Choosing a Career

One of the most important and most difficult decisions we face in life is determining the vocation best suited for us. Many factors come into play such as: what are my interests, abilities and aptitudes; what jobs are available in the current labor market; what type of training and education are needed for a specific position and how will I afford the necessary training for my field of interest?
As a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, I spend time asking and providing evaluations to help Veterans make these decisions, and as for the expense? The Veterans in our program are fortunate that costs for training are covered and they have a counselor to assist them in making a vocational choice that meets their needs.This is a service I am honored to provide for those that have served our country. Not all of us are fortunate to have this benefit, but with planning, diligence and good effort you can deliver a vocational strategy that meets your needs.

As a child I wanted to become a Veteranarian, but discovered in high school that Veterinarians must have a high level and enjoyment for science and math, which was not the case for me. I scored well in those subjects, but excelled in the softer subjects like writing and language arts. After engaging in ROTC, I contemplated joining the military and hoped to attain an Air Force ROTC scholarship. Several life factors led me down a different path that did not include a military career. My good grades and hard work in high school paid off though. I was fortunate to be awarded the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, which paid 75% of my tuition. The rest I managed with my full-time job. I moved up the ladder at my Supermarket job and became a manager.

As a leader, I found myself passionate about teaching and developing folks early on. This realization helped me decide to get my undergrad in teaching. What a fun program! I wanted to teach kindergarten through second grade. One day in class, my teacher discussed salaries for teachers in my state. I was floored! I made $10,000 more a year at my Supermarket job that didn’t require a degree. That was a tough pill to swallow. At that point in my life, being a teacher didn’t make sense for me financially. I could have rationalized my passion and love for the field, but realistically, my passion wouldn’t pay the bills. So, a degree in Psychology was born out of that discovery. It was the closest fit to my current program, so I didn’t have to take many extra classes.

Fast forward to almost 5 years later, I was working in a job that was good, but not great for me. I began to feel this restlessness, this drive, this need for something more. I wanted to help people. Out of this growing discomfort, the catalyst for changing my life and career began. My previous education put me in a good place to begin a career in Counseling, so I went back to school – this time with no scholarship. When planning for your career, life experience definitely paved the way for where I am today, but I cannot help but think what would have been if I had testing and career guidance early on.

I highly recommend starting your career search early in life so you can do all the heavy lifting before you get out of high school. That may mean taking college level courses, preparing for entrance exams, doing volunteer work early in high school, and researching opportunities to get your college education paid for. Take it from someone who knows, student loans are no fun! They may sometimes be necessary, but if they can be avoided, do the prep work to prevent the necessity. The view of going to College to have fun, may yield you some “good times,” but it may delay your career and financial future, you may miss out on opportunities, or spend way more time in and on school than you bargained for.

Personality traits and aptitudes are a good indicator for specific career interests. For example, if you are introverted a career in Public Relations may not be suited for you, or if you are a social person – working as a Research Scientist might not be a good fit. The Self Directed Search is a great tool to give you a starting point for careers that match your interests, aptitudes and abilities. Onet is a great free resource that offers descriptions of jobs, degrees required, physical requirements and other valuable tools. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is another helpful and free tool in your search for a career. In need of funding? Check out this website for free tips on financial aid, grant and scholarships.

After you have chosen a career, next step is looking at job postings so you can see what employers are looking for. The top websites for job searches are indeed, usajobs,monster, careerbuilder, simplyhired, and linkedin. There are many others, but these will get you started. What is the sense in getting a Masters Degree, when an employer really wants a Bachelors Degree and Certifications? What if they are really looking for someone with experience? I hear this statement all the time. I am in school, and they want experience, but I can’t get a job because I don’t have experience and I can’t get experience until they give me the job. The job market can be frustrating, so strategizing becomes even more important.

If you start early in life, you may be able to secure an Internship to gain experience and build your resume. There are many Federal Internships by Agency and Non-profit/Private Sector Programs that offer Internships. Don’t want to work for free? Check out Federal Work Study Programs, be sure to check that you are interested in Federal Work Study Programs on your FAFSA. You will want to check with your college advisors for more info.

I see folks who didn’t take the time up front to determine a viable career path with a growing labor market and how frustrating it can be to find work; or those who chose the “easy degree” who now work in a field they hate – but have few options, and due to financial obligations remain in their current positions. Even if you are starting later in life, using a process like this will give you an edge. Figuring out who you are and what you are destined for can be a long road, but well worth the commitment. The bottom line, start early, make a plan, and work the plan.

If you have tools you would like to share, or if you found any of this info helpful please comment!

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