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Finding a Job When You Don't Know What You Want to Do

Anthony Balderrama, writer

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One of the most exciting aspects of a job hunt is the opportunity to pursue any career you want. An endless array of jobs awaits you; hundreds, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. Surely you can throw out enough résumés to net the job of your dreams, right?

Alas, it's not that easy. You can't expect to compete with other job seekers if you don't know what you want.  Unfortunately, a lot of job seekers don't know what they want to do when they find themselves looking for a job.

Maybe you're young and unsure of your future -- you might even have a degree. You might have been part of the work force for a decade or more and recently realized you don't like what you're doing, but you don't know what's next for you.  Not knowing what to do first can be overwhelming, if not disheartening.

"Candidates looking for a job have to start somewhere," says Donna Flagg, president of the Krysalis Group, a business and management consulting firm. "I think the most important thing is not to try to decide on what long-term career is best, because it's too daunting. However, it's not hard to think about places, jobs or things that make you happy or that interest you. Start there and back into employers that may offer such an environment."

The problem, of course, comes with singling out a job that you'll enjoy.

Write it down
Your first step should get your brain working, according to Simma Lieberman, a performance improvement consultant and coach.

"Make a list of jobs, careers and topic areas that have interested you. Don't censor yourself or think of reasons why you shouldn't list them," she suggests. Then start researching.

Browse your social and professional networks for people in the industries that interest you and ask them any questions you have. Try to find experts in these fields who would be willing to have a brief informational interview with you. "After your interviews and research, list the pros and cons, skills and experience needed to be successful, and determine what careers or jobs match your interests, needs and wants."

Throughout this process, remember that you shouldn't close off any avenues without good reason. If you're a numbers person who can't even draw a smiley face to save your life, then you may want to cross artistic careers off the list and consider something in finance. But don't assume any field in finance is off limits because of a scant work history.

Of course, experience is key. Not just the experience you have, but also the experience you're willing to gain, says Annemarie Segaric, author of "Step into the Right Career: Change Your Life While Still Paying the Bills."

"Realize that it's often unreasonable to expect to know exactly what you want without the experience of working in different jobs in the first place. This will take the pressure off of you from having to know what you want to take action," she says. "Instead, taking action on different opportunities will help you hone in what you like and don't like."

If you have worked for two years or just have an internship under your belt, you should already have some idea of what you're good at and what you don't like. Even if it's as simple as realizing you don't like working with customers on a regular basis or you can't stand a cubicle job, knowing what you won't do is helpful to find out what you will do.

"Remember this is not the last job you'll ever have, so let your degree, your passions or even your alumni contacts in a certain industry guide you," she reminds. "You will be able to make this job a steppingstone on this long and often winding career journey."

The process
Once you've got the right mind-set to find a job, you still have to apply and interview, just like all other job candidates, many of whom have known what they wanted to do since they first uttered the words "director of human resources" while still wearing diapers. So when you walk in to an interview, you might not be 100 percent certain you want the job, but don't let the hiring manager know.

Tina Hamilton, president and CEO of HR company hireVision Group, offers some tips for job seekers still trying to find their direction.

· Look for jobs that align with your education.
While you don't want to limit yourself too much during the job hunt, don't apply for a job as an investment banker if you're about to complete a bachelor's in studio art.

· Use your cover letter to illustrate your qualifications.
As with any job hunt, help the hiring manager see why you're a good fit for the position. Don't make him work too hard.

· Don't indicate your lack of direction.
If you admit to the hiring manager you're just trying this job on for size, you're telling him or her that you might not stick around for too long and you raise doubts about your qualifications.

· Don't ask the hiring manager, "What position do you think I should be applying for?"
"These are not career counselors," Hamilton cautions. "If you are turned away for a job you may ask if there is another area in the organization that the interviewer feels might be a better fit for you."

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues..

Last Updated: 25/06/2010 - 11:20 AM

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