I would like a career, I just don't know which one.
July 18, 2010 7:00 PM   Subscribe

College graduation crunch time is approaching, and I have no idea what I want to do, career-wise. My interests are all over the map. Art + writing + computer science + organization = what!? Advice appreciated!

I feel like I should have a career objective by now, but after almost 4 years of college and three summers of internships, I have a hazy idea of the industries I would like to work in. I'm majoring in journalism with a concentration in information design (magazine design, etc.). I have a political science minor, really hate politics, but am interested in law and international relations.

Internships include two in marketing/PR (one as a straight PR intern, one as a creative copy intern) and two at magazine art departments. I have a lot of editorial & writing experience as both editorial & design directors for various campus publications. I'm proud of my photography/graphic design/web design portfolio and the articles I've written, but I don't think I have enough talent to really shine in such a competitive industry, and I'd rather not freelance. I like structure, I like working at an office, I like teams. I also don't want or need a huge salary, but if I'm working for peanuts, I'd want to really love what I'm doing. I don't feel that way about journalism. On the web side, I'm good with CSS and HTML, am learning Javascript, but have struggled with the more difficult programming languages. I'm great with computers; I regret not majoring in CS.

I'm also interested in various home- and architecture-related concepts including interior design/prop styling/set styling (I have some experience with this at photo shoots); gardening; organizing events, guest lists, brackets for softball tournaments, + Lifehacker-esque organizational stuff; and thrift store (furniture) shopping. I loved the designing portion of every Sim game ever and used to design board games and imaginary college campuses in my free time. I also think I'd be good at organizing things involving people, like in HR or college admissions or something. I always wanted to be the person who matched up college roommates.

Any outside-the-box ideas? I've considered pursuing architecture, but math trips me up and apparently architecture school has some of the same stigma as law school.

I like design, and plan to look for jobs in that arena post-college, but I'm not sure it's ultimately my bag. Jobs like set stylist or library designer, etc., sound like fun, and I'd love to get more ideas of similar industries that combine some of my interests.
posted by good day merlock to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Honey, I'm 29 years old and still have a very limited idea of what my "career objective" is. It's taken me most of my 20's to figure out, once and for all, that yes, I really seriously For Real want to make a living through writing. And even now I am pretty vague on what, exactly, that means.

Relax. Find yourself a way to make a living that doesn't make you want to cry. The rest will come.
posted by Sara C. at 7:28 PM on July 18, 2010

I'm just looking for options and ideas — a pretty standard request when graduating college. I'm not worried about being happy with my career; that's for later.
posted by good day merlock at 7:44 PM on July 18, 2010

If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell my younger self to pursue the jobs with the best paycheck. Seriously. Poverty sucks, and unless you're very successful, your happiness-to-income ratio isn't going to change much between one underpaid job and another.

Most if not all of your truly existentially happy moments are going to happen outside the office. I'm not saying you can't really like what you do, but most people work for money, not out of joy.

No outside-the-box ideas, but I'd say get into PR. You'd get to use the widest variety of your skills, and if you're good at it you could afford to take seriously epic vacations. The tech is probably going to have to be a hobby, since "some HTML and CSS" isn't really getting people jobs these days... but it's good you know it, because it could be the difference between a job and a job you like.
posted by goblinbox at 7:51 PM on July 18, 2010

Sounds like me =p I liked science, economics, writing and programming.

Short answer: if you are a generalist and autodidact, take jobs which are "generalist" in nature rather than "specialist. This means, management instead of audit, etc.

Long answer:
I did mathematics instead which I didn't like then a year of finance, and ended up in a "generalist" management finance job which I'm pretty satisfied with for the moment. I'm working in industry as opposed to institution, which means we're a support function, and meant to be a jack of all trades. For example I do finance, but my company makes widgets.

Programming / Database stuff - We deal with lots of data, so we use some nice multi-dimensional databases from Oracle and some global systems like Business Intelligence. I more or less learned to set it up from googling the documentation and support forums and got the chance to implement it for the headquarters in a developing country.

