Many new graduates have trouble figuring out the right career direction to take. Sometimes parents’ wishes can influence the decision and sometimes the career choices of friends are influential, but most important in a career choice should be YOU! Who are you? And what do you want and need from your career? If new graduates will take some time to do some basic assessment work, it can save them from a lot of unhappiness down the road. The straightforward assessment that works well with many of my clients is something I call an AIMS assessment. You think through your Aptitudes, Interests, the Market need, and the Skills you need to have: AIMS. If you do that, it helps you to identify the right career path.

business womanStart with aptitudes. What do you do well? What are your innate abilities? People excel at work when they are performing work and activities that play to their strengths. To figure out your strengths, think about your natural talents. For example, some people are very good at math or science, others have strong verbal skills, others are sensitive to nuances in human behavior, still other people are good at artistic expression. By the time you have gone through high school you should have good indicators of your natural talents and abilities. These are your aptitudes. Often your friends and family or your teachers know what you do well and if you ask them, they can tell you. You have to be careful that your career direction is not hijacked by someone else’s agenda for you. Just because your mother wants you to be a doctor or your father wished he had become a lawyer does not mean that being a doctor or a lawyer is the right path for you. Your innate abilities are the ones you care about when you do this assessment. Write a list of your natural talents. Ask friends, family and teachers to contribute to this list.

Next, what are you interested in? People who are interested in a topic or in the content of the work they do for a living get into the “flow” of the work. They describe the feeling of “flow” as one of being in another zone. While in this zone, they are focused and eager and engaged. When people are interested in the work they do, they excel at the job. You want to be interested in the content of the work you will think about all day for day after day of your work-life! I am working with someone now who is trying to define his career direction and he is deeply interested in games. When he is decoding a puzzle he is in his element. His career should have some element of gaming, puzzle solving, and de-coding in it. He might enjoy the gamesmanship of trial work if he becomes a lawyer. If he gets into the field of engineering, he will be interested in aspects of that work that involve de-coding and possibly creating gaming software. For someone who enjoys visual arts, that interest can lead the way to fields that include architectural design, photography, videography, software design and more. People who are interested in helping others have better lives are often happy doing not-for-profit work, counseling, coaching, advising, and educating, and gravitate to the fields of psychology and social work or coaching sports teams, for example. The way to identify what you are interested in is to think about what you would want to look at, read, or do if you had the chance to read anything in a magazine or on the Internet, or spend your time doing something of intense interest. What are you drawn to doing? Identifying your interests is usually not as hard as figuring out where your interests fit into the work world. Start with the interests and then do your homework by first speculating about what might incorporate your interests, and then check your educated guesses out by doing good informational interviews – talk with people doing the work you think you want to do. What do software designers actually do all day? Do they really get to use their design skills? Who gets to do the design job at an engineering company? You can also check some of this out using the Internet to inform you about real world activities people do on the job.

Next, is market demand. You want to be sure that the field or industry you are targeting has work and is busy and growing. This information is available online and by using Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. There are numerous articles these days about where the best prospects for jobs are currently and predictions for the future. The market demand should be robust if you want to insure that you will have adequate job prospects now and in the future. Market demand has been shifting rapidly in the past decade partly because of global economic changes and partly because there have been many innovations that affect the marketplace as well as population changes including a larger demographic of seniors. Right now the hot fields appear to be: the health care industry, information technology, alternative energy, marketing, engineering, and financial analysis, as well as some global areas connected to fields such as the law, real estate, energy, and other industries. Check out blogs and articles to find the hot careers that match up with your strong aptitudes and interests.

Next, get the skills that make you valuable to a potential employer. Without current skills, your marketplace value is weaker and you want to be at the top when it comes to competing with others. A four year liberal arts college or university degree is very useful because it can open up the way you think and provide more information about who you are as well as expand your world view. However, these days some people cannot afford that four year college degree and a technical school might be the right answer for them. It might make the most sense to go to a technical school that will provide training in skills such as computer science, information technology, engineering, nursing, and so on. If you plan to go from high school directly into a technical school it is still important to match up your aptitudes, interests, and market need with the career you choose to pursue.

Follow your aptitudes, interests, the needs of the market, and be sure to gain the skills that make you valuable; if you do you will be in the sweet spot for your career.