What is the best way for young adults to find their career path?

October 09, 2008




Make a list of the five things you would most like to know more about.

Evaluate them for possible employment or volunteer possibilities.

Systematically work your way down the list applying for related positions.


— CB, Amite,LA


Internships, internships, internships. This is really the only way most people will know about what suits them. Although its important that young people do things like volunteering and camps, internships still provide more input. Even when they don't do anything useful in the internship, the mere exposure to the lives of the associates and the environment gives them an insight they would not get in the classrooms.


— Ashok, Singapore


Stop thinking about companies. Don't read Fortune's 100 Best Employers. Go abroad, you'll stand out more; there are a lot of foreign companies that don't know you went to a mediocre university. Don't list your GPA.


— Joe, Seoul


A friend once told me: either you choose where you want to live and do whatever it takes, or choose what you want to do and go wherever you need to.


— M. O'Connor, Northern VA


How many people know how to fix a clogged pipe, or change a light switch? Most cannot do the

simplest home maintenance tasks. Find a skilled trade -- plumber, electrician, painter, etc. -- and start your own business.


— Richard, Chicago


There's definitely a sense in young college grads that their parents had a wider range of options than they will ever have. It seems like the bar is higher, the opportunities fewer, and the rewards lower for a wide range of careers. This isn't just due to the current economic troubles (although they are not helping), but due to the MASSIVE export of good-paying professional jobs to India and China during the past ten years. The executives of the companies who offshored these jobs care not a fig for America or her people. They are simply chasing the next quarter's short-term profits in order to fulfill the expectations of analysts (who it is now plain to see know nothing about our nation's economic health).


Meanwhile, college costs have gone through the roof, leaving many of them in serious debt that

constrains their career options. The rug has been jerked out from under our young people. Instead of taking advantage of their energy, enthusiasm and talent, we are consigning them to the ash heap.


Frankly, I don't know what to suggest to my children about what careers they should pursue. My

younger son is fascinated by computers, but my experience with massive layoffs and offshoring in the software industry makes me hesitate to recommend this career path to him. My older son is fascinated by history, but good luck finding an academic position since the universities have pulled up the career ladder and made it nearly impossible for young scholars to make careers for themselves in academia.


Frankly, my generation and the Baby Boomers have given the younger generation a raw deal. Our selfishness has placed our country at risk by squandering the human capital of our younger generation.


— Nancy, Pittsburgh




October 09, 2008 7:50 am


As a retired MSW, I have advising my grandchildren to first get as much education as possible, as a minimum a Masters Degree. The only sure bet is in the medical field. The aging population is the key determining factor when looking ahead for careers. Also education should be a good bet. For those seeking adventure a military careeer (after the Masters Degree) is a good way to go. Remember what Plato said, "Only the dead have see the end of war."


— Ron Auer, Settale, Washington

My mom has been telling me that I don't need to know that right now. Please tell me I don't need to know that right now.


-Eve, 22


— Eve, New York, NY


Have their parents lay off them.


— 2009, New Haven


I faced hard times graduating in the late 70's, early 80's ... took economics to understand why, which is reason I got into computers. I've never been out of work, but often compromised the normal career path.


My father's advice still holds: obtain as many skills as you can. My mother got her master's - credentials are important as well.


If a young person today takes the initiative, opportunities abound. But our society encourages conformity and passivity - good for marketing but awful if you want self-actualization.


A career these days might just be to pay the bills; so young people might find, as did generations

before, that notions of having it all - satisfying work, colleagues as friends - is a situation comedy, not a realistic objective.


I found my extra-curricular satisfaction by talking to grey haired folk who'd done what I'd admired. They were always eager to share time and encouraged what they saw as flattering emulation.


Good luck and best wishes to young people today. Conditions aren't as bad as they've been and we don't have to repeat past mistakes. Please, don't be fooled again ... and keep yourself safe while you explore new horizons.


— Fredda Weinberg, Brooklyn, NY

I don't know how to make a living in a 2008 American economy, but I do know that getting a quality education is no longer a step in the guide.


I'm in my late 20's with a BA and a MA from two of this countries elite educational facilities and cannot find a job. Last month I found myself in a group interview with more than ten Ivy League post grads fighting for a job making a hair above 30k. My partner has an MFA from a highly respected institution, and he's carrying boxes at a garden store. The situation is grim.


Maybe I sound like a whiny elitist expecting prestige from a degree, but I assure all I am begging is a country that makes good on the promise that hard work and an investment in education pay off. I'm a first generation college student. My family spent every penny they saved from the bare-knuckle work they spent their lives doing to help send me to college. They believed the old story that there is no greater investment than an investment in the education of their children, but I'm nearly literally starving.


My savings is spent. My families savings is compacted into that sheet of paper on my wall with the name caligraphied across it. I have no health insurance. I'm scared to buy food for fear that it will eventually cut into the money I have saved for rent. Time is running out for me, and quick. I'm underqualified to compete for the few, eerily few, jobs available and I'm overqualified to make lattes.


Someone please rewrite the guide, because the old steps have deteriorated.


— Rebecca F., Los Angeles, CA


Two things: First, find the activity you like and, for a job, get close to it. Second, recognize from the beginning that it is okay to change your mind.


My father had a successful manufacturing firm, and I was the heir apparent. I took every math class under the sun and went off to college as an engineering major. More math, more logic, more technology. I was good at it.


After two years, during one of my countless all-nighters studying, I had an epiphany while staring at my stack of record albums. It occurred to me that there was nothing in life I enjoyed more than listening to music. A quick scan of album credits showed that there were (suprise!) JOBS associated with making records. I decided to get close to my dream. The very next trip back home, I went to a recording studio and told them I wanted to be a recording engineer.


The guy told me, "a recording engineer needs to be an electrician who can read music." I could do neither, and I didn't want to take the time to learn either vocation.I found another way to get close. Radio DJs listen to music all the time, so I went down that route. One flick of the microphone switch to say, "here's the Doobie Brothers" and I was hooked.


