If you have any teenagers in your life, one of many things you may have heard them complain about before is being forced to decide what their future will be before they’ve even filled out a college application. But there’s a good reason for that: Without choosing the right courses in ninth grade, they may not get into the right courses in tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade. Without those credits on their record, they may not get into the right degree program. Without that degree, they may not get the right entry-level job. Without that job, they may not have the work experience for the career of their dreams.
1. How do people in these jobs spend their lives?
Be honest: How did you get an idea of the type of job you think you might like? If it came from movies or TV, where sharply dressed hotties spend eight hours a day making stirring speeches while taking time for brunch with their friends, it probably has little in common with reality. The best way to find out what you’re really in for is to set up an informational interview with someone who holds that job now or held it before. They’ll provide you with a clearer picture of your new career, and they may be a useful contact later.
2. How likely is it that you will find jobs in this field?
Having a picture of the job market is critical. Some fields are overcrowded with people who didn’t look into these numbers before, and have trouble finding steady work as a result. Other fields vary wildly by geography, and you may not want to uproot your life. If you don’t, depending on where you live now, you may not have too many options when it comes to potential employers. Study the employment outlook for people who hold the position you want to pursue. It may not be worth the trouble.
3. How should you structure your education to get one of these jobs?
Learning how to work in your chosen field isn’t as simple as getting a degree or diploma with a matching name. You need to know which fundamental skills and knowledge employers will expect of you after you graduate, as well as the more specialized skills that will help you move up within the field over time. To get a sense of what these are, study advertisements for the type of job you will want after you’ve completed your program, as well as jobs that are two or three levels higher. This will help you choose the best electives, or search for extra courses to take outside of your program.
4. Are the skills you’re obtaining transferable?
Even if you follow the above two steps, there is no guarantee that you won’t experience periods of unemployment. To make them as brief as possible, you should ensure that the talents you’re developing will serve you well outside of your chosen field, as well as within it. When it comes to your skill set, breadth is just as important as depth; versatility counts as much as suitability. Always be in demand, even if the employers demanding your work aren’t the ones you’d hoped. If you can get hired again quickly, you’ll be more appealing to your preferred employers later.
5. What are the economics of this path?
There’s no getting around it: The money matters. Not only do you need to take into account the sticker price of getting your new credentials, but how much pay you’ll be giving up while you’re in class, and how soon your new salary schedule will allow you to clear away any loans you took out for the purpose. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you can’t afford not to think seriously about the financial rewards of your new career path, as well as the intellectual and emotional rewards. Be sure to find out what kind of compensation you can expect on average, and where to look for above-average pay.