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Picking a career you’ll actually like

When you're truly stumped by the direction to

When you're truly stumped by the direction to take, don't look to other people for ideas. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

Let’s say you’re graduating from college and about to start a career from scratch, unlike those in their 30s, 40s or 50s who are unhappy in jobs they chose and have to reinvent themselves in a new field.

No matter what you studied, you can find a job you love. Think about what fires you up; explore related careers in short-term, low-risk ways; and make sure you’ll earn enough money to cover your needs, wants and future self.

  • Start with what you love

When you’re truly stumped by the direction to take, don’t look to other people for ideas. Look inward. Kate Gremillion, CEO and founder of career coaching company Mavenly + Co., recommends asking, “What do people traditionally come to you for that isn’t work-related?”

Are you the friend who gives great relationship advice, who designs T-shirts for your friends’ bands, or who initiates the group text to organize a night out? Those skills can translate to a paying job: as a marriage and family therapist, a graphic designer or an event planner.

The job you’ll most enjoy is one you’d do for free anyway.

  • Try before you buy

Talk to people in the line of work you’re considering and find low-risk ways of trying it out. Use your school’s alumni or career services office to find former students with jobs that intrigue you. Ask them to have coffee or speak on the phone so you can learn about their career paths.

At this stage you’re not asking if they’ll forward your resume to human resources, Burnett says. Instead, ask what steps they took to get to that role, what they like most about the job and what problems they’re facing right now.

That might give you the chance to offer your services as an intern, part-time assistant or consultant. Or you can ask to shadow them for a day.

  • Keep money on your mind

Scrutinize jobs based on this definition: A “good job” for a college graduate, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, is full-time, pays more than $53,000 per year and offers benefits such as health insurance and a retirement plan.

  • Ignore everyone else

Finally, do your best to shut out messages from people who have their own agendas (except for me, of course).

Parents, especially, want their kids to be able to support themselves. But not everyone will succeed at or enjoy being a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Your happiness matters more than what you’ve been told to do.

It will probably take a job or two to figure out what you want out of a career. Enjoy the exploration.

Your career needs to feed and house you. How much money is enough? Assess your potential paycheck against the 50-30-20 budget: 50 percent of your income should go toward necessities, 30 percent or less toward your wants, and 20 percent or more toward savings and debt. If rent and student loan bills will eat up more than half your income, you may need to look for a higher-paying job, or cut back on expenses.

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