Then came the crossroads. Over one Saturday lunch with my parents, I announced that I was not going into the family business; I was transferring to a college that had a full-blown media program; and I would pursue a liberal arts education and production craft which my parents knew nothing about. I remember the clothes everyone was wearing during that lunch. I remember the temperature of the room. I remember the snapping sound of the dill pickle I had with my sandwich. And I remember the freedom I achieved at that moment of declaration. I knew at that moment that the rest of my life would be of my choosing.


The only other moment in my life close to that was when I asked my girlfriend to marry me.


So I pursued radio announcing. I got numerous part-time jobs at college and commercial stations in the area. I received college credit and cash money for playing music. For me, there was a zen-like magical peace in the whole experience. The media program at my new school covered radio, television and film. It was the fastest two years of my life.


After college, I traveled a few hundred miles to another town, looking to begin a radio career. I found a job in one day. Driving back to the motel, I saw a television station on the highway. I knew that I loved radio, and I knew that I had enjoyed my college television classes. I was 22 years old, bulletproof, and decided to see if I liked working in television. I took the freeway exit and went in without an appointment to ask for a job as cameraman. Seventeen minutes later, I was signing a W-9 form to begin work the next day.


Compatible schedules allowed me to work both jobs. I didn't sleep, but I was emmersed in what I loved. I soon found - to my surprise - that as much as I like listening to music, I enjoyed the magic of creating pictures more. Within a few months,


— Mark Snow, Woodland Park, Colorado


As a person in his late 20's with a law degree, a career path remains the most elusive road to me.  Perhaps such a path is just a chimera, but instead one should just follow their instincts, come what may.


— Jim, Philly


Twenty-five years ago when I was newly out of college, unemployed, and down to my last $68, I broke down and went to a temp agency. I could type. This turned out to be a fabulous experience. I think I only did three jobs for them, but each one gave me a view into a different industry that I could in no way have imagined or understood without these temporary jobs.


My first two hours of my first job was answering the telephone. In the afternoon I started coding surveys, and a week later that asked me to take my first business trip and give the surveys (health professionals being studied). This gave me confidence and a resume since I worked for them for 3 months, despite the fact that the initial gig had been to sit in for a sick receptionist.


My second job started similarly, and then I agreed to take on a nasty job of coding and preparing resumes for input into a computer databased. Four months later, I was deemed reliable and responsible. I ended up working for that company for almost 10 years, with increasing responsibility.


What I learned: temp jobs give you some money, which takes the pressure off of job hunting; give you self confidence that you are good at something and valued; give you insight into jobs and access to employees that you can't easily otherwise get.


— R. Chase, Cambridge MA


From the title I expected this article to be a guide to satisfying non-college careers. Imagine in my surprise when it was anecdotally pushing the opposite approach to a career!


— Zach, Scituate


The opening blurb to the article is entirely true: "plan as you may, career choices are often influenced by unexpected forces and unanticipated events". However, the article - though it is interesting, useful AND sometimes quite touching - still does NOT adequately respond to the question asked: "What is the best way for young adults to find their career path?"


In the hope that the New York Times might be open to showing people practical means of finding "the best way to work out career paths":


1) The conventional well-known methods of planning are woefully inadequate in general - and in particular when the planning must involve the extraction of deeply held wants, needs, some articulated and a great many unarticulated aims and objectives. I provide below a brief description of a process that can significantly enhance the 'planning' that we do in all such cases.


2) The renowned systems scientist, John N. Warfield, has devised a powerful set of methodologies that, with only slight development and adaptation, enable people to articulate their good ideas relative to a complex issue such as "finding the right career parths". Information about Warfield's seminal contributions to systems science is available at http://www.jnwarfield.com and at the "John N. Warfield Collection" hed at the library of George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA (check out:




3) Based on Warfield's work I've developed a powerful generic aid to problem solving and decision making that I call the 'One Page Management System' (OPMS). In brief, the OPMS enables users to chose any 'Mission', call it 'M', and then poses a series of well-designed questions about it, such as:


-- "What are the THINGS TO DO to accomplish your Mission M?"


-- "What are the BARRIERS/DIFFICULTIES/THREATS that may hinder or prevent you from accomplishing your Mission M?"


And so on - the kind of questions posed in any conventional brainstorming session well-known in the 'management sciences'. It's what you do next with your available ideas about your Mission that distinguishes the 'Warfield approach' from every other management approach. Warfield has devised powerful 'systems modeling' tools that enable users to articulate, via graphical models, their perceptions of relationships between the factors of any system (e.g. a problem situation such as finding out how to plan to do something worthwhile with one's life). In particular, the Warfield modeling tools enable users to create graphical representations showing how 'elements' in the systems under consideration (your generated ideas) my "contribute to" (or "hinder") accomplishment of, say, the THINGS TO DO. To create these models efficiently, Warfield has developed a whole rigorous structure using the underlying properties of these relationships, such as "transitivity".


— GS Chandy, Bangalore, India


I recommend investing a few months in learning secretarial skills and then working as a temp in the various industries that are of interest. Work culture, pressures, life/work balance, interesting sidelines and/or hazards will all become apparent in a way they don't when learning theoretically about the field. In addition, if you do find yourself in an environment and field you want to continue in, you'll already have some worthwhile experience and will have made contacts.


I also think it's important to find out how well resourced a field is before you commit to it. No matter how fascinating something might be, if it's under resourced with employees clawing desperately to hang on to their jobs it will be depressing rather than inspiring and lead nowhere.


— LauraBB, Australia


In my opinion, a college educated person should make every effort to travel and see places beyond the confines of school and home community. Speak to people who are content and successful in their careers. Don't over-romanticize the choices though, i know too many embittered artists and academics who lament their financial situations.


— erik, NY


Volunteer! Prove your worth.

Do something different: innovate, adapt, overcome!

Move to country where they are hiring, where there is a need!

Learn Chinese, or other foreign language.


