“What do you want to be when you grow up?” How to find your path from journalism classes to career success

With the start of school out here today, we’re bringing back the daily blogging. If you have any topics you’d like covered on this site, just hit us up on the “Contact Us” form and we can make that happen.

We’ll get into all sort of journalistic nuance later in the term, ranging from horrific leads to student media situations. However, as with most semesters, we start today with that slow-roll, first-day stuff that most students just want to get over. (Everyone except for that really enthusiastic kid who chose to sit in the front row and has already deemed himself/herself to be the “assistant to the teaching assistant,” much to the annoyance of everyone else in the class.)

The get-to-know-you part of class roll call often comes with the question, “So what do you see yourself doing when you graduate?” When I ask that, I tend to get one of two answers:

  1. “I have had a life plan since exiting the birth canal and please let me share it with you in excruciating detail!”
  2. “I don’t even know what I’m having for lunch today, let alone what I want to do with the rest of my life. Clearly, I am a failure, so please move on to someone else.”

I’d probably estimate about an 80/20 split in those answers, with a few “I’m pretty sure I know where I’m going” answers sprinkled in. The 80% fit into the latter category and they often feel like kids who lost their moms at Walmart: They’re wandering around in a panic as everyone else seems to know exactly where to go and they want to burst into tears.

The truth is, most of us don’t know where we’re going or how we’re going to get there. Even after we do get there, we know full well that it wasn’t a detailed plan or a series of savvy moves on our part that got us there. In some cases, it was finding a passion where we least expected it. In other cases, it was finding out that we had a set of skills we didn’t know we had that tied nicely to a career. In even other cases, it was a fortuitous bounce, a chance encounter or just dumb luck that got us where we’re going.

To help you out as you start school this year, I asked the hivemind for some advice for you on how to get where you’re going, even if you don’t know where you’re going yet. Here are a few basic areas of thought:


The best way to figure out what is out there for you is to ask people who have a better sense of what is actually out there. Most colleges and universities have resources for you to help explore career paths, talk out ideas or generally feel your way around toward something that might yield gainful employment. Here’s a thought from a woman who worked with college students at a small liberal-arts school on the East Coast for a number of years:

Visit your career center. They have tons of tools to help guide you in a direction you might like!

A recent educational retiree also noted the importance of these kinds of places on campus:

Most college career centers have resources, including career assessments that students can use. Also, like what another person said about trying out jobs via internships. Volunteering, doing job shadowing, and evaluating yourself, your personality, interests, skills, etc. can give you directions. There has been a lot of research about careers and the John Holland career inventory, plus the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, which gives a lot of valuable insight into careers that might fit. There are even websites that show specific careers to fit one’s personality types. I used to do a lot of this with high school students, where the stakes are not quite as high as college, but similar resources.

Even though this sounds like simple advice, it’s great advice for a simple reason: It works. The reason it works? Well, to borrow a phrase from the Farmers Insurance folks, the people there know a thing or two about the career market because they’ve seen a thing or two in it.

(To be fair, a lot of us would rather deal with the clowns than think about our impending career moves…)


A lot of folks think about the need for internships and our folks in the hivemind were no exception. Here are some thoughts from someone who always knew where she wanted to work and eventually got that job:

Get internships/experience in things you think you may be interested in. If you wait until you know 100%, you could be walking the stage at graduation with only retail or food service jobs on your resume. Exploring fields you’re interested in will help figure out if it’s a fit, help get some internships under your belt, and if you find it’s not the place you want to be, you’ll still likely learn/hone transferable skills that can be helpful in whatever you do decide on

The idea of poking around at other things, perhaps not exactly what you had wanted, also played a role for a sports broadcaster, who always wanted to be a sports broadcaster and is now an actual sports broadcaster:

Get a taste of different things so you find out what you don’t like. Sports people! Get out of the sports realm for just a moment. Sports jobs are tough to come by and local sports departments in TV, radio, and newspapers continue to get smaller. Don’t have tunnel vision, there are plenty of areas with a lot of opportunities and more money. “Get out there and make yourself known.” That’s a quote from ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir.

This guy tried a few things even as he pursued his key goal of entering sports just to make sure a) that he really liked sports and b) that he didn’t miss something he might have liked more. In the end, he might change jobs or fields, but at least he knew what he was getting into and that he was right about it.

Or as a broadcast professor noted: “Your 20s are for experimenting and for doing jobs you won’t necessarily want to do forever.



(To be fair, again, Bobby McFerrin hates this song now. It doesn’t represent his musical tastes or skills. Still, a lot of us who grew up when it was on the radio still think of him as that “whistling guy.”)

Telling someone not to worry is like telling someone to not think of a pink elephant: It creates a counterproductive outcome. However, people who have made it to where you want to go can give you some good advice about how they zigged and zagged their way to a positive outcome. Here’s a thought from an amazing young PR pro who almost went another way:

Well, before my sophomore year I nearly dropped out and changed my major to something that I can’t even remember. But sophomore year is when I got involved in PRSSA and many organizations and was the game changer for me. I think it’s not so much about the major you choose it’s about the journey you take to get the degree. You can always change fields down the road but get involved in college. You have the rest of your life to ask yourself what you want to be when you grow up.

A college professor had similar thoughts on this issue, as he found happiness running student media and teaching students how to make something of themselves:

Use college to get new and unique experiences to find something you enjoy working in. The most important goal is happiness.

That can seem a little too “pie in the sky” for a lot of us, given that what makes my kid happy these days is sleeping until noon and watching NetFlix. I’m not entirely sure there’s a career in that, or at least a path that would lead her to eventually not spend her life living in my basement. However, some jobs lead to more misery and some to less. It’s all about what you enjoy, as a researcher who started in journalism and moved around noted:

Think about your role in your friend group and organizations. Do you come up the whole idea, do you plan the whole thing, do you get others excited? Then think about which subjects you’re strongest at (math, science, language). I love writing and thinking. I became a researcher. My brother is a planner and science person. He studied biology. He was a football coach, now medical sales.

The overall point here is that nobody really knows anything when it comes to what happens next. The kid in the front row with the plan? Ask that kid in ten years how it worked out and 80% of the time, it didn’t. (For the other 20 percent, feel free to actively dislike them and their inherited wealth.)

The advice here is based on personal experiences of people who walked the path you want to walk. They made it and you will too. At the very least, it’ll be better than living by these rules:

Have a great start to the semester. See you tomorrow.

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