Looking back, I wish that I experimented more in my career.
About 10 years ago, I wanted to transition out of the Human Resources field. I decided to finish my business degree with the intention of moving into management.
I had it all reasoned out. I liked to work with people plus I also valued responsibility and autonomy. On top of that, I enjoyed home renovation and decorating projects.
Of course, looking at these skills and aptitudes, one career choice seemed clear. Working as a manager at a Home Depot.
Somehow I managed to convince someone to hire me as a manager at Home Depot after finishing school.
First day on the job and I knew that it was a poor fit for me. My back hurt. Helping people select dishwasher options bored me. And I didn't look good in an orange apron.
Looking back, this seems like such an absurd career choice. But thing is that it made sense on paper.
The more I work in the career field, the more I am convinced that we focus too much on making cognitive career decisions. And I believe that we need to move towards making more experiential career choices.
What I should have done was taken a part-time job at Home Depot while completing my education. Or I could have taken on management related responsibilities within my current job. And I should have asked for advice from people who were working as managers.
But I didn’t. And instead, I learned my lesson the hard way. I lasted three months before I found another job.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, trying to make a career change, here’s what I would say to you.
1. Experiment. Let’s say you want to start a career in computer science. Before investing in many years of education, look for ways to test out if this is the right step for you.
For example, you could take on a self-directed programming project. There is enough information on the internet to learn basic programming.
When you work on it, do you find yourself absorbed or bored? Can you imagine doing a job like this for the rest of your life?
2. Talk to People. Do not decide on a career choice in isolation. The tendency is to base decisions on internet research or self reflection. Before you make any serious decisions, have an in-depth conversation with at least 5 people who are in this role. Ask them what their average day is like. What are the job prospects like? What is the work environment like? When I visit my computer engineer husband at work, the office is quiet. The silence would drive me crazy, but he enjoys it.
3. Don’t Make Education Your Default: If you can, get entry-level work before committing to education. This will give you a true sense of what the work is like. And you can develop some key relationships that can help your hiring prospects down the road.
Once you are in a job, find out what training or education your field values. Be wary of advice you receive from school admissions advisors, especially at private schools. They have a vested interest in your enrollment. If you do need further training or education, make sure your field of interest recognizes both the training and the school.
What about you? How have you made your past decisions? What do you wish you did differently?
All the best. You got this.
Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace.