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How to Make Your Best Choice at a Career Crossroads

By Danni Ondraskova

March 30, 2017

This post is primarily addressed to graduating college seniors and graduate students facing concrete career choices. The advice I give here can, however, be equally well applied to others who are interested in internships in differing fields. As always, be sure to consult professional sources and those who know you best in your decision-making process in addition to reading the general advice here.

General Peter Pace, a former Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to business students at the University of Chicago Booth School Management Conference in 2007 (If you want to listen to snippets of the talk, click on the link here). When advising these bright fellows on finding the best organization to work for, he told them to first identify places whose mission and people with which the students identified. According to General Pace, once listeners chose to place their “roots” in the organization of their choice, they should “grow where they are planted.

I have created a more general breakdown of my own decision-making process that is also informed by General Pace’s approach. This step-by-step system is the process of trial and error, reading the biographies of those I admire, and advice from mentors and family.

1. Know yourself.
A daunting task, to be sure. As life can be viewed as a journey of self-discovery, it can in a sense be said that we can never truly know who we are. Keeping that in mind, ask yourself these questions: What makes you wake up in the morning with a grin, and what makes you shuffle back under the covers as your alarm goes off? What kinds of people and activities give you energy, and what kinds sap it from you? Do you have strong preferences for a certain atmosphere, city or region, or culture? Finally, what are you passionate about, or, what are you willing to suffer for? Note here that you will not always be happy doing even what you love most—the Latin word from which passion is derived means “to suffer.”

2. Identify and distinguish your internal and external motivators.
Our behavior is regulated by internal and external motivators. While it is always good to be in an environment that encourages you to develop your talents and have supportive family and friends, there is a time in many people’s lives when they decide to go against external pressures to do what they believe is right for them. That sense can be from “the gut” or have a spiritual undertone. Unless you have a sense of who you are, you may not be prepared to say “no” to others on key career decisions.

Internal motivators are a powerful part of human nature and often are the most fundamental driver of what you do. Are you working to merely put food on the table out of a desire for survival, or are you motivated by love, selflessness, ambition, or a desire for gratification? All these impulses tend to check each other and can steer you in the right direction. However, when one desire tends to predominate, it’s a good idea to slow down in your job search, visit those external motivators, and reflect on from which experiences these urges stem.

3. Harmonize your goals with the world’s constraints
A key buzzword in economics is constraints, which can be interpreted as the gap between the possible and the desirable. Our desires often exceed what is possible, whether in the temporal, financial, or other sense. Here it is good to give a level-headed assessment of the world you are in, the direction it appears to be heading in, and your own plans. Thanks to the emergence of big data and unprecedented transparency thanks to websites like GlassDoor, you can easily retrieve information about salaries, number of people in the field, reviews of employees’ experiences in specific companies, and even expected industry growth rates. If you’re not sure about where to start or go from here, a visit to a trusted career services professional is in hand.

Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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