Prepare for the future by developing job skills in college

Dear Joan:
I am going to be a senior in high school this fall. Right now I am applying for college and on all my applications it asks for your intended major. While I have a few ideas of what I want to do, I can’t seem to narrow my choices down to one. I think the main reason is because I don’t really know what each job really is. I was wondering if you could give me a brief description of what the following jobs are all about. Here are my choices: Fashion Buyer, Public Relations Firm, Magazine Fashion Editor, Advertising. I would really appreciate it if you could help me.

Picking a career at your age is as difficult as predicting which person you will marry. You just don’t have enough information or experience. My son is a sophomore in college and he is still struggling with the question. I know many adults who are still asking, "What do I want to do when I grow up?"

I work with thousands of people in the workplace each year and often, I ask them about their careers. It’s interesting how many times people tell me that they have a degree in something that isn’t a perfect match for what they are working in. (For instance, I know a plant manager who has a history degree.)

I’m an example of that. I thought I wanted to be a physical education teacher and that is what I declared on my application for college. But after taking field hockey, I rethought my choice. Then I decided to go into elementary education. I graduated and began to teach. Four years later I decided I liked the human relations side of education, so I went back to school and got a Masters Degree in Counseling. Then I became a guidance counselor. Four years later, I found that I really enjoyed teaching and counseling but I wanted to work in the business world. I used my teaching skills to get a job in corporate training. Then I took many other business courses to expand my skills. After working in many areas of business, I decided to start my own business helping companies with their people issues. So, my teaching and counseling were a great foundation for what I do now.

So how does this relate to you? The first few years of college, you will take some basic courses that everyone else has to take. The purpose of this is to give you a good solid foundation of knowledge on which to build. Schools want you to declare a major so that you have an idea which elective courses to choose. (Some schools will allow you to be "Undeclared.") During your first two years, you’ll take a few electives and during your last years, you will concentrate on the major you choose. Ideally, these early electives will all count toward getting your desired degree in four or five years. However, it is very possible that you could change your major, and it’s possible the early electives you take won’t fit neatly into the curriculum requirements. The school is trying to help you save money and time later.

For this reason, I’d suggest that you try to pick a major that most closely fits your natural skills. Many people choose a major because it sounds exciting or exotic (I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then realized my strongest skills were people skills…and blood wasn’t on my top ten list.)

Look closely at your choices and ask yourself, "What skills do I have that make these careers sound interesting?" For instance, it looks like you have skills in writing, selling ideas and working with people (editor/advertising/public relations). One idea might be to declare a major in marketing, journalism or communications. There is a good chance any elective you choose now would fit the final major you settle on later.

Fashion seems to be a field you are interested in but there are many fields in which you could use those skills. Until you take more courses and get a few jobs in various industries, you won’t know if fashion is right for you. Experts are predicting that if you’re under twenty-five years of age, you will change jobs every four years and careers every ten years. In the book, "Strategies for Fast Changing Times," by Nate Booth, he predicts that of all the jobs that will be available in ten years, at least 50 percent haven’t been invented yet.

Unless you are absolutely certain about the field you want, why not leave your options open? If you stay open to all of the exciting fields that are out there, you will use your college years as they were intended…to develop marketable skills that will make you ready for whatever opportunities the future brings.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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