“I want to help people, but I don’t know where to start.”
“I don’t know what I’m good at or what I’m passionate about.”
“How do I really know what the right job is for me?”

While the mantra of our generation might be “do what you love” we often struggle with a. figuring out what we love (passion) and b. gaining the skills necessary to be excellent in what we love (practice).

So when I get emails asking for clarity, I often recommend the Career Tracks Activity (PDF) by The Office of Career Services of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.  I did this activity a few years ago while a fellow in the NYU Wagner Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service and found it incredibly helpful. In this activity, you gather at least 50 job opportunities that appeal to you on at least one of two levels: you like the organization or you like the job itself. Don’t pay attention to location or education, just focus on those two categories.

Next sort through the job opportunities, looking for patterns. Is there an issue or cause that resonates with you? Maybe you like the size/type of organization–small and entrepreneurial or larger and more established? Is there a department you like? Fundraising? Communications? Outreach? Or maybe there is a location you find most appealing, say in an urban or rural area?

After sorting, you create at least one but no more than five career tracks around attributes that have the most meaning to you–for example: cause, department, location, etc. Chapter 3 in Idealist.org’s Career Guide for First Time Job Seekers provides a great breakdown of building career tracks, as well as other questions to ask yourself when searching for your first job.

Why I love this activity:

1. It starts from a place of what’s available: Sometimes, our passions can be disconnected from what it takes to land a job and thrive in the workplace.  This activity helps ground us in our job search beyond what we simply enjoy.

2. It exposes you to different opportunities: Often times our understanding of jobs is very narrow. There is more to work than being a teacher, doctor, lawyer, or writer.  In fact, there are jobs today that didn’t exist just a few years ago. 

3.  It helps you plan your next steps:  Is there certain education or training you need?  Do you have a particular skill set that seems to be in demand?  Are most of the jobs you want focused in certain areas? By honing on patterns that are rooted in what’s happening in the workforce, you can better plan your moves.

Have you done this activity before? What are your thoughts?

Photo credit

While the mantra of our generation might be "do what you love" we often struggle with a. figuring out what we love (passion) and b. gaining the skills necessary to be excellent in what we love (practice).