of work in society. You’ll read about jobs, fields and industries online, and you’ll talk to professionals. This stage is all about information gathering, both about yourself and the world of work.
Build Skills & Gain Experience
This is when you’re actually going to try things out! It might be through a volunteer or service opportunity, shadowing a professional, an internship or extracurricular experience, or even your first job after graduation. Each of your experiences is going to give you lots of information about the world of work, the industry you’re in, the tasks you like and don’t like, and what’s important to you.
Now here’s where the cyclical nature of this process comes back in. With all this newly discovered information, you get to go back to that critical reflection and start to understand what you’re learning from each of your experiences. This might lead you to explore, given some new information you have, or lead you to another experience you’d like to try. See how it works?
Eventually, and at many points in your life after graduation, you’ll make some informed and meaningful career decisions. Remember that the decisions you make today will not define your entire career. Instead, focus on the experience you would like to gain over the next couple of years.
Many people think that career paths are simple and straightforward, that they take you from point A to point B. The reality is that we cannot predict where we will be in 20, 10, or even 5 years. So, having an end goal in mind is less important. Those broad themes relating back to your self awareness will be the main driver as you build your way forward.
Think back to where you were 4 years ago. How old were you? What were you doing? What did you think about your future, or college? Now, think about where you are today. Has much changed? Maybe some things have, and other things haven’t. We are constantly growing, changing and adapting to the world around us as it changes. Where you are today is a result of both planned and unplanned situations and experiences.
Right now, your career journey might look chaotic. Instead of seeing chaos, what if you just understood that your career journey is bound to be complex? As time progresses and you gain more experience, you will likely begin to notice patterns and themes that follow you throughout your career journey. However, it is a firm understanding of self that will enable you to navigate these twists and turns in an authentic manner.
If you’re still reading and have made it this far, and still wondering where to begin, I have good news for you. It starts with something that only you are an expert in: YOU. There are clues within you (what’s important to you, what you’re good at, what you enjoy) that can help you determine where to go next. Somewhere at the intersection of your values, interests, and skills, there are ideas and options that you might want to learn more about and consider.
Start taking an inventory by using these simple assessments to begin your reflection on interests, values, and skills. And use these questions to jumpstart your career exploration.