— Magic Dragon, China


As a 30 year old who has had multiple jobs that could have turned into careers, I would emphasize the importance of finding something you don't hate to do when you get out of bed in the morning. Don't make the mistake of choosing something just for the money and remember that (especially with this economy) you will be working a long time so you better like what you do. If you are lucky enough to know what you are passionate about, then pursue it. If you are like me and have a lot of things you are interested in but nothing that his calling out to you, keep trying different things. Don't be afraid to fail, afraid to walk away, or afraid of what your friends or parents think of your position. It's all about getting out of bed with a smile and energy to go through your day - the money and career will work itself out after this.


— T. Melvin, NYC


The best way is to get back to basics. Choose to to something you will love, that you are passionate about because you will be doing it for a long time. Although pay and demand are important, there are so many different opportunities available now that almost fit any niche. Being true to oneself will reap the highest happiness. And once you choose your profession do it with the most integrity. That will bring their highest rewards.


— KB, Connecticut


Young adults should pick a career based on passion and building of generally applicable skills, with a focus on creating positive change in the world. There are many ways to get paid, only one of which is money...and the world moves in funny ways. Careers chosen for money often have a way of not paying off by the time you scale the corporate walls. And there's no career worth sacrificing the ability to look in the mirror and like yourself...this was a lesson I was blessed to learn as I went through medicine and had the privilege of being invited into some of my patients' last days in this world.


I started out as a doctor fascinated by everyday health, moved to the business world (McKinsey) to find out why everyday health wasn't a part of everyday medicine (or everyday life), and now have a startup internet company looking to answer that question (HealthShoppr.com).


Passion for improving health and curiosity as to how things work have given me a toolkit that expands in every new role. Taking risks and putting myself in positions where I have the opportunity to fail everyday and learn something new...while doing it for a cause beyond myself-- these are the elements that make everyday interesting and exciting.


I see too many young people doing what others tell them is good for them...rather than figuring out what they love and how they can do good. Try things, take risks, find your own perspectives on how things should work, and pour yourself into places where your passion meets your talent/ skills. The rest will sort itself out in ways you can't predict nor control...so enjoy the ride.


— Vijay Goel, M.D., Santa Monica, CA


It seems to involve so much trial and error. If you don't know what you want to do, do something. It will help with a choice of what you like or don't like. My paternal grandfather was a lawyer who entered politics. My father went into finance, while his younger brother became a doctor. I knew I did not want to do what they did, but initially started off to become a scientist, then engineer, before going into consumer marketing.


My about to graduate son and freshman daughter have given me a bird's-eye view of the process. My son has experimented with some fortunate Summer positions - in a consulting firm and working with computers and the Internet. He does have a rough idea about what he would like to do and is good at. My daughter has shifted from law to business. I have tried to expose them to possibilities. I do not care what they major in, as long as they get an intellectually rigorous education which enable them to become lifelong learners. I want them to travel, meet many people, get some sense of the possibilities open to them. If they choose the "wrong" area, it will still be a learning experience just as interning on a Sulphuric acid plant has always been for me.


I like the concept, so normal in the UK and Australia, of a "gap" year, between high school and University, when kids can travel and/or work. They learn more of the world and get greater benefit from an academic education, as GIs did when the Second World War was over. I wish we made more use of intellectual rigor (instead of primarily vocational training) juxtaposed with real life experience. Kids should not be pushed to be "successful," but rather, fulfilled.


— Richard, Pasadena, CA


Talk to people, different kinds of people. Find out the perspectives on the possibilities you are already considering. Never turn down an opportunity. Go beyond your comfort zone. Experiment, and if you don't like one experience, look for another after you have learned the specific reason why you didn't like that one experience.


— Valentina, Stanford, CA


I was 18 when I decided to begin building my resume. I did not go the the newspapers, I did not go to a career counselor, I did not write the perfect resume. Instead, I turned to the Yellow Pages in the phone book... There I turned to my vocation of choice... Television. There were only four television stations listed in those days (1960's). I called them all and on the fourth try I got a nibble... to make a long story short, they bit and I began a wonderful career in public communications (television broadcasting and public relations).


DO NOT WAIT FOR THE RIGHT MOMENT! Go to your interest and knock on the door!


"CAN DO" ATTITUDE that is focued on SPECIFIC PROBLEMS they have that YOU can solve. Gotta do some research there... read annual reports, news on the internet, etc., but oh does it pay off. Most employers don't care so much about all the shiny things you have done in the past UNLESS you can link it to THEIR future and THEIR problems which need to be solved NOW!!!


I will not wish you good luck, because luck is for losers... just look at Las Vegas and today's stock market for proof. I will wish you energy and focus! That is what will get you launched on your career path!


— Craig from Lund, Sweden


Explore their interests, be curious, talk to adults about their career paths, seek mentors, volunteer within organizations that connect with their curiosities, don't assume that there is a 'right' path, pay attention to when they are most engaged and excited - what skill and talents are they using?


— Julie Cohen, Philadelphia, PA


"Follow your bliss" - Joseph Campbell


— Bill, Atlanta


We told our children to find a life and a living would follow. In both cases it worked. By identifying something they were passionate about first, the job issues fell into place.


— Thomas, Virginia


Don't listen to anybody, especially any idiot who says "what are you going to do with THAT degree."


When I was in college, it was all engineering. That was the practical degee, and English? What are you going to do with that? Well, a thing called the Internet came along and all of a sudden, content was king, and an English degree turned out to be pretty darn practical (who knew?). All my engineer buddies are now my age, laid off, and looking for second careers, bitter that most of the engineering jobs are sitting in India now.


But that's not my point. A job will always be there, somewhere, and you can and will spend the rest of your life punching in and out of the clock for a paycheck, and you'll do whatever it takes to support your family. But an education is the one time that you get to be selfish. Learn what you want to learn.


Nobody gets near the end of life and wishes they had done more for their careers. They wish they had read Homer. In Greek.


— Mike, NY


They should do what they love and learn to live within the means of that job, or they should find the highest paying job they are suited for and use the money to spend their free time the way they enjoy the most. Either way, avoid convenient jobs, and always move toward their goals (no matter how long it takes).


— Bob, Indianapolis


The single most important thing is to get a relevant education. Get a B.S. in engineering, or nursing, or accounting, or computer science, etc. Very few people in these fields have any difficulty finding a well paying job.


