Preparing for a Career that Doesn’t Exist Yet

By Jennifer Kennedy

Jennifer is IEA’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator. Her position includes more traditional communications media such as newsletters and brochures, but it also involves much more modern technology, including email newsletters, the IEA blog and website, and social networks.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 65% of today’s grade school students will end up in jobs that do not yet exist. I can tell you that my job, which includes a great deal of social media and online components, looks very different than what someone in a similar role would have done when I was in grade school. So, how can you prepare for a career field that doesn’t exist yet? I’m going to offer some advice that helped me get to where I am today.

Find a skill that you enjoy and go from there.

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” – Carl Sagan

If you enjoy a skill that can translate into several career paths, hone it. I have always loved languages and writing. So, I took every opportunity I could throughout my education to develop a command of language (English and Spanish for now, but I’m working on Italian and French next, just for fun) and better my writing skills. I entered poetry contests. I kept a “journal” of my thoughts and ideas and often wrote pages of reflections solely for the purpose of writing. My job now may be working with a variety of media that were rare – if in existence at all – when I was young, but at the root of much of my work is writing. I write every single day. It might be as simple as a tweet of less than 140 characters, or it might be an eight-page newsletter. Regardless of the length, the medium, or the purpose, honing my language and writing skills has helped me do my job each and every day.

Certain skills are also valuable across fields, so develop those, too. Written and oral communication skills are extremely valuable in any field. Critical thinking and problem solving are also skills that will take you far in any career. An article in the Washington Post suggests building skills in key areas defined as “anything humans still do better than robots.” This includes “solving unstructured problems and working with new information.”

Find mentors, including at least one who has seen an industry – any industry – change over time.

Learn from that person how he or she adapted, how jobs and strategies changed. This will help you see for yourself what skills are necessary for the ever-changing business landscape. This can include academia, as well. You should also build relationships with a wide variety of people both inside and outside of your area of interest. While you are still in school, these can be teachers or peers.

Learn how to be a good employee, regardless of the field you enter. Be willing to learn new things every day.

Here are a few tips on how to be a good employee, most of which stress the importance of constantly learning new things:

  • Learn from the people around you. Respect coworkers and their ideas.
  • Learn how to respectfully voice your opinions and ideas. This can be difficult, especially for introverts, but your ideas are valuable to the discussion.
  • Be willing to do something that doesn’t exactly fit your job description.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes, and learn from them.

Be flexible. Be open. Be innovative. Be well-rounded.

Gifted individuals are used to thinking outside the box. Go with that instinct. Just because something has been done a certain way in the past does not mean it has to be done that way in the future. Be open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing things. Be open to new possibilities.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself into a narrow job description or field of study. IEA Apprenticeship Mentor Stan Kong, who is the Head of Product Design at Pasadena City College and a Graduate Industrial Design program faculty member at Art Center College of Design, thought he was going to be a graphic designer until he just happened to take an industrial design class. Opening yourself up to new opportunities and possibilities can really help you find your niche.

While you are still in school, get a well-rounded education and learn from a variety of disciplines. For example, using statistics and other mathematical functions to evaluate data is necessary across a variety of careers. Though much of my job is writing and executing an overall strategy, I spend a bit of time each week looking at web, email, and social media analytics to evaluate our marketing efforts and revise our strategy as needed.

Challenge yourself.

Work on difficult and varied research, which will help you develop critical thinking skills. Keep learning new things, as the landscape in any field will continuously shift. Get experience in a wide variety of areas. It will help guide you toward – or away from – a particular field by seeing it applied hands-on, and the lessons you learn can often be applied to almost any other discipline.

Read. A lot.

I’m not saying you have to read everything, or even that you have to read in a particular genre. I encourage you to vary your reading and include something that truly challenges you once in a while, but the most important part of this tip is that you learn new things and experience others’ ideas. I read everything from books to blogs to journals to magazines on topics ranging from pure entertainment to giftedness to business to education to personal success. I’ll admit that I don’t typically enjoy a few particular genres, so I generally stay away from those unless something really strikes me. And that’s okay. You don’t have to read everything. Just read.

Go beyond the job.

I know I’ve said this quite a bit by now, but I can’t stress it enough: No matter what you decided to do, keep learning. Remember, you probably won’t stay in the career you choose forever, especially if you are a gifted person with many different talents and interests. These skills will help ensure that you can transition to another option if you so choose. You might just end up on another, unexpected but much more fulfilling path, like one that leads you to spread the word about the unique needs of gifted children.

What skills do you think are most important in preparing for a variety of careers?

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