Career journey starts with one step -- to the keyboard
Two years? I don't know what I'm doing over Christmas break, nor do I have a summer job lined up yet -- how am I supposed to plan out the next two years, I thought.
Only a few weeks into my first term of the MBA program and I was supposed to take a lengthy career assessment test, write a reflection essay based on the tests results and then plan out a career "journey map" for the next two years.
It was a frustrating assignment, I thought, because I'm in a different position than so many of my business-school peers. Many are in the program to change careers, but they don't know what job or industry they would like to work in. They are joining clubs and taking a variety of classes to try to find something that they find interesting.
I know what I want, a career in media management, and how I plan to get there, I thought.
As I began to ponder the results of my career assessment test and map out what the next two years would look like, I began to realize this would be more useful than I had given it credit for.
Sure, the next two years will be chock full of uncertainty and may include multiple changes in career objectives, but the idea of writing down my goals and mapping out my career path is something I wish I had done sooner: first in high school, again in my undergraduate years and then after a few years in the work force.
Think about any major venture. Those that are properly planned (including timelines, milestones and obstacles) are more likely to become successful.
Our careers make up an enormous part of our lives, so why then do we not spend an equal amount of time on career planning as we do on planning a holiday or budgeting our family's finances?
The first part of the project was the completion of an on-line career assessment called CareerLeader, a program developed by Harvard University and used by more than 250 business programs and corporations worldwide. It is designed to tell me about my interests, strengths and motivations -- then tie them all together with my ideal career path.
I was skeptical. I had completed a similar test before, but it told me that I should consider farming, florist-shop operation or car sales. (In the spirit of full disclosure, that test was a brief quiz that I found on some now-defunct website.)
The test began with dozens of career choices and asked me to decide whether I would -- or would not -- enjoy working in that position. The key thing to remember, it said: Do not consider whether you have the right skills to do the job, whether you'd be good in the role or how much money the job would pay. Focus only on what interests you and be honest.
Computer programmer: "I would not like this work." Athletic coach: "I would very much enjoy this work." College professor: "I would like this work to a limited extent." Editor of a newspaper: "I would like this work."
It continued in that fashion for roughly two hours, asking me to rank various activities, strengths, values and scenarios.
The final component was a nine-page report that listed my core interests, the type of corporate culture that would best suit my personality, my strengths and weaknesses, and some career "beacons" -- which, according to the report, signal good directions in which to move my career, similar to how a sailor uses a lighthouse.
And, unlike the farmer-florist-car-salesman debacle, it was surprisingly accurate.
The test's verdict on my skills/interests: I would enjoy planning events, managing public relations, designing new products; I enjoy oral versus written communication and making presentations to large groups; no matter what industry I choose, I am going to enjoy building teams, hiring people and dealing with people; I am weak at accepting criticism and quantitative analysis (not surprising, given that journalists and math usually don't mix well).
Then came the careers section, which proved just as interesting. My most promising career paths, it concluded: advertising account management (very high match), marketing and marketing management (high match), public relations and communications (high match). While the third wasn't so shocking (after all, I studied journalism and communications in my undergraduate degree), the first two were somewhat surprising.
Still, when I thought about it, I realized I had written numerous stories on the marketing industry while at The Globe and Mail and found its goings-on fascinating. What's more, friends and colleagues had told me that because of my creative background and knowledge of the media industry, I should consider advertising or marketing, but I always shrugged off their suggestions as I was sure I lacked the skills to even consider exploring a job in those fields.
In the second part of the assignment, the reflection essay, I wrote that thanks to the results, I planned to attend on-campus information sessions, conduct interviews with MBA grads in the advertising and marketing fields, and take marketing courses beyond the required one next semester.
Part three of the assignment was the so-called journey map, in which I spent four single-spaced pages detailing my career-related goals for the next 16 months.
This January, for example, I need to assemble a list of contacts, identify organizations that are looking for summer interns and polish my résumé.
In February and March, I need to set up interviews, attend networking events and, I hope, secure a summer gig.
I have laid out activities for every month until graduation in 2007 -- with hopes that the research and planning will help me land that ideal job, in that perfect organization, with that dream salary.
At least, that's the plan.
Richard Bloom is a former Report on Business writer who has enrolled in York University's Schulich School of Business to obtain an MBA. He writes regularly on career lessons he is taking away from the classroom.
Finding help on-line
Thinking about where to take your career? MBA students and grads aren't the only ones eligible to take the CareerLeader test.
The on-line assessment, created by academics at the Harvard Business School, is available to anyone willing to pony up the cash. A 60-day access pass to CareerLeader, at http://www.careerleader.com, costs $95 (U.S.).
Some of the things you will get after taking the three key tests:
An assessment of your "business-relevant interests, values and abilities."
Recommendations for specific career paths and why they match.
A rating of your entrepreneurial attributes.
Reports on about 30 different career paths.
A list of your "career Achilles heels" and suggestions for improving on those weaknesses.
CareerLeader isn't the only option. The makers of the program also operate TalentRetainer, which is for the development of employees' careers within an organization, according to the website.
What's more, a Google search of "career assessment test" turned up thousands of hits. Some tests are free, such as the one at Canadian site http://www.workopolis.com; others will require a credit card.
If you're not interested in researching your potential career matches on-line, there are myriad one-on-one career-counseling firms across the country (searchable via http://www.yellowpages.ca).