As some of you may know, one of the hats I wear is the Academic-Advising-at-a-University hat. And the most frequently asked question I get is about careers (perhaps because I am the Advisor of an undergraduate program that is liminal in nature): Where do alumni tend to go? What can I do with my major? After having this career conversation with various individuals and thinking about this topic in my sleep for many nights, I thought I'd write down my very general (i.e. non-major-specific) thoughts on the matter. DISCLAIMER: the following thoughts are my own!
This may be relevant for you if you're unsure about the whole how-to-go-about-figuring-out-your-career thing. If you're up for reading the rest, get yourself in a comfy position on the couch and make sure you have your favorite beverage (and/or snacks) in hand... because it is long! :)
Disclaimer #2: I ain't got no Master's degree or PhD so for those who would like to know the details about what it's like to pursue graduate studies you'll need to talk to the experts (i.e. graduate students) - I ain't one.
Coating with sugar and ruffling the feathers: signs that will make you think twice before accepting that job offer
Other than catching how "off" the job offer sounds, there are other signs that might indicate that something may be awry about the prospective employer or your prospective boss.
COATING THE PROBLEMS WITH SUGAR
If you get a chance to talk to someone at the company you got a job offer from, and if they say something that sounds like the following, you might want to flag those statements and further analyze (and try to get a second or even a third opinion if you can):
RUFFLING THE FEATHERS
The other place to look for signs is X (your prospective supervisor). If they consistently exhibit the following behaviors, you might want to think twice before committing to work for that person:
On "role creep"
You may have heard of the term "scope creep" in management:
"Scope creep (also called requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome) in project management refers to changes, continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope, at any point after the project begins. This can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled."
(From Wikipedia "Scope Creep";  Lewis, James (2002). Fundamentals of Project Management (Second ed.). AMACOM. pp. 29, 63. ISBN 0-8144-7132-3.)
This "creeping" can also happen in roles too.
When a role "is not properly defined, documented, or controlled," role creep is bound to happen.
One example is the role of supervisor or manager. In some unfortunate cases, some supervisors role creep / micromanage due to the fear of "letting go" of the responsibilities that should be handled by their direct reports. Have you experienced your manager stepping on your toes all the time? The failure to delegate is something that I have struggled to tackle, and I have not found a solution for it (it probably needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis anyways).
If you join an organization that is attempting to expand rapidly, your role will likely experience role creep. You'll probably be asked to wear say 3 hats at the time of hire, but when an organization is forced to "do more with less," one day you'll notice that you have 20 hats instead of the original 3. Some people find this enjoyable but others will find this exhausting.
When the organization is large and stable, role creep may be the key to get you a raise or to get you promoted. If you voluntarily wear more hats and prove to the employer that you can take more things on (or new things on), that may open doors for future opportunities. Let me tell you my relationship with role creep: Whenever I wanted to wear a new hat and my supervisor said "no" to it because it was out of my "scope"... that hat was - consistently - the hat I ended up wearing in my next job. So if you're faced with a situation where you want to wear a hat but get shut down, it may still be worth doing research around that hat (even if you can't wear it immediately). You never know when you'll get a chance to wear it. It could be right around the corner...
Oftentimes I get questions about what resources are available for finding yourself (and your calling). I recommend the following books, not in any particular order - they give you frameworks to think about yourself in different ways and to get valuable information out of yourself.
Recently I was asked the following question: If you could redo everything post-graduation over again, what would you have done differently?
My short answer would be: I would have said NO a lot more.
I recognize that student life is stressful - you constantly get judged. Although marks are not everything, they cannot be trivialized either because they could matter for some things (e.g. getting into a program, getting into graduate school). You get tested on things all the time, and chances are you won't get perfect marks. Although that is an indicator that you can learn more and improve, it is easy for us to beat ourselves up if we don't do well on an assignment or an exam. So if you've been in that judging environment for 4 or more years, it may take a toll on your self-esteem.
As a fresh graduate, my self-esteem was so low from facing uncertainty and rejection that I was willing to do more than I was actually willing to do. I fell for the short-term gains (mostly money) instead of the long-term impact.
Let's say you get a job offer after applying for many jobs. It can be very tempting to just pounce on it - maybe because you've been rejected so many times before and you really wanted this position. But before you make the leap, make sure your gut isn't telling you that something is off at the time you get the offer. If your gut says something is awry, DO NOT IGNORE IT. Stop and listen carefully before you make a decision. Here are a couple of examples:
Lastly - if you are in circumstances where you still need to say yes although you know that something is off, know what your limits are and start planning for your next move before your mental and physical health starts declining.
Finding your cause
In previous posts I wrote about what kind of pacing might you want in your work life, and what kinds of problems you'd prefer solving. Today I'm writing about the why you might choose to do what you do - a crucial part when you're making decisions on pursuing a career or pivoting from one to another.
Funny enough, I struggled to find my own cause for years because it was actually right under my nose (!) when I was working in/near academia as manager. It wasn't until I worked in a very different domain until I started to notice what my own raison d'être was. I was working for a no-kill animal services agency which runs many initiatives, one of them being a cat sanctuary - a retirement home for hundreds of cats that are deemed "unadoptable" for various reasons and would have been euthanized in other jurisdictions (as a cat person, I'm head over heels for that). As much as I believe in no-kill animal care, that cause wasn't mine.
I discovered my own cause only after coming back to academia and speaking to students (to me, they are bright minds who will do great things in the future) again: The way I can be most useful for society is to bring out the talent in other people and to connect said people so that they can collectively do great things out there. I went into servant leadership for that reason. It wasn't because I wanted to lead others - it was because I wanted to nurture (and then send out) leaders out into the wild so that they can make a positive impact on the world. And imagine if they did the same thing... the effect can be exponential. This notion pushes me to do better every day.
Do you have a cause you live for? How did you discover it (or build/nurture it)? Was it intuitive or unexpected? Or - are you currently searching? Did your cause change over time?
From what I've seen so far, when you go into a career it's usually about solving problems. So then if you know yourself in terms of what kinds of problems you like solving will help you figure out what kind of career you'd thrive in.
For example, I call myself a 'process optimizer'. The world is chaos, yet I still try to come up with ways to establish order (although rather Sisyphean). I thrive when there's processes where I can optimize through iteration:
Over the past several years, I learned that I may be a good firefighter (in the figurative sense) but it takes years off my life; can't do it for long. I can also build processes from scratch but it's not something I love doing because if the requirements are unclear, that will significantly reduce your success rate (<rant> people tend to misunderstand what "requirements" means. They jump to solutions which are not the requirements. </rant> It takes a LOT of patience and persistence to eke out those requirements, and I admit that I'm simply not patient enough).
What problems do you like solving?
I failed to write for the last few Saturdays because I had underestimated how much effort it takes to adjust to a new job (^__^;) Now that it has been over 1 month since I started, I can say that I have mostly adjusted.
One of the things I've been (re-)adjusting to is the speed in which things happen, and I am astounded by how different the pace of life is in an academic setting vs. a small not-for-profit-scaling-up setting.
In academia (especially in large institutions), things happen very slowly - some things happen over the course of weeks, other things take years. When I used to work in academia (2 jobs ago, as someone who had been running and managing visual analytics workshops) I found this process painful, but there were some things about that slowness that I now appreciate being back in academia:
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.