A New College Graduate Seeks a Career

A mock career counseling session

Client: When the dean said, “Congratulations, Class of 2019!,” everyone cheered, but not me. Those words were the signal that instead of learning and playing, for the rest of my life, I now had to contribute something that someone would be willing to pay me and pay me decently for. And yet I have no idea what that would be.

Counselor: I’m guessing you’ve done some thinking about what career or careers might be a good fit?

Client: I started out pre-med but organic chem killed me so I switched to psychology. But to get a decent job in psychology, you need a masters, maybe a doctorate. I’m kind of sick of school.

Counselor: Of course, many, maybe most, people end up in a career not related to their major.

Client: I’m tempted to just take my girlfriend’s father’s offer to give me a job in his business. But it’s the wholesale fish business and I can’t say that’s a turn-on.

Counselor: Sometimes but certainly not always, it makes sense to take a job that drops in your lap if it could be a career launchpad rather than search for some ostensibly better fit that you’d have to compete for in the open market.

Client: I thought you career counselors are all about identifying people’s skills, interests, values, and preferences and then finding a well-suited career.

Counselor: That’s true but people’s contentment in a career often depends more on getting an inside opportunity now as long as you make the most of it. Do you sense that it could be a launchpad for a rewarding career or a dead-end, like if your job was loading the trucks with fish?

Client: I don’t know.

Counselor: Do you want to have a chat with your girlfriend’s dad about it?

Client: Maybe. I’d like though to see if we could come up with a career that is a better fit.

Counselor: Of course. I just didn’t want you to prematurely turn down something that might be a better career launchpad than what you could get in the open market.

I used to give “tests” like the Strong and Myers-Briggs to help tease out well-suited careers but I’ve found it more effective to use a technique I call The Optometry Game. Have you ever been to the optometrist to get fitted for glasses or contact lenses and he or she shows you pairs of lenses and asks which you like better, “one or two,” and after a while you can’t tell and you feel stupid?

Client. Yes.

Counselor: Well, I’m going to suggest pairs of careers and you tell me which you like better. Okay?

Client: Okay.

Counselor: Would you rather be a social worker or a small business owner?

Client: I’m surprised at myself but small business owner.

Counselor: Bricks and mortar or online?

Client: Online: It costs less to start and that’s where the future is.

Counselor: Sell a product or a service?

Client: Service.

Counselor: Psychology-related or not?

Client: Psychology-related.

Counselor: A website that curates mental health apps or one that profiles therapists?

Clients: Profiles therapists

Counselor: Profiles of all types of therapists or one type?

Client: One, maybe phobia specialists.

Counselor: On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 best, how do you feel about creating a website in which you invite phobia specialists with great Yelp reviews to post their profile on your site, maybe including a brief video of each. You’d then do what it takes to drive traffic to your site and then when someone books a session with one of the therapists, you get a percentage. What does that score?

Client: 8.

Counselor: What keeps it from being a 10?

Client: I don’t know much about how to drive traffic to a website.

Counselor: Is that something you’d want to learn yourself or hire someone to do that for you?

Client: Hire someone.

Counselor: We have to stop for today but what homework assignment might you like to give yourself?

Client: Think more about that idea and maybe play the Optometry Game with myself and see what else I come up with.

Counselor: Sounds great. And in our next session, you’ll report back and if you’re ready to move forward, we’ll map out baby steps for that. If you feel you want to explore other options or you find yourself procrastinating or even stymied with fear, we can talk about that. How’s that sound?

Client: Good.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

Career advisor Dr. Marty Nemko’s 12 books, including Careers for Dummies (Wiley, 2018) are available.

UC Berkeley Ph.D, specialist in career and education issues.

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