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5 Bad Ways to Choose a Career

01Apr 2011

Sometimes we focus on the right way to do a task.  But other times it is helpful to look at the wrong way to do something.

In my career coaching with students, young & older adults, I have seen some patterns of bad ways that people have attempted to choose their career direction — and rarely do these approaches work.  Let’s take a look at these, so you (and your children or grandchildren) can avoid them:

  1. “I saw it in a movie . . . ” (or on a TV show).  The problem with trying to pattern real life after movies or television is that they are, by nature, not realistic.  Either the image of a job is overly dramatized or, more likely, overly glorified.  If you think you know what a therapist does from seeing “Good Will Hunting” (or, my favorite, “What About Bob?”) or what policemen do from watching “America’s Most Wanted”, you will be sorely disappointed.  Sounds silly, but you would be surprised how often the approach is reported to me by young people.
  2. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a . . . ” I’m sorry, Johnny, but your image as a 6 year old of what a firefighter does isn’t anywhere near reality (they don’t even drive red trucks anymore!).  And although Karen may have enjoyed playing school and teaching her younger siblings when she was 10, she doesn’t have a clue about the realities of managing 20-25 third grade students, or what the job outlook is like.  Again, it seems somewhat fantasy-based, but I hear this reason in my meetings with students!
  3. “My parents think I should . . .” Now, I think most parents have a pretty good understanding of their child’s strengths and abilities.  And parents of students often have good ideas (I know, because I am one.)  But, most of the time, this approach reflects the parents’ desires for the child more than the student’s own preferences.  As a result, the result will fall flat, because the student won’t have the motivation to persevere through difficult times to reach the goal.  A variation of this theme is in family-owned businesses where parents are desperately hoping for a child to come into the business.  Unfortunately, the results are often disastrous because the (frequently oldest, compliant) child doesn’t have the capabilities to be successful in the position.
  4. “I didn’t know what else to study so I chose ….” This is a common response among college students, especially those who are sophomores and juniors.  They feel pressure to choose a major (rightfully so) but don’t know what they want to do, so they default to a general major like business, education, psychology or “general studies”.  Many times, these students are “lost” because they have never worked and don’t know what is “out there”.   Frequently, it would be far better for them to take a semester or year off, and work in the area they are considering (not in the family business).  This experience will give them far more valuable information than continuing to take classes.
  5. I took the ‘Intro to XYZ’ and didn’t like it, so I changed my major.” Aaggh!  This one drives me crazy — and unfortunately, it is one of the most cited reasons for changing one’s major.  For example, a student who has had a long-term interest in some form of medical work (nursing, physical therapy, etc.) and they go to college and take “Biology 101”, taught by a graduate teaching assistant.  And because the class is boring, or difficult, they change their major to music education (or whatever).  What a poor way to make a career choice.  Ask any professional, and see if the introductory courses have any relevance at all to what they actually do in real life (business, psychology, education, engineering, anything.)  Making career decisions based on coursework is a good way to make a bad choice.

I’ve written previously on career exploration and career decision-making, so I won’t repeat myself here.  But, please share these with some young people you know, so they won’t make some really poor choices based on bad data.


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