Looking for a career path? Here are some starting points

A person’s choice of career is easily one of the most important decisions they will ever make. I was fortunate to have a dad in the business world who shared stories and lessons with me regularly and, as a result, I had an idea of what a business career would look like from an early age. But family experience is not the only place to look for this kind of guidance. It is never too late to dig in and learn about potential career paths; and the more you learn, the more likely you will be to make a rewarding career choice.

The big question I often hear is: “how do young people learn about careers?”. I can tell you that if I were a high-school student today, the internet would be my first stop. A quick search will yield information about career paths in just about any field under the sun. I recently tested this with a search for “careers at Tractor Supply” and was immediately met with a list of company departments and open positions. This may sound like a simple suggestion; but sometimes, the simplest paths forward get overlooked. I have no doubt that the young people in your life know how to use the internet! Encourage them to incorporate that knowledge into a career exploration exercise.

Once interest is piqued, the next step might simply be an email or call directly to companies of interest. In some cases, there may not be a response – but in other cases, a door just might swing open. Companies may be willing to share information about the work they do, the requirements for their positions, or a general overview of their hiring practices. They may provide a pathway to an internship opportunity, or a tour of the business. I speak from experience when I say: never underestimate the extent to which business leaders will admire young folks who show initiative.

Another possible step – one that, admittedly, takes a lot of personal confidence – is to simply go to a business and ask. Very early in my career, I walked into a discount store in New Jersey and asked about a position supervising the checkouts, which I had done previously at a grocery store.  I was hired on the spot and spent the next 15 years with that company learning all about retailing, management, and leadership. Relatedly, one of the best ways to learn about careers is to have a part time or summer job in any field that might be of interest. This was the case for me, as the few months I spent working in that grocery store ultimately served as the first step in my retail career. In the end, your reaction to the job could be anywhere from “I love it” to “not for me”.  The bottom line is: on-the-job experience guarantees a learning experience.

And finally, I’ll extend a challenge to my accomplished friends — get involved in coaching young folks about all the possibilities in life.  You have been there and done that, so take the time to help those who have not. Each of us has certainly seen some successes — but we have also been through the “school of hard knocks”.  Stories about your professional journey, good or bad, can go a long way in shaping the career trajectory of a young person.

Career exploration can be an individual pursuit, or one that involves a wide network of experienced mentors. Either way, do yourself a favor and take the time to explore the many opportunities available in this world. You might be surprised by the paths that spark your interest.

published Nashville Business Journal

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