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Student Debt and the Dream Job – Part 2

The debate about the value of higher education continues as more Americans struggle to decide whether or not a college education is worth the cost. As tuition rates rise while the job market declines, it’s critical that you weigh the costs with the benefits, as they apply to you and your goals. You may find that modifications to your plans are in order.

When I wrote “Student Debt and the Dream Job” last month, I addressed student expectations: how you can manage the potential debt of higher education with pursuit of your dream job, and how costs might affect your decisions. I had also just returned from a career development conference where change was in the air: how is the career advising field changing to meet the needs of students and job seekers navigating employment in a challenging economy?

The Foundation of Future Career Dreams

New models of career development and decision-making are emerging and older theories are being revisited as they apply to the needs of today’s students and job seekers. At the recent National Career Development Association Global Conference, leading career theorists were asked in the closing session, titled Laying the Foundation for Career Dreams, to comment on the future of career development. Among their responses, I found the following helpful themes:

  • Developing varied and complex paths: The idea of preparing students and clients for the one thing that they will do for the rest of their lives is outdated. Choosing a career is now a long-term series of decisions that require adjustments to changes in our lives and economic factors. As one of the panelists stated, “change in our world is so fundamental and profound.” We need to plan for the eventuality of change in our careers – being flexible leads to multiple possible paths through which you can support yourself and find satisfaction.
  • Overcoming unexpected challenges: The flexibility required of us also means being willing to take risks. We can’t always be sure of the outcome of our decisions, especially when there are other contributing factors. The presenters’ views were echoed in a Twitter chat I participated in this week. I saw this comment, or something very close to it, in the discussion of social media, career services, and the job search: “This is what our students fear most, being measured against unknown criteria.” So many things in life, including our careers, include “unknown” and often subjective criteria. Know what you can control and what you can’t, and learn from your mistakes along the way. We all make them. Accepting the uncertainty that exists and preparing yourself to make informed decisions can alleviate some of the fear involved.
  • Enjoying serendipity and happenstance: Just as there are unexpected challenges on the horizon, you’ll also encounter unexpected opportunities. John Krumboltz addressed his planned happenstance theory as part of the panel discussion. To take advantage of unexpected opportunities that occur as you pursue your career it is important to explore your options and interests, be persistent and open-minded, stay flexible and willing to modify your original plan, and remain optimistic about the future. You never know where your next idea will come from, so be open to the opportunities that present themselves as you move forward with your plans.

The panel of theorists also addressed the fact that career decisions include much more than work factors. We each make these kinds of decisions in the unique context of our lives as we are influenced by our own attitudes and beliefs, and the needs of our families.

Take Action for Career Success

While the general state of the economy is undeniably at a low point, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Your “dream job” may not be a realistic expectation immediately after graduation, but you can pursue success and satisfaction through flexibility and adaptability when planning your career. Move beyond the idea that there is “one best option,” and open your search to include many possible options. Here are a few guidelines to get your momentum going:

  • Describe what it is you want to do for a living. List the types of tasks and activities you are interested in performing on a daily basis and consider that these could be described in different ways by different industries, with a wide variety of job titles.
  • Create your own luck. Sometimes it seems like others, those who are really successful, have been lucky. Put yourself in the position to be “lucky” in your career by working hard and being involved in developing your skills and professional network. One of my favorite quotes about luck, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is that “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
  • Continue exploring. Career exploration often takes place as an initial step toward decision-making. Traditionally, you research the many options available, narrow the list of possibilities, and ultimately decide on a field or path to pursue. I challenge you to continue your exploration even after you begin working in your career. Panelist Janet Lenz recommended that we read materials outside of our field of study as one way to expand our knowledge and open ourselves to new ideas and perspectives.

Make the most of your investment. The pursuit of higher education is a costly endeavor that requires an investment of not only your finances, but also your time. Once you’ve done your research, selected your program, and enrolled in your courses, commit yourself to the learning process. Work to achieve your career goals through all of the avenues available to you and include your career center and career advisors in your plans. There is a lot of information available online, but these professionals may be able to help you identify the best options for you in the context of your needs and goals.

Image credit: meganp0909, Flickr, CC-BY