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15 Career Development Topics That Will Follow You Through Life

by Marc Luber

Recurring career themes you'll encounter when choosing a career, changing careers or building a career:

Career development is a lifelong process that encompasses everything from choosing a career and selecting your work place to building your career and changing careers. It really never ends. There are even executive coaches out there who help those at the top of the corporate ladder to navigate the sometimes choppy career waters! No matter where you are in the process, whether you're researching careers or moving through your career, you'll find that certain themes pop up again and again. We'll be digging in to each of these themes over time here at Careers Out There. For now, I'll give you a brief overview of some of the themes that pop up a lot. To provide examples of each theme in action, I'll share my personal experiences below. Please share yours in the Comments section!

1. What interests you?

You definitely want to look in the mirror and ask yourself this question. Also ask your friends and family what they think interests you. This is something that can change a lot over time so keep asking the question. Work can feel more like play if your career path matches your interests – and I always say success is when you don't know whether you're working or playing. So does Tom Petty! See how I figured out my interests. For extra help in figuring out yours, you might want to try career tests – more on that below.

2. Skill assessment

Napoleon Dynamite knew he was good with a bow staff but wasn't otherwise aware of his skills. What are your skills? Recognizing what you’re good at is key to finding the right career fit. It took me a few years of working to realize that my strengths included being a persistent, detail-oriented, trustworthy good listener who could effectively meet and connect with new people and help them. When I learned that that combination of skills makes a good salesperson, I pursued a sales-related path. That fit helped me both enjoy my work and make money – always a nice combination.

3. Following your dreams

You'll have to balance this route by making many sacrifices but it can be done and achieved! Life is short…do you want to look back one day and say, "if only……"? The "if only" way of thinking can take over your mind. Starting in college I wanted to be in the music business, work with my rock star heroes and manage bands that I loved. I went for it. By the age of 25, I was managing one of my favorite bands and working on a Rolling Stones tour!

4. Networking

Always necessary no matter what you do for a living. Networking is technically meeting with people and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. I look at it as just keeping a high profile, always letting people know what you're looking for, and helping to connect others to what they're looking for. Careers are grown this way. Businesses are built this way. Friendships are founded this way. If you don't do this, you will suffer. For some, it's a skill that needs to be learned. Musicians, other artists and introverts typically need a major push to embrace this. For extroverts like me, it comes naturally – I never think "I'm networking now." I just like connecting people to other people and/or opportunities and hope that karma (and a little push) leads them to do the same for me.

5. Informational interviewing

This is an amazing way for you to meet new people and learn about the different careers out there. There is no job opening – you're meeting with someone to learn about his or her particular profession. I've gone on tons of these – first with music industry executives and later with professionals in other fields in the course of career change research. I've actually been hired and met some of my friends this way. The relationships you build through informational interviewing can get you access to job openings before they're even made public! 

6. Interviewing

Be yourself. Be the best you that you can be. Be prepared. Ask questions. As a recruiter, I coached hundreds of people on their interviewing. I'll have lots to share with you on this topic. For now, check out this video featuring job interviewing tips and don't miss this article on how to interview with confidence.

7. Secondary education

Formal education beyond high school is often needed to get the career path you want. This might mean visiting a skills center or attending community college, college and/or grad school. I've seen people limit their own career growth potential because they never got that license or certification for the path they wanted….or that college or grad school degree. Only because I was told that a law degree would be the best background for the music business, I decided to go to law school and get licensed as an attorney. Over the years, I've added additional skills to my repertoire by taking night classes at local community colleges (TV production, TV ad sales and solar power). Take advantage of that resource to learn new tricks!

8. Salary issues

Sometimes you have to choose whether to go for the high-paying job and the sacrifices that come with that (long hours, tons of pressure) or the job that better fits your passions and lifestyle but pays less. I chose to follow my passions after graduation by joining the music industry – I definitely sacrificed a fat paycheck. My law grad peers were making double to triple what I was making. But I knew what I was signing up for – and I was really happy – I was psyched to be enjoying the moment and have priceless memories of feeling like William Miller in ALMOST FAMOUS.

9. Paying your dues

You can't avoid this. We all know people who got incredibly lucky and barely had to pay any dues….but that's the exception. Just as many lounge around waiting for lucky lightning to strike. As a kid, my mom always told me that "nobody in life owes you anything." It's true. When you're new to the working world, whether working for someone else or trying to build your own thing, you should be prepared to start from ground zero and get your hands dirty. Sure, being paid poorly and filling the bottom rung on the ladder isn't much fun. But if you spend that time working hard, acting like a sponge and staying focused, you'll be happy later when you've got a strong foundation of knowledge and skills to build on. To break into the music business, I took some internships where I wasn't paid a dime. I even took one after law school! That one led to my job with the Rolling Stones and my job at the record label, as well as some great friendships. Don't miss this article on paying your dues.

10. Entrepreneurship

Working for yourself can be an amazing experience on many levels. I’ve gone back and forth between working for myself and for others. I believe both routes have their merits. I’ve pursued my own ventures that were fun (band management), went nowhere (a music TV program for university cable channels; a music business education service), and were both gratifying and lucrative (attorney recruiting). We'll cover many entrepreneurial paths here on Careers Out There. If you know you are focused on being an entrepreneur, I highly recommend checking out Andrew Warner's Mixergy site, which has nothing but great interviews with entrepreneurs.

11. Putting family first

Sometimes you have to choose between career growth and taking care of personal business. This might mean debating whether to accept a promotion that would give you less time to spend with your spouse or kids. In my case, in the same week the music dot com I worked for went under, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Rather than keeping my career going by jumping to the next opportunity, I moved back to Chicago to be a caregiver and help my mom fight for her life.

12. Career Change | Choosing a new career path

Pursuing new interests and reinventing yourself can be a great feeling. Don't let it scare you! Change is your friend. I was in an industry (music) that changed, as did my goals and interests. The time came when I thought it was important to find a new path that fit my new goals and interests. That led to my joining the attorney recruiting/career industry which led to having my own successful business and earning the kind of money I felt I was worth. Embrace change! You can start by checking out this video on making a career change.

13. Getting laid off

A risk you always take when working for others. Thanks to working in the ever-shrinking music industry, I have experienced more layoffs than most people! “We’ve decided to eliminate your division of 85 people.” “We’re being acquired by a giant conglomerate and they only want to keep 10% of us.” Been there, done that….and I’m still standing and laughing about it. So can you. (See Networking…or Reinventing yourself).

14. Career Tests

After my mom died and I decided not to return to the music industry, I took the Myers-Briggs® MBTI® personality type assessment. I found it really empowering to get that perspective about myself. I advise everyone to take reputable career tests. We make that assessment as well as the  iStartStrongTM inventory available here for your benefit.

15. Volunteer work

This is a great way to give back to your community and reward your soul. Some also use this for networking, getting to learn new skills or to flex certain muscles that the rest of their life doesn’t use. Amongst other things, I sit on the volunteer board of an amazing non-profit in L.A. that funds the cancer research of young, up-and-coming scientists around the world called Concern Foundation. Concern is a grassroots organization that has raised over $42 million in 42 years and only spends 5% on administration costs! Volunteer experience may be the key to your next job.

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