Four years of self-indulgence to get a B.A. in history or political science or economics, etc. is a waste of time and money. Just because you are interested in history (or whatever) does not entitle you to a job after graduation and it should not be the basis of a "career." Future employers see these "credentials" for what they are -- a useless piece of paper that proves you haven't obtained any valuable skills.


— David, Geneva


My advise to high school students: "The world is a market place and you are a commodity. If you don't make yourself valuable no one will pay for your services."


Value has nothing to do with education level, although the "paper" may open doors in specific employment fields. What is important is development of skills. If you don't feel college is for you, find a course of technical training. Auto mechanics, plummers, commputer repair, various medical technologies, solar installation ..... There are so many areas of skill that pay better than jobs that depend on college, but they all need some type of training.


— TJ, Boulder, UT


Education is good. A marketable skill is better.


Employers don't care about what you know. They only care about what you can do.


— Gary, Anderson, IN




In your own last year of high school I thank goodness those high cut football cleats gave you blisters; keeping you on your writer/author's course, your own higher realistic calling.


I've passed your article to my college-age daughter and son who by their very diverse interests and directions have already encountered their own "unexpected guides" -and I hope will continue to be open to opportunities and experiences borne by positive "unexpected" guidance, influence, and even inspiration.


Where you use tomatoes, I've employed apples; emphasizing the polishing more than the picking. You've no doubt though elevated the impact of my time worn analogy making it even more likely to bear fruit.


Watching and encouraging them to develop their own direction is a wondrous joy of parenthood.


And yours shines through in your article.


— John Lomicky, Powder Springs, GA


Interesting reading other's career paths. I became a nurse because I love physiology and anatomy. I also figured out, being the practical person I am, that if I decided I didn't like being a nurse, I knew I could make a living and go back to school to become something else. Fortunately, I love being a nurse and am well suited for it but truly, I did not know what a nurse does before I became one. I don't know if I had known, I would have become one because I might have been turned off by the less desirable parts of this role. So I don't know if interning is always the best idea as if you have a less than positive experience, you might become turned of to a field that might be your true calling.


I would reccomend that young people go to school with the goal of achieving skills that are employable even if you end up changing your direction. They need to know that they could make money doing something as a fall back. I don't believe following what you love will necessarily be the path to find a career. My husband has a degree in photography but he is not working as a photographer. Sometimes it is best not to have work doing what you love because you released to continue to love it without it being comingled with the stress of trying to make a living doing it.


The advice I have is that everyone needs to learn how to invest their money. No matter what job you have, it is likely that how you manage your money will be a bigger determiner of what type of lifestyle you have. People who live well, are not living off their paychecks. So in the end, it may not be what you are doing for a living but what you do with the money you make from it.


— S.B., N.J.


Don't do what your brother and sisters did.


Go back to school when you get out of prison.


Switch majors to take a class with that girl that you can't get out of your head.


When that girl is done with you keep the major.


Do that before you get your masters for a few years.


Learn what you both like and offers a chance to make a decent living.


Do that. Get a masters in that.


Don't work for anybody else.


Get a doctorate in that.


Don't get stuck in a rut of `work and career.'


Ride your bike like you stole it.


— Dan, Chicago


As a career services professional for the past 20+ years, I have seen many young people crash and burn by taking on too much debt (from education) and then getting "trapped" and taking on jobs they hated.


Don't go to law school because you don't know what else to do. Go out and try out different things through part-time jobs, temp jobs, internships or just volunteering. If you can't get a job in this economy then go volunteer at a local non-profit. There is so much need out there right now in this sector.


It is so easy to find out what you don't want to do far before you find what you love and are great at.


— Anita, Rockville, MD


Don't blindly follow money and security. Pursue something that you love and that will make you happy. If you choose a career that you enjoy and that you can be passionate about, you will never regret it. If you're not passionate about anything, by all means go for the big money . . . (and judging from the current state of Wall St., start learning Mandarin as soon as possible).


— Dave, Europe


Why do so many people experience mid-life crises? My observation is that they regret not making the right decision(s) that led them to engage in their passion, whether they know what the passions are or not. Often they let other people's expectations, short-term circumstances, and desires for other diversions to change or dash their hopes and dreams. Then they gave up and regret later. Many are just clueless and did not have the benefit of good counsel.


With young people that I spoke to, I usually suggest to them three factors for consideration, to keep it simple.


(1) Examine what activities really grab their interests and engage them. What turn them on? These are their passion. This is the most important. They need to make a plan to pursue it to be really happy in life. Practices make perfect. Passion sees to that. And passion is the insurance against giving up too quickly due to initial failures.


(2) Do an honest assessment of their natural talents. Everyone has different abilities. Some more, some less. Those who has a starting advantage should make the best use of them. However, their passion could overcome some initial shortcoming in capability through hard work and persistent practice. Not a bad idea to examine one's character traits and handicaps too. Why pick a career path if one's negative traits will work against it?


(3) Think how their work can make the world a better place, to make life better for themselves and for others. This is a take on the Golden Rule. Selflessness is a key to the greatest happiness.


These three factors take into consideration nature and nurture, and follow the natural law of cause and effect. Call it karma. I wish I had learn them a long time ago. But it's never too late to learn.


— Observer, Canada


Tap your ambition to avoid the temptation to settle into a career that does not really satisfy you.


— W K Travers, Bellerose, NY


It starts with a solid sense of your own strengths, weaknesses and passions. I can't know what the job market will be like in 10 years when my kids are looking for work. But hopefully by then, they'll have some clarity about where their skills and interest lie. It's self-knowledge that allows for a good fit between making a living and making a life.


— anne, NH


Everyone needs a "trade" or a "profession" whether you become a plumber, a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, or a mechanic.


— Anita, Rockville, MD


that all these comments are about choices and how we should find our path in life. Reality is that you get what you can find. Especially with the debt we incur paying for college. I graduated in 1989 just in time for the recession and I did what I needed to pay the bills. Life is not always about choices but what is available. Luckily I am in a position where I have some control over what I do. This was a result of learning to have a "do whatever it takes to get things done" mentality. Moral of the story is that we should try and try hard to do many things and be not afraid to fail.


