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Question Everything as You Explore Your Career Options

Question Everything as You Explore Your Career Options

Peter Vogt MC Career Coach

August 10, 2009

College is really only about one thing: Learning how to become a critical thinker — someone who knows that truth is a moving target and who is willing to ask the many questions necessary to move continuously closer to that target.

As you take your classes, participate in campus activities and interact with diverse groups of people, critical thinking should become part of your entire existence. And nowhere will your critical-thinking skills be more important than in your career exploration and decision making; it’s far too easy to otherwise fall into traps that might prevent you from pursuing a potentially satisfying career for no good reason.

As you explore options for your college major, where you should intern or what your first career should be, question everything. Maintain a healthy skepticism when it comes to variables like:

Your People Sources

Has a friend, parent or teacher ever told you not to major in a subject, because you’ll never get a good job in that field? If so, you’re far from alone. It’s easy to listen to these well-meaning but often misinformed people. They’re close to you, they seem to know what they’re talking about, and they’re usually quite vocal. How can they be wrong?

Ask yourself if these people really know any more about a certain major or career field than you do. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being excellent, how does each people source rate when it comes to actual expertise in a particular major or career? Anyone who isn’t at least an eight probably doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Career-Related Tests and Computer Programs

Once in Ann Landers’s column, a 38-year-old man told Ann he was stuck, because the career he wanted to pursue wasn’t an option for him — or so he thought. How did he reach this troubling conclusion? “I took some job-placement tests,” he wrote. “But it seems I have no aptitude for what interests me and no interest in what I am qualified for.”

This man was giving his test results far more power than they deserved. Worse, he wasn’t even questioning the results’ reliability and validity. In his mind, the responses he’d given to a mere 50 or 100 questions essentially sealed his career fate.

Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, realize that any career test or inventory you take — whether pencil-and-paper, computerized or on the Web — is only one indicator of jobs you might want to explore or avoid. It’s not gospel truth and is certainly open to questioning.

Trends and Study Results

If you’re one of the many college students interested in which majors and careers are hot these days, be careful and critical. For starters, today’s hot is tomorrow’s not. More importantly, though, trends are often declared based upon study results, many of which frequently contradict each other, at least to some degree. And the studies themselves can often be called into question, depending on the methodology they’ve used or the people behind them.

So take trend information and research findings with a grain of salt, and look into what you find. There’s a human element in everything you learn about through other people’s efforts, and that human element can make an enormous difference in the way information is interpreted and presented, leaving you vulnerable to poor career decisions that could hurt you for years.

College is helping you become a critical thinker. Be sure you apply those critical-thinking skills to your major and career decision-making activities so you explore all your options, understand the limitations and nuances of the information you gather and make informed choices that will lead to satisfying outcomes.