How to Build Clarity Early in Your Career

This post is part of our special summer series of content for students and new grads. Please reach out to us if you have questions you’d like to see covered in this series of content!

As a college student, recent graduate, or, frankly, anyone else, at some point you are asked about what’s next. Questions like, “What do you want to do?” or “What’s the goal now?” frequently come up at dinners, introductions, family gatherings, etc., which begs the next question: how do you answer them? 

Follow these steps to achieve the clarity you need to not only answer those questions, but also to chart a reliable path for your career.

Step 1: Set Goals & Then Plan to Change Them

When posed with the question “What do you want in your career?” you might feel that you’re not ready to answer that question. It might be that you feel you have more to learn. Or that you don’t feel entitled to be “picky” when you don’t yet bring years of experience to the table.

The truth is, that whether you’re fresh out of the gate or even starting anew on a different track after being around a while, starting from a foundation of goals is the key to success (and yes, you have a right to be “picky” — but think of it as focus).

Start by mapping out your goals in intervals: six months, one year, three years, and five years. What does one year from now look like? How about five? Give yourself permission to set these goals, with the understanding that they are moving targets. You might (and in many cases will) receive new information that causes you to update your goals.

You’re right where you need to be to get to those ever-changing one, three, and five year goals. These are your benchmarks for your journey; they’ll keep you grounded in a world of uncertainty and unknowns. 

Step 2: Define Your Personal Equation (PE) 

Once you have a working sense of where you’d like to possibly go in both your career and life, it’s time to get focused on your Personal  Equation. Your Personal  Equation is a multivariable equation that will help you determine the companies and roles that are a fit for what you want right now (in relation to your six month and one year goals).

Ask yourself:

  • Where do you want to work? 
  • Is salary or pay a large factor into your choices or are you looking for experience? 
  • Do you want to work for a large corporation with many faces or something smaller? 
  • Are you willing to move? 
  • Do you value family or leisure time? 

These questions may seem obvious. But you’d be surprised at the answers you actually arrive at when reflecting on them. Oftentimes, you’ll get so involved with the minute details of your resume and you’ll forget the position you’re actually applying for. 

Think of your job search as a problem that, in the beginning, has too many possible solutions. By writing down what’s important to you and ranking each variable, you’ll start to find a common thread about what you want from the jobs you apply for and how to find them. This will help you narrow your search, giving you the focus you need to be successful.

Step 3: Shape Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is the statement you’ll make to new contacts, employers, and everyone in between about what differentiates you and makes you valuable compared to your competition.

It’s time to start thinking about what makes you truly special. Think back to you what your grandma told you (or your favorite teachers in school) because they might have actually been on to something. Start asking yourself: 

  • What am I good at without trying very hard? 
  • Am I good with people? If so, in what way? 
  • How do I think about this work differently than others? 
  • Where do my strengths lie? Where do I dig to find the strengths that will really stand out?
  • What have I done in the past that exemplifies my unique value?

It’s not just about standing out to employers; it is also about standing out to yourself. You have to find the things that really separate you from the rest of the pack. 

Elaborate on the skills you feel qualify you for the job; dig into the position you had at Walmart because you may have learned something you didn’t even realize; think about the awards you may have received in high school because you were chosen for a reason. What is that reason?

It is no easy feat to leave your friends, apartment, professors, and classes to enter the “real world.” Graduating from college is an extreme upheaval in your life. But don’t worry! You can reclaim control by moving forward authentically—the secret is clarity. Commit to defining your goals, what you need from your first job, and the value you bring to the table will save you both heartache and headaches alike.

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