Early Career Action Planning - Starting Sooner Matters

by Judy Panagakos, Early Stage Careers Coach

Earlier this month, Gallup released their study, Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work, which explores and provides insight into the factors that contribute to finding purpose in your work life. One crucial point the study reveals is that students often wait too long to begin career exploration. While students oftentimes spend time reflecting on this before college, once students are in college that trail oftentimes goes cold until graduation looms near.

Maximize Experiences: Plan Ahead

In order to assess potential career options and discover what work aligns with your skills and interests, you will want to maximize experiences outside of a classroom setting. Internships throughout college summers give students both work experience and exposure to possible career fields. Those students who wait until senior year approaches do not have sufficient time to repoint themselves if they find the prospective career they’d planned for is not a match. If they test more experiences earlier, they will have a greater set of options and more time to change course before deciding on a path.     

At Early Stage Careers, we frequently emphasize that early experiences are marketable to future employers – and this study demonstrates the crucial importance these experiences play in finding personal fulfillment in work life. 

We recently had a client who spent her college years focused on economics and finance, obtaining sought after internships in finance and consulting. There she realized that while she was strong in quantitative disciplines, when it came to applying that in a work setting, it was not a match for her aptitudes and interests.  She took stock of her situation and decided marketing would be a better fit. She then, through collaborative networking with Early Stage Careers, secured an internship post-graduation – and ultimately found a permanent role in this new field. For those who are struggling to determine a new approach – a Career Assessment can be a great first step.

What Matters Most to Finding Purpose

The study revealed four key drivers that contribute to finding work that makes one feel fulfilled and engaged.

Think of this quartet as the “secret sauce” to finding your purpose.  Here are the ingredients along with examples of how, and most importantly, when, we work with clients to help families deliver these facets to career planning.  

To find purpose in work, these four keys should be present and in this order of importance:

1. Having a job or internship experience

2. Having someone who encourages goals and dreams

3. Being given realistic expectations for post-graduate employment prospects

4. Participating in a structured program that helps you think about pursuing meaning in work

Anyone can apply this model if they are proactive. A forward-thinking student can identify and apply to possible internships; and a parent, professor, mentor, or career coach can encourage a students’ goals. A knowledgeable advisor can provide feedback on how realistic certain career options are (which is something we are very upfront about with Early Stage Careers clients). Or students can research roles and talk to industry professionals to discover the academic and experience paths needed to get in at an entry level – and plan accordingly if they give themselves enough time. And specific classes, volunteer opportunities, and extracurricular clubs can help students think critically about how to find meaning in work.

Early Planning Success: Case Studies

  • In August, a Freshman client and his coach studied the clubs available at his university, allowing him to start school with a short list ready for serious consideration; he ultimately chose three that aligned with his interests. Similarly, they studied his curriculum, to ensure that his class selection would provide him with a challenging schedule that will simultaneously equip him with pre-requisite courses needed through junior year.  His summer plans include attending a FinTech Bootcamp program and, later, a Finance course at the London School of Economics.

  • Another Freshman client had a clear career vision, journalism, and then took a career assessment to learn what type of journalism would best suit her interests. She will spend summer at an Ivy League School’s summer program in Audio Journalism, which will allow her to apply her strong skills in narrative development and reporting, while learning how to write and edit for radio using world-class equipment.

  • A Sophomore marketing major, started planning the summer of 2019 early and needed to fit in a family commitment. His efforts led to a marketing internship at a start-up manufacturing company, found through networking, and a marketing seminar at the London School of Economics, leaving enough time for a family reunion in between.

  • Another Sophomore Computer Science major started his summer job applications proactively in the fall; but unfortunately spent time applying to roles solely intended for current juniors. In March, after a very intense burst of effort with us he secured a role at a technology company in his area, which he can couple with required intensive sports training for his collegiate sport. 

These are just a few examples of how early planning yields options and allows for a combination of experiences; allowing time to meet application deadlines. Remember, it takes creative thinking to temper expectations, networking and plan to meet your varied commitments.

Forging your own path is hard work. Discovering a meaningful career or job can take years, so do not wait until senior year to get started. Work hard, make plans, reflect on your experiences, find someone to guide you and investigate the economic outlook for your dream role - and you will be well-positioned to find and experience a purposeful career.

And if you’re in need of guidance, let us know if we can help.