Whenever a young person asks, “What’s a good field for me to go into? What’s a growing industry?” I always tell them they’re starting with the wrong question.
In order for each of us to find the best fit in terms of job and career, we first need to determine what will best work for us, before we try to conform to what will work for anyone else.
To do this, we need to do an inventory. Here are a few tools to start:
1) Write a mini autobiography. I’m not suggesting you write a novel (unless you want to). Simply list the key experiences and/or turning points in your life. This might be four or five lines, or a dozen, but don’t make it complicated. Simply list these pieces of your history. Next, write what you learned. Again, keep this brief.
How is this exercise relevant to your career? By better knowing your personal history, you’ll learn more about your triggers, your values, and the type of environment that will work for you.
2) Make two lists: One of what you’re good at and love to do—the other, the opposite. The first list is of things you love to do and are good at. Please be honest and comprehensive. Although you may love to sing karaoke, if you’ve been given a half-hearted applause by even those who love you best, then this is not one of the items to jot down.
The second should be a list of things you don’t love and/or know or have been told you’re not particularly good at. Perhaps organization isn’t your forte, or looking at numbers makes your eyes bug out. Whatever it is – add it to the list.
Specifics are key here.
There are multiple tools to help you find your strengths, and I would suggest using these if you’re having a hard time getting started: The book “StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Tim Roth, is one, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is another.
But simply making a list – and asking your friends for suggestions – is a great place to start.
3) Make two more lists: What you want—and don’t—in a work environment. Here you want to add things like: “I can’t sit all day – I have to be able to move around.” Or, “I love to work by myself.” Conversely, “I don’t want to be responsible for administrative details,” or “I don’t want to have too many meetings.” These lists are to help you better define the kind of environment where you can truly thrive.
4) List your definable skill sets. Are you an excellent writer? Are you able to write software code? Maybe you’ve led large groups of people, or have raised revenue. This is the place to put the type of skills you could easily add to a resume. But it’s not a listing of where you’ve been – this is about measurable things you have done or can do.
5) Define where you want to be – what are your aspirations? Think short-, medium- and long-term. Given what you’ve learned about yourself, where would you like to be in one year, five, and 10 or 20 years?
After you’ve done the inventory, you then need to translate the outcome into a message of what’s right for you in the workplace. Look at these lists next to each other. What have you learned? What is surprising? What kinds of jobs or careers make sense for you, and where is there a disconnect?
At the end, you want to know: What drives you? What are your ‘soft spots’? What do you bring to the table? What do you need to work on?
Once you’ve done an inventory once, it’s important to update it periodically. Revisit what you’ve learned, assess what’s changed, and how you’ve grown.
But how do we put all this newfound knowledge to work for you in a career that allows you to grow and offer your best value to others?
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Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.