Allison Cheston, Career Connector


Career Connector Blog

Finding Your Career Should Be Messy


I’m helping my son, a college sophomore, find a summer internship. I’ve mentioned before in these pages that I find college sophomores to be ideal clients. For one thing, they’re over the shock of the newness of college. With established friendships and some newfound maturity, life at school is a bit more predictable. They’ve had the benefit of a year’s worth of classes that hopefully provided a window into some new subject areas. And at most schools, by the end of sophomore year students must declare a major.

Planning for “sophomore summer” should be viewed as getting a head start on trying out an area of interest without the pressure of worrying about whether it will lead directly to a job after graduation.

I’m teaching my son to approach internship planning the way I do with all my clients. He’s identified an area of interest, and I’m helping him find people and companies in the field and he is reaching out for informational interviews. He’s building his own network with a LinkedIn profile as his platform. He’s asking people he knows if they know anyone in that field. He’s spending time at his college career center, finding alumni who might be able to help.

At the same time, he is looking online for internship programs. Generally speaking, I discourage him from applying online to an anonymous source. Instead I help him network to a person he can contact directly. If that’s impossible, he applies and we then try to find someone who works at the company who is willing to help shepherd his application.

It’s slow going, and he is frustrated—and that is how it should be. Figuring out what you want to do is hard and also messy. If it’s neither of those things, honestly, you’re probably taking the easy way out. This is where most people give up and decide to take a job in a name field they know little about. But as I explain to all my clients, if you don’t do the difficult work now you are simply delaying the process and possibly dooming yourself to an unfulfilling work life—until you figure out the right career for you.

There’s no replacement for the learning process that occurs when you conduct research and talk to a lot of people about what they do and how they got their start. One conversation leads to a new contact and before you know it, you’ve got a picture of the industry, and the companies and types of jobs in it. Since you’ve tailored the research to what you’re interested in and what you do best, you now have a whole team of supporters ready to help you get your start.

I know this from having hundreds of young adults, and I’ve seen the transformation time and again from naïve student flubbing interviews to polished, confident candidate knowledgeable about her chosen field.