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Career Planning Advice to my 18-year-old Self

by ​Carolyn Leighton-Hilborn

Recently I met with a very positive 18 year old, who, whether he knew it or not, was taking a wise step in the earliest stages of his career. He had reached out for advice and guidance in exploring his career options, which is often overlooked by many his age. His eagerness and genuine interest in researching his career options left me reflecting on how I felt at the same age.

Heading into university or college and planning the first stages of a career is a major undertaking. When I was 18, I know I was not very well prepared. With little to no career direction, I started university and hoped for the best, figuring that once I was finished I would surely find a job that was right for me. After graduation, reality sunk in. I tried on a few different job “hats” that didn’t seem to be a good fit over the long term, and I felt lost for a time.

Looking back now, what would I tell my 18 year old self about planning for a career?

1. Consider all the activities you did in your early teen years. What did you love doing? What were you really good at? Think about specific courses you took, extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences. Write down everything, even if it doesn’t seem relevant to a possible career path.

2. Ask your friends, family members and teachers what parts of your personality stand out. Are you helpful? Did they notice you really excel at research? Do you seem to be a natural at coaching or teaching your peers? Do you speak with confidence in front of large groups of people? Sometimes we don’t recognize things that come naturally that can be useful starting points for exploring training and career goals.

3. Once you’ve considered the two points above, take the results and enter some of the keywords into a job search engine. You will want to research different kinds of jobs that include such keywords. For example, if someone said you speak well in front of groups, type “speech” into a search engine, such as LinkedIn Jobs. You will find results including Speech Language Pathologist, Speech Analytics Manager, Sales Representative, Communications Advisor, and Trainer.

4. Once you have a list of potential job titles, research each job to learn more about the duties, the type of training required and the long term employment prospects using websites like the ones listed below.

5. Complete a career assessment, including an interest inventory. Respond to the questions thoughtfully based on the activities you have already completed above. The result will be a better depiction and inventory of your interests and existing skills.

6. Once you have completed the above and have a career goal (or two) in mind, reach out to people in the type of career you are thinking about and ask for an informational interview. You can learn why they chose the profession, what to expect for an income, how their career has progressed and the pros and cons of the job.

If you take some time and give it some thought, you can make strong career planning decisions early in life and be well-equipped to enter the working world after graduation.