— LY, Boston


What is the point of this article? Although I graduated from college three years ago, I still look for career advice from where ever I can get it. I was expecting some advice in this article, but I am disappointed.


But I do enjoy the perspectives of individuals who are new to this country or a few generations in. For some reason, they have way more ambition to achieve in America than natural born Americans many generations in. First generation Americans usually go for the gold when they are in school while, most kids I met in college were goal-less with no ambition.


— JEPierson, Philadelphia


Since you most likely do not have an expensive apartment, furniture, etc. to worry about yet, the best advice I can think of is to find some sort of job abroad in a country you are most interested in, and learn about different abroad while you are getting free room and board.


Another option while you are young, is to get a Eurail Pass (they are only a bargain while you are in your twenties) and just travel most frugally around Europe, having the best adventure of your life. 


If you aren't hard to look at, you can also work on private yachts as a deck hand or stewardess and travel around the world while getting paid.


My emphasis is obviously to get out of yourself, extend your horizons and see the world before you buckle down for the long road ahead of you.


Happy trails!


— JAM, San Francisco, CA


To T. Melvin:


Yes, try different things.


To Rebecca and all: DO NOT BELIEVE that education and "credentials" are the answer, nor that "following your passion" will get you where you want to go if the market isn't going the same way.


Everything depends on what field you're talking about.


A friend of mine with a B.S., M.A. and Ph.D. and 18 years of college-level teaching experience writes for a weekly trade journal for what would be a starting salary in most fields (mid-30's). Why? He says it was the only job offer he had after several months of making sandwiches at a local coffee-shop alongside college students. After years of being exploited as an adjunct teacher for wages that are less than McDonald's by the hour, he had failed to get a tenure-track job, and had to rebuild his working life in his forties. He bounced from job to job as he tried to find his footing in a medium-sized city with few non-academic prospects for someone of his background.


I'm sorry the author's daughter completed her English Ph.D. I hope she enjoyed her time in grad school, but it's unlikely to aid her working life in the slightest.


By all means get the B.A. in English, history, philosophy, or whatever. But two-thirds of all liberal-arts graduate students should immediately drop out and seek gainful employment. The years spent in graduate school (up to ten for many), with no tenure-track positions waiting for most graduates, will take an enormous toll on their career paths and future earnings, as they reorient themselves for a new career after failing to get on the tenure-track. They should imagine themselves starting in the entry-level in their mid-thirties or even forties before they actually face that situation. Their humanities degrees will mean absolutely nothing in most fields, their ten years of effort a void to be explained away or, hopefully, ignored by the hiring manager. In fact, they would be well-advised to leave their higher degrees off their resumes so as not to seem "overqualified."


Doing what R. Chase did (starting at a temp agency, exploring different jobs, learning how to make yourself stand out through hard work and reliability) will be much better for your future working lives than continuing in grad school. Graduate degrees in the liberal arts are the world's most expensive lottery tickets.


— ,


Our son knew exactly what he wanted to do: go to Rhode Island School of Design and be a graphic designer. His high school had a very limited arts program, so we invested in summer classes at the local college, and looked at all the options in case he didn't get into RISD.


The phone call came and he had been accepted, and he's been working in New York City, immersed in his trade.


Lesson for parents: Make your son's and daughter's dreams happen.


— ,


Get a job right out of high school, get some exposure to anything you've never done before, and then go to college once you have a clue about what you're interested in. Having some idea of what it takes to survive without your dream job will sure give you a keen appreciation for the college experience. At the same time, always have a dream and pursue it.


— ,


Read Emerson's Self-Reliance:


"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages."


Read it in college and have never been the same.


— ,


My Irish Father believed in the Cival Service, he suggested that I take the Police Test NYCPD at age l9. To all of our suprise I passed but then went into the Army. When I was discharged, the PD notified me the job was still open, I was on a military list.


My muster out pay was about gone so my default position was take the medical and physical. Again to all our suprize I passed. I was 5'8" and 140, just made the qualifications.

So at 21 I was part of the NYC's finest. At 22 I was a Detective and retired at 41 as a Sergeant. During that time I received a BS in Police Science.


I went on to be a University Police Chief and now at 73 enjoy three pensions and income from



My Father was right, Bless you Dad.


Listen to your Parents.


— appalachian, Banner Elk NC


I too, like Rebecca F. am a first generation college graduate. I have a BA, MA, and a teaching

certificate. I no longer teach as I moved to the big city an the competition for teaching jobs is tough. I do however, have a secure job with a federal entity but no where else to go, that is, I've reached the top of the scale and that is it. I am also in a job where one does not need a college degree, mind you a Masters Degree. One thing I know is true, it isn't what you know but who you know. I work with people who have not education,except a high school degree and make double what I make....... what is wrong with this picture?


— ,


Deep soul searching, observing the scene, and a bothersome trial and error test


— samurai3, DR


After working in the arts, nonprofit fundraising, corporate marketing/brand management, and interior design industries (with a BA, MBA, and partial Certificate), I am now back to school for yet another degree in jewelry design.


I admit I love education and learning and being in school, but really, a few turning points came when I realized that: 1) despite my enrollment in business school I didn't want to be a CEO, 2) I was never going to have a linear career path, and 3) I should try (and enjoy) every job I was interested in and see what stuck.


A single, long-term career isn't for everyone, and the two most important things are to follow your own interests and believe in yourself (despite the horrible interviews, bad coworkers, and unfortunate pay).


In the meantime, GOOD LUCK!


— Chris, Melbourne, Australia


Don't get saddled down with tons of student loan debt. I went to a trade school, got an associates degree, and started working full time when I was 19. I put my nose to the grindstone, and worked while my former classmates partied. It wasn't always fun, but I owned a home at age 23, and started making 6 figures at 25.


My high school friends didn't start to catch up to me until they were in their late 20s. And it wasn't hard or difficult. I simply set out to make money and support myself. I worked hard, and didn't play any of these games kids do now where they want to find more stimulating or important work to do.


