How many times have you been asked, “So what do you want to do when you’re older?”?
Probably a lot! And we bet for most teens it’s a tough—and frankly frustrating—question to answer.
As a high school student, you’ve been exposed to all the “traditional” professions…the doctors and dentists who treat you, the teachers at your schools, the professional athletes and actors you see on your screens, and the people who sell things to you in stores. You probably know how your parents earn a living, and you may even know what your friends’ parents do for work. In general, your knowledge of career possibilities is narrow.
But there are many more career paths to choose from than you could ever imagine!
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics collects information on over 800 occupations for some 400 industries in the U.S. Within those careers, there are thousands of distinct job positions, which is what a company hires you to do within your career specialty. For example, you may pursue a career in human resources, but your job could be in recruiting new employees, managing payroll, or assisting with the company’s benefits programs. The layers of specialization within a profession run deep.
So outside the 20 generic jobs that you may know about, how do you figure out what kind of job might be a good fit for YOU? It seems overwhelming, right?
Most career aptitude tests don’t work well because they don’t use enough of the right criteria you should take into consideration when looking for the best profession for you. For example, reflecting on the things that interest you is great, but it’s not the only thing you should consider about a career.
The key lies in a more integrated approach. We’ve identified four components that can help you find your ideal career: natural talents, interests & passions, values, and work environment. By self-reflecting on each of these factors and weighing them against one another, you can help find a career path best suited to who you are.
Let’s look at an example of how aligning these four factors might work with Audrey.
Audrey is a high school junior who always thought she’d be a doctor someday, just like her dad, her uncles, and grandfather. Audrey is compassionate, detail-oriented, and a serious sports nut—she captains her varsity lacrosse and field hockey teams and is a serious ESPN junkie. Audrey is also great with kids, spending one night a week and Saturdays coaching a local girls’ youth lacrosse team.
Audrey is a strong student and enjoys her math and science classes, but lately she’s admitted to herself that she doesn’t live and breathe these subjects like her older brother does.
While Audrey is great at working with people and is no slouch in the science department, becoming a doctor may not be the best route for her since she’s not super into her math and science classes, right? Medical school is challenging and intense!
Maybe she should be a teacher or a coach, since she likes working with kids so much and loves athletics?
But…Audrey really values the healthcare field and feels drawn to the idea of helping people get better—it’s kind of in her blood. Yet deep down, she knows she doesn’t have the “will” for four-years of med school, internships, and a residency. When she thinks about an ideal work environment, her “happy” place has always been on the field, surrounded by her teammates or mentoring her young athletes. She knows she doesn’t want a typical office job with 9-to-5 hours…she likes being outside and doesn’t mind working nights and weekends.
So Audrey’s ideal career could be an athletic trainer. As an athletic trainer, Audrey would specialize in the management, prevention, and recovery of injured athletes. When a football player is hurt during an NFL game, athletic trainers are often the first medical professionals you’ll see on the scene. While they aren’t medical professionals, these trainers collaborate with doctors to provide emergency and follow-up care for injured athletes, including injury prevention and treatment programs.
As an athletic trainer—or AT—Audrey would function as a key member of the health care team at a university, K-12 school system, fitness facility, hospital, sports medicine clinic, or professional sports team. She would need at least a bachelor’s degree (often in athletic training or exercise science); many ATs have a master’s degree. Nearly all states require ATs to be licensed and certified to practice.
It was easy to see how Audrey thought she would be and wanted to be a doctor—it was all she really knew growing up! But when she looked more closely at who she was and what she valued, the picture became clearer.
Let’s look at how we can apply the same train of thought in a different example.
Paul has a knack for engineering concepts and is active in his high school’s VEX robotics club. He excels in his AP math and science classes and is the family’s resident technology expert—nothing computer-related intimidates him. With his aptitude for STEM and his analytical mind, it seems logical that Paul would go into some sort of career in engineering, right?
Paul is also super creative and artistic. He takes some art classes for his electives and loves creating things using different textures and colors. His parents tell him all the time that he’d be the “perfect engineer,” but Paul is worried about working in what sounds like such a serious environment. Ideally, he sees himself in a creative type of place where he can use his imagination more freely. He enjoys working with people but says he also needs his alone time—in an ideal world, he’d want the flexibility to work from home sometimes.
A great potential career for Paul? 3D artist. People who are 3D artists use special software for 3D visualizations, rendering, modeling, or animation. Paul could find a job in the gaming industry to create moving 3D creations, in the architectural industry to create building renderings, in the growing field of medical illustration to make 3D images of anatomy for research and diagnostics, and more. 3D artists often work for studios or corporations in team environments, but some work from home as freelancers, selling their renderings to stock photography companies or to companies like IKEA who use them for furniture catalogues.
These are just two of the THOUSANDS of potential careers waiting for you to explore! Remember, you could end up spending one-third or more of your life at work, so you want to do something you’re engaged in and enthusiastic about. Start from the right place by looking closely at yourself and asking the important questions about what really matters to you.
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