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Careers Café

Happy New Year (redux)


Back in January, I proposed a series of questions you might ask in the spirit of the New Year. The beginning of a new academic year seems like a good time to revisit one of those questions:

What are your career goals?

It is more useful to frame your goals in terms of the skills you would like to be using regularly, the kind of work environment you’d like to be in, and the qualities you want in your work life.

This will be difficult. Chances are you think of your goals in terms of specific jobs. The number of jobs you are aware of is limited though. And you have no control over what jobs are available. Identifying the specific elements of a job that are attractive to you gives you more control over your job search.

For example, if your career goal is to be a professor, what is it about that job that is particularly attractive to you. Is it research? Teaching? The autonomy? The variety of tasks? A commitment to certain values?

Probe deeper into whatever it is. If you are attracted to teaching, do you like all teaching? Or do you have clear preferences for particular class size, or type of student, or subject area?

Getting really clear about specifics will enable you to make decisions about opportunities to develop skills, gain experience, build networks, and apply for specific jobs. It will also help you both broaden the list of types of jobs that might suit you and identify jobs that have the right job title but won’t meet your actual career goals.

How are you positioned right now?

Do you have the skills you need to pursue the careers that interest you? Are you taking steps to develop those skills and gain experience using them?

Are you meeting people who can help you learn more about the careers that interest you? People who can let you know about opportunities? Help you assess your skills and experience and take appropriate action to improve your chances of securing a position? (This applies to academic as well as non-academic options.)

Are you making assumptions about specific jobs? What have you done to learn about other options? Have you talked to people in other fields to learn more about the day-to-day reality of particular jobs?

What are you doing now to move towards your career goals?

Now that you have a picture of where you want to go and where you are now, you can start to make plans for moving in that direction.

What can you do in the next year that will move you closer to your career goals? Are there opportunities to develop the skills you want to use in your future career even more? Are the opportunities to use those skills in a wider variety of contexts?

Just as importantly, what have you been doing that is distracting you from your career goals? Can you stop?

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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