I credit the fact I was lucky my parents that weren't baby boomers, instead they instilled in me the value of hard work and determination. I would not accept anything other than success, and worked to make that happen. These days, I see people in their late 20's still treated like children, acting like they have time to find their way. People need to grow up, get a job, and stop worrying about how they feel. You don't have to like everything you do.


— Caroline, Los Angeles


Find your passion.


I'm in my mid-20s and pursuing a writing career. In the meantime, I've earned my masters and work two part-time jobs to pay the bills. Most of my friends, on the other hand, chose the "practical" path out of college and are working for large companies doing advertising/secretarial/paralegal work. Yes, they have more money than me, but I can't tell you how many times they've told me after a bottle of wine how much they envy the fact that I love what I do.


I'm still young and who knows what the future will bring, but I say there's plenty of time to settle for a practical position that will pay a mortgage. And if you don't chase your dreams when you're young, when will you chase them?


— Mary, New York, NY


1. Ignore -- totally and permanently -- anyone who advocates that you "Do what you love, the money will follow."


2. Never, ever work for free unless you are personally, on a one-to-one basis, helping the needy. Volunteering in a soup kitchen? Super. Writing free items for online blogs? No.


3. Your career is not your life. Your career is your job. Repeat: your career is your job. It is a way to make a living. You do not need to make $500,000 a year to be happy. But $5,000 a year will probably NOT make you happy. Select something that you don't mind doing. If you love chemistry, be a chemist. If you hate chemistry, don't try to "tough it out" for the paycheck. You won't last.


4. Get one credit card. Two at the maximum. Total credit line altogether? No more than $4,000. The following is the list of all the things you can put on the cards: one interview suit, a car rental to get to a job interview, plane fare to get to an interview (of course, if they won't pay to fly you out, why are you going there?), an emergency item that is ESSENTIAL TO YOUR JOB (e.g., a new computer when your old one breaks).


5. Stay in college housing for as long as you can stand it. Once you move out of the house you shared with five people, you will find it almost impossible to return to it. Also, those people will be useful networking people for entry-level jobs. They are motivated to help you find a job because you won't be able to pay rent without a job. All the money you save by not renting the apartment from "Friends"? Put it aside. Ideally, you should have enough money to scrape by on a subsistence level for six months to a year. If the economy collapses, the first ones to get rehired will be the ones who were able to show up at the interview freshly shaved and showered.


6. When I was younger, the nonsense "statistic" was that you will change careers seven times in your life. What twaddle. A new career every six years from graduation to retirement? But you quite possibly will not be doing the thing you're majoring in. I majored in journalism. I did it for a while. Now I'm an editor and put together webcasts. Never learned about webcasts when I was in college. I'm moving on to computer programming. Not because I have some deep love for it, but because it's interesting to me. So yes, you probably will change careers. Start planning for it while you're still in your previous career. Don't wait until you're downsized to start going back to school for a degree in history.


— Alex, New Jersey


Trust others, and trust yourself.


My time in NY took me from doing performance art Off Broadway to doing expense accounting for a major investment bank. Needless to say, 10 years of being an actor did not make me the perfect fit for investment banking. I did my job well and even took accounting classes, but couldn't cover who I was and how I felt about what we were doing. I was workin' for the man, but stayed true to myself (and went bonus-less for it).


In the end, a coworker I did not get along with left the bank to work in non-profit fundraising. Not long after she was there an opportunity opened that she (reluctantly) realized was right for me. In an unexpected act of altruism, she brought me in for an interview. She was right, and I accidentally found a great, better paying job and a second career in a field that I didn't even know existed. I never would've picked it from a list of career choices, and now I cant imagine doing anything else.


Had I not trusted myself at the bank, had I fallen in line, had I not stuck out enough for a former coworker to remember me, I would've been an unemployed expense analyst right now. (My old group was disssolved 6 months after I left)


Had I not trusted a former coworker's instinct on what I should be doing, I'd still be a floundering career changer dreaming of getting into advertising. Barf.


Sometimes other people can see you clearer than you can see yourself.


— as, NYC


I'll start by saying I love what I do. I'm a surgeon invovled in global health and, even though that career path has meant years of sacrifice, early morning, stress and separation from family, it's wonderful. And I certainly plugged away at higher education-- 2 bachelor's degress, two master's, and of course the MD, all from some of the world's best-respected institutions.


I find it very amusing, however, that people in my generation desperately cling to 2 myths: 1) a perfect job is out there, and you know when you find it; 2) certain kinds of work are 'beneath' your credentials. Work, at the end of the day, is work. I have the sort of job people are always touting as among the more meaningful things one can do with her life, but it's still a job. It will be unpleasant and unenjoyable.


Secondly, people often feel happiest when they come home at the end of the day feeling as though they've accomplished something. Learning specific technical skills-- from woodworking to vascular surgery to Arabic-- and employing them to solve problems others cannot tinges your day with that sense of accomplishment. Slaving away in a cubicle over TPS reports, on the other hand, does not. Many people also like to see tangible evidence that they have indeed worked-- a plowed field, a newly functioning toilet, a resected tumor, a completed article.


I would encourage people, no matter what degrees they hold and from whence they came, to consider things like master carpentry or other craftsmandship careers. You get to create, to problem solve, have a protected niche, and best of all, lots of time for your outside interests and reading. It's no more a waste of that Bowdoin English BA or Stanford History degree than the low-level white collar work for which you're ridiculously "overqualified."


— Jennifer, New York, NY


I suggest doing "anything" science or technical since those in our group (www.geocities.com/engineer_brunch have kept their jobs (!), gotten salary increases during these difficult economic times, and have been able to switch jobs into a better opportunity. GO Science!


— Ho, Ithaca NY


I encouraged my own children to "dream big!" I also insisted that they learn a secondary source of income, in case the country gets in trouble and their noble aspirations are cut off at a later date. Things such as barbering (including hair styling), undertaking (folks will keep dropping and need burial), working the soil, and music to nourish their family's soul!


— Rev. Bob Borden, New Hampshire


Find a job that you would pay to go to everyday until you die.


