While in high school, students consider career goals because once they graduate they must make an impactful, mature decision – essentially what to do next. About eighty percent of high school graduates choose a form of higher education at some point. The rest might choose training or an apprenticeship. Regardless, the focus in this period of a person’s life is to plan and build skills required for a career – often with a full-time commitment and major financial outlay. In the last series of blogs, I discussed secondary and higher education because it is crucial in the early stages of career development. Now, in this series of blogs, I discuss the subsequent chapter in a person’s life… that of an early career professional.
The central premise of a Skills-Based Approach is a lifelong commitment to develop a skill set. There are four stages: planning, building, presenting, and validating; each stage ends with an ‘ing’ because they are ongoing. However, as mentioned above with education, there are times in your life when a stage becomes a focal point in your career. Early career professionals tend to concentrate on the building stage, while starting to construct an online personal brand. My interpretation of an online personal brand has three elements: a skill set, an aura, and an identity. Online personal branding is a requirement of the much hyped Millennial generation.
In the book Academically Adrift, the authors draw a conclusion that many college students are not driven to learn and are more focused on a social experience. (The name of their book sums up their perspective.) They reference a study conducted by psychologist William Damon who says:
Only about one in five young people in the 12 – 22 year age range express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why.
An early career professional is at a crossroads in an important maturation process. After a stint of higher education (where six of ten students enrolled in a bachelor’s degree graduate with one), most early career professionals seek employment as soon as possible so they are able to pay their living expenses and student loans. The lucky ones get employed in a field that fits nicely with their career path, while the rest get whatever is available and often end up underemployed – doing work below a skill level. Regardless, it is an exploration process where young professionals hone their skills and identify core-competencies, passions, and values – based on professional experiences and self-reflection (as opposed to educational experiences and parents’ directives).
There is something novel about early career professionals. A first time they:
- Practice learned skills in a work setting. Discover methods. Find a mentor.
- Build technical skills. Learn new technologies and/or applications.
- Familiarize with company culture and professional etiquette.
- Explore possible careers because they are unencumbered.
- Establish a professional identity. Make connections.
- Earn an income. Pay bills and become less dependent on parents.
In his book 12 Step to Freedom, Paul Rega introduces his Intuitive Personal Assessment (IPA):
(IPA) is a concept I have developed that simply states: because of who we are, dictated by a combination of life experiences, genetics and environmental forces, between the ages of 25-30, we intuitively know and are aware of what our true career path shall be.
This nicely summarizes why I think early career professionals need to be open-minded, always building skills, and constructing a personal brand. A true career manifestation may not occur until five to ten years after graduating from college.
 Derek Bok. Higher Education in America
 Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011).
 Paul Rega. 12 Steps to Freedom, (Self-Published, 2013).
Original Image © Depositphoto/igormishchenko #34684085