Information Design / Writing - It's definitely an artform - being able to write up an extremely clear and concise report. In fact you could sum up the entire purpose of management finance in this one line - turning data into information.. The data is all there - millions or even billions of lines of it. The artform is turning that into a concise one page report that retains all the significance, and enables strategic decision making. It's like writing for a newspaper: there will be readers who only skim the headlines, those who spend 10 seconds on it, and those who want to spend 30 minutes on it, and your reporting has to cater for all those management types at once. Then there's process design, where I worked on the designing the information consolidation / reporting all the way from an accounting level to a function level to a country level to a region level to a global level.

I believe smart managers will find a way to use your special talents, but it really depends if the department scope is wide enough to accomodate that. I wouldn't be able to use all those talents I had if I was a lawyer, for example, or doctor. You sound like you would enjoy managing a design department.
posted by xdvesper at 8:08 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your skills sound equally right- and left-brained. Yeah, me too. You should check out interaction design (or user experience) as a potential career path.

A lot of what we do is strategic, and most of us work on websites or applications (though that's changing as other platforms become more common).

We analyze business objectives and turn them into design. We do user research, recommend an organizational structure, create wireframes (skeletons of screens used to sort out the hierarchy of elements), and solve interface problems. What order should tasks be done in? What do people want this to do? What's the most intuitive way to interact with this? Ask the interaction designer.

We work with visual designers, front-end and back-end developers, strategists, and marketing departments. We're often the "glue", since we're deep in the details of every aspect of a digital project.

We work for agencies or in-house at companies developing digital products. We're thinkers, we're creative people, we're flexible enough to talk to both ends of the spectrum. We're innovators and best practice advocates at the same time. We walk the line.

The IxDA is our association, if you'd like to learn more.

I work for an agency, personally, so I get to learn the ins and outs of lots of clients' businesses. It's really interesting to get to know a major retail brand one year and a high end world travel specialist the next. I like the pace of project work too. Definitely not boring.

On the downside, it's a desk job. And interaction design can be tedious. And when we get together with other interaction designers, we can argue about the smallest detail of execution or semantics for hours. Over-thinking is an occupational hazard. But most of the time it's cool.

Good luck with your search!
posted by nadise at 8:19 PM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

You sound like a bit more of an art/people oriented version of me. I am a programmer with an eye on interaction design (planning on taking this course in the evenings).

Perhaps you could look into jobs like Project Manager, which I think I'd love except for the people aspect.
posted by jacalata at 10:02 PM on July 18, 2010

Technical writing is often considered an un-glamorous profession, but it pays well and lets you stretch your writing/editing muscles while taking advantage of your technological leanings, particularly if you work for a software or computer hardware company.

At small companies, technical writers are often called upon to help with marketing materials, especially somewhat technical materials like benchmarking reports, white papers, product overviews, etc.

As a technical writer, it always helps to have some graphic design knowledge when issues of typography, layout, and usability come up. It's also handy for those times when you have a document in InDesign format and the graphic designer's on vacation and the VP is screaming for an emergency update.
posted by neushoorn at 1:24 AM on July 19, 2010

Considering that you spent lots of money on your education, you might want to see if your university has a career counseling department which may be able to help you. If not, then try to find a professional career consultant who may be able to help you. It may cost you several hundred dollars but is peanuts compared to what you spent on your education. It's worth doing as soon as possible in case you want to make some last minute changes to your schedule.
posted by JJ86 at 6:37 AM on July 19, 2010

You guys have been so helpful — I've never thought of technical writing or UX before, which both sound interesting. Thanks!

I definitely plan on stopping by career services in the fall — I'm just far from campus right now.
posted by good day merlock at 7:25 AM on July 19, 2010

Even though the career outlook isn't that great, check out library and information science. If you have the opportunity to work in a library, you can use quite a lot of your skill sets. If I had it to do over again (and depending on the financial outlook), I'm heading that way myself.
posted by mornie_alantie at 5:25 PM on July 19, 2010

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