— Arthur, Lebanon Valley, NY


In this information age, I think there is a way using Bayes Rule to come up with a short-list of optimal recommendations, based on information available at present. Bayes rule provides a posteriori probability of a decision being right given the a priori probabilities. I think Google or some such company will soon provide such service free. A student would enter as input their likes/dislikes, ability/talent, scores on standardized tests, including expected annual income, etc., and the algorithm would use all the available statistical data (similar data of other students and current professionals) to come with a short-list. At present, something close to this is what you get when you consult several well-wishers such as parents, teachers, relatives, professionals, etc. I think some guidance counselors emphasize "follow your passion" too much for middle-class students and mis-lead them.


— murali, USA


The best advice I could give young people is don't go to law school! I am on my employer's hiring committee and feel like a fraud interviewing so many bright young law students and recent graduates who have absolutely no chance of getting hired no matter how highly I recommend them. We're not hiring and neither are many other employers in town. At the same time, the law school I attended has raised tuition to more than double what it was when I attended in the 1990s. People need to wake up and realize that the law is no longer the place to go for liberal arts grads who don't know what else to do after they graduate and are willing to take on tens of thousands of dollars of non-dischargeable debt each year. I strongly recommend that anyone considering law school read a Wall Street Journal article that came out last year about the state of the legal market. It hasn't gotten any better since then.




— ES, Chicago, IL


That was such a tragic article. Three children hounded into standardized professions by a domineering mother. The only respectable doctor is a general practitioner or a pediatrician. There is no respectable lawyer. The daughter should move out and become a waitress rather than get sucked into her mother's profession obsession.


— Nix, Philippines


If you have a degree, and you don't know what to do next, try teaching English abroad. You can apply on your own--there are books that can help--but there are also programs like JET, which will place you in a Japanese school as an assistant teacher and pay all your expenses. I have never known anyone who regretted participating in a program like this. One of my students--previously an art major--went to Japan to teach and came back knowing he wanted to accumulate the prereqs for med school and become a physician. Interesting things happen when you place yourself in a challenging and unfamiliar situation. Another did a volunteer project in the Dominican Republic and ended up changing her major from fashion design to social work. Try something different from everything you always thought you wanted.


— Nan, San Francisco


For any career you have in mind, think about how you will be spending your days -- indoors or outside, at a desk or up and around, working alone or working with people, taking direction or on your own, delegating or doing it all, travelling or staying put, on a rigid schedule or with flexible hours,....


Preferences on this alternatives differ - there is no right answer. You may not find the perfect fit, but thinking about these things may help you avoid getting trapped.


I found my current (part time) career at age 69 by calling attention to a serious need in an organization (keeping web content up to date) and offering to fill it, working one day a week. After the first month I was asked if I could double the paid committment. (We settled for a day and a half).


— Mark, Ithaca, NY


Life is too complex, short, and rich for any individual to decide precisely what she wants to "do." For some, careers are determined at birth. For others, following a dream can lead to a career. Many drift and wander. But deciding in black and white what you want to do and following that course rigidly lacks a certain amount of imagination and nuance, at least in my experience. Of all the white collar professionals out there, how many are truly inspired, or inspiring, and love what they do? Of course, that sounds like a luxury today.


Education, of course, is essential to achieving the state of mind, and degree of social engagement, that results in people embarking on meaningful careers. For those without a compass, think: What career, or field, wants or needs me? "You" stay out of it. That's not an excuse to sit back and wait for the phone to ring in the lotus position. In fact it's an urgent call to go forth with your brakes off and plunge into the wider world.


I studied Chinese beginning in 1966, and made my career up to now dealing with the country and the culture in various ways. I never stopped studying, learning, and changing direction. In 1966, I don't think anyone in their right mind--including academic and government experts, not to mention the Chinese people themselves---could have imagined where China would be today, or figure the number of opportunities a "foreigner" would have in that new situation. I am convinced that China found me back in 1966 and hasn't stopped stalking me ever since.


— Don Cohn, Tokyo, Japan


A quality education is an important personal investment but also very relative. Since it's relative, one should focus on materializing as far as we talk about an everyday job. However, albeit surprising for me, I see that the lower limit for a degree goes beyond a masters, it heading (or may already hit) to a PhD. As an industrial engineer, working mainly in production planning, I see a lot of other folks applying similar jobs with much on tap of a straight bachelor's degree. I think, these overwhelming over-qualification through academic study adds much to employer's expectations.


— Emre, Ankara, Turkey


There's definitely a sense in young college grads that their parents had a wider range of options than they will ever have. It seems like the bar is higher, the opportunities fewer, and the rewards lower for a wide range of careers. This isn't just due to the current economic troubles (although they are not helping), but due to the MASSIVE export of good-paying professional jobs to India and China during the past ten years. The executives of the companies who offshored these jobs care not a fig for America or her people. They are simply chasing the next quarter's short-term profits in order to fulfill the expectations of analysts (who it is now plain to see know nothing about our nation's economic health).


Meanwhile, college costs have gone through the roof, leaving many of them in serious debt that

constrains their career options. The rug has been jerked out from under our young people. Instead of taking advantage of their energy, enthusiasm and talent, we are consigning them to the ash heap.


Frankly, I don't know what to suggest to my children about what careers they should pursue. My

younger son is fascinated by computers, but my experience with massive layoffs and offshoring in the software industry makes me hesitate to recommend this career path to him. My older son is fascinated by history, but good luck finding an academic position since the universities have pulled up the career ladder and made it nearly impossible for young scholars to make careers for themselves in academia.


Frankly, my generation and the Baby Boomers have given the younger generation a raw deal. Our selfishness has placed our country at risk by squandering the human capital of our younger generation.


— Nancy, Pittsburgh


Don't think you can't go anywhere with a liberal arts degree. Expect, however, that you will have to be passionate about your field and do an excellent job as an undergrad to get into a desirable grad school, because, while there are many openings for those seeking to enter medicine, law, or business, because there are more jobs at the end of those roads and also because those students are expected to fund their own educations, fully-funded fellowships and assistantships for students seeking to enter other fields are disproportionately few.


In general, I would say, find your passion and apply yourself.


