How to Overcome Misconceptions About Your Career Options (Opinion)

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with career exploration right now, it might be comforting to at least know you’re not alone.

I remember as an undergraduate researching careers, the path to becoming a teacher, while difficult, at least seemed straight, unique, and clear. In contrast, all the other possible careers (UX researcher? Program manager? Consultant? Learning designer?) seemed as unfathomable as they were inaccessible.

Today, as I help other students and postdocs move through the career exploration process, I find that the intense uncertainty of our current moment is only exacerbated. the analysis paralysis I experienced it 10 years ago. With the work landscape changing underfoot every day, it can be difficult to feel confident about moving forward into the unknown.

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When I signed up for a recent course offered by the design company IDEO designing the strategy, I learned that this feeling of paralysis is not exclusive to doctors or career changers. All kinds of people and organizations feel stuck when it comes to making decisions. Because the future is not particularly known, making the wrong choice can feel scary and inevitable.

As a result, many of us tend to roll the dice uninformed (like when I didn’t fully understand when I applied for random jobs) or do nothing (like when I ignored the problem of finding a job). ). The problem is, both the game and not the action are strategies, not always effective.

So what can we do instead? The most useful phrase I learned in my strategy class was “Strategy requires creativity and rigor.” IDEO’s approach to strategy recommends using creative thinking to overcome the assumptions that keep us stuck and then move to a more rigorous analysis of our best options. With that approach in mind, if you feel like you’ve fallen off the career exploration roadmap, here are four steps you can take to apply more creativity and rigor to your strategy.

Number 1: Add more options, especially rare ones. Often, by the time people feel stuck, they’ve already learned about the many possible career options available to them, whether it’s by going to career panels, talking to a career counselor, or using online tools. MyIDP or Imagine a Ph.D. What initially felt like an enticing career buffet has turned into a fantastic competition, with a handful of jobs that all seem to… OK.

It may seem intuitive, but sometimes it adds up more the options on your list—especially the odd ones—can help you get off track in your career exploration.

First, list all the reasonable and logical careers you are considering. They can be broad fields like “industrial research” or “technology”, or more specific titles like “scientist” or “UX researcher”. OK? good Now list the other 10. Include the ones you’re not sure are jobs. Add the out-of-left-field ones you’ve been too embarrassed to say out loud. Don’t self-edit right now. If you dreamed of becoming a florist or a writer, those jobs should be on this list.

Another thing: include your current position, such as grad student or Ph.D., in your list. After all, that’s one of the options you’re considering if absence has ever been part of your strategy.

Number 2: Ask yourself what you like about your three most divergent choices. Let’s say embedded within each of the career options you’ve considered, especially jewelry, is a problem you’d like to solve: something you don’t like about your career right now. What is that problem, and why does this other career feel like a solution?

The purpose of this step is to better understand the life you want to live and the choices you need to make to get there, without presupposing a specific solution to that problem. Here’s an example—“Career: Florist. Problem it solves: Meetings are boring. I’d like to have a lot of creativity and joy during the day, and feel like I’m creating something tangible. Besides, I don’t want to stare at blank white walls all day, and I want color and beauty.’

#3: Ask yourself what would have to be true to make each choice a great choice. So we’ve identified opportunities, now what do we do with them? You might think that would be the objectively best option to determine. Any pro/today list would tell us that doing UX research makes more sense than being a florist, right?

However, the wise strategists Roger L. Martin he argues that when we are dealing with conditions of uncertainty it is not useful to move too quickly to the analysis. We tend to jump too quickly to evaluate options based on our assumptions without first testing those assumptions.

Instead, Martin recommends asking, “What would have to be true for this option (WWHTBT) to be a great option?” For example, I would reflect that gardening is an excellent career choice:

  • I should enjoy flower arranging professionally as much as I do as a hobby.
  • Work should be low-stress and creative.
  • I should be able to find a florist in the bay area within the next eight months.

On the contrary, in order for UX researcher to be a great choice, I can conclude that I would have to have enough income and work-life balance to let go of my gardening hobby.

Remember, you’re not ruling anything out at this point, you’re just trying to understand what would make this opportunity great.

#4: Research your WWHTBTs rigorously. It’s finally time to put your analytical brain to use in your career exploration service. Now that you know the truth of what should be in order for each opportunity to be great, the question is: are those things true or not?

To be really thorough in this step, don’t just rely on your assumptions. You may be able to answer some of your questions using online tools Imagine a Ph.D or MyIDP or job simulation site cutting. Another part of your research should definitely be talking to people who are currently doing the job in question. (Oh, and don’t forget to apply that strictness to your “don’t change anything” option).

Together with my colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, Bill Lindstaedt and Mike Mullen, I created a fillable PDF tool. Option Comparison Matrix WWHTBT is for people who enjoy having a concrete way to weigh multiple criteria and then use those criteria to compare multiple options.

In conclusion, whatever you decide as a result of these exercises, remember another fundamental principle of strategy is that there is no definitive right or wrong path. The goal is to be intentional about your choice. Even if you still encounter some obstacles along the way, applying creativity and rigor to your decision-making will give you more confidence moving forward in your career exploration.

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