— CM, Minneapolis


In finding a life path young people need to first understand themselves. Even though they are still developing and changing as people, self discovery is key.


Take aptitude tests. The Meyers- Briggs test takes thirty minutes and was a real eye opener for me. It, or a similar test, should be available at any high school or college.


Another critical item is to focus on transferable job skills. These are the skills usable in any and every job. They include: interpersonal skills, planning skills, thinking skills, problem solving skills and  communications skills (both verbal and writing skills).


Formal education is important but too many people seem to use college degrees as a crutch. The cost of college rises at two to three times the rate of inflation. I have an MBA but truthfully, I think the return on investment of formal education is not as high now as it was thirty years ago.


Too many young people are in college at too young an age with no clue as to what direction they want to go in. Meanwhile the tuition meter is running full tilt draining away their parent's savings. Here's a better idea: try the military for awhile.


I know this stupid war is a major factor but consider this: The military does, in fact, provide valuable technical and other training. It gets young people exposed to working with people of different races, cultures and economic backgrounds. You will, at a minimum, travel to different parts of the country and probably different parts of the world.


After three or four years of service, a young person will have a much better framework for making career and educational choices. Any professional educator will admit that, everything else being equal, the older a student is the more motivated and better learners they are. The final kicker is that the new G.I. bill education benefits going into effect in 2009 are, as I understand it, almost beyond belief. The U.S. taxpayers, bless them, paid for 100% of my bachelor's degree and 75% of my masters, both at private universities.


My final recommendation is to define the word career in a very broad way. A career is not just a linear path in one industry or professional field. It is rather the sum total of all the experiences and work that a person does in their adult life. I have had an almost unbelievably eclectic career over the past thirty years. I have not gotten rich but I have had a blast and at 54 years old I am now even more energetic and engaged than I was in my twenties.


Have a great attitude, be flexible and adaptable to change and try many different things. You only get one life and work, whether you want it to or not, is going to be a big part of it. You might as well enjoy it.


— Richard Kennedy, Wheeling, IL


Speaking from the point of view of a 25 year old woman who is just coming out of this phenomenon dubbed the quarter life crisis, the best advice I can give is to let go of all the expectations you have, start building your resume as soon as you find something that interests you (and if that interest changes, hop to another one!), and to keep your head up!


First, the undergraduate life that I led (and most everyone I know) did not prepare me for the "real world" at all. I was raised (along with many in my generation, I think) to think that a bachelor's from a good college would get you a nice cushy job. That is far from the truth, especially in this economy. Be prepared to really go after what you want, using different angles to get an "in," and to work your way from the bottom up. If this means living off of spaghetti and cereal and not being able to get "real" furnishings right away, don't get discouraged! I expected to hop into success, as I always have, and when I learned that's not how the real world works I was lost. Have faith in yourself, and realize that the beginning of any new path is rocky and riddled with leaves and twigs. At the beginning of your path, expect this, gather your wits, and forge on through.


Another challenge is being faced with SO many possibilities. It can be intimidating to think "I have to pick a job for the rest of my life." Realize that people change careers more frequently than ever now, and while you're just starting a path you're not locked into anything! Pick a direction and go for it with all your heart and strength. Don't be afraid to take some risks. If it doesn't work out, it was a great way to build your resume and your skill set, and it probably gave you a more clear idea of what you want your final destination to be.


My path has been far from straight. I've floundered, moved out of state on a whim (no money or job!), held different jobs, moved back, interned in different places and finally found one that I love. As a political science major my intention was to work for a year and go to law school, and one of my jobs provided me an excellent opportunity to do that but taught me it's not what I want. I finally stumbled into an internship that put me in a place I knew I wanted to spend some time in. My internship was key in getting me the job I currently hold in a highly competitive market. I'm still at the bottom of the ladder, and I'm still not exactly where I want to be long-term, but I'm in a great place for where I want to go. Once you find the right fit, it's easy to know where to go next. And then it's scary because you have a plan for the first time in ages!


Enjoy the ride and follow your heart.


— Kate, Michigan


1. Get an education. Remember that the greatest thing about a college education is that you don't have to go through life without one.


2. Look for a job where the entry is limited. This limit can be through education( the higher the better for you), licensing, a union, civil service or a family owned business(the ultimate affirmative action). Without such limits you job becomes a commodity with a dire impact on your future potential.


3. Get in early. The career opportunities in a start-up or newly established company are always greater than those of an established firm. Also the prerequisite requirements for a particular position will be considerably lower.


4. Seek a position in a company profit generating group rather than a cost center which feeds on those profits.


5. Get a well compensated job and pursue your hobby or love on your own time. Always remember the old adage of the clipper ship sailors while they were high in the rigging in a tossing sea, "One hand for the ship and one hand for myself".


— Orr Shepherd, Woburn,MA


Alex advised: "Ignore -- totally and permanently -- anyone who advocates that you "Do what you love, the money will follow.""


...I'd actually beg to differ, as that's been the best means for me to find my career path. When I was focused predominantly on earning money, I was tired, bored, and depressed. When I instead focused on trying to enjoy what I did, even if I got paid diddley-squeak for it, I was inspired and energized -- energized enough to seek out work opportunities, for one.


And as to "don't volunteer for anything unless you are directly helping the needy"? It was through volunteering by doing writing for a theater company that I got a job JOB writing for a theater company; a regular freelance gig I've had for the past five years. Volunteering can be a great way to get a foot in the door.


— Kim W., Brooklyn, NY


My experience suggests that we ride a fine line between destiny (luck) and free will (our efforts and actions). For all the diligence that I showed in managing my career, most of my career defining moments have arised out of destiny and not my diligence. Needless to say my actions probably ensured that I was at the right spot at the right time but the outcome was more due to luck. This has changed my belief over the past few years to plan as well as I can but to allow space for the unknown (God for some, luck for others, parents blessings for some) to take care of the rest.


In plain words, educate yourselves - not just college degrees but communication, people skills - and never knowingly cause harm to others around you. The most important thing - enjoy the process and the outcome will definitely be rewarding !!!!!


— Manish Prabhu, Chicago