The email below is from a rising Junior at the University of Minnesota who has a good academic foundation, but doesn’t know what he wants to do career-wise after college. I’m sure that this is a feeling with which many people can identify. His specific questions are about how I was able to find my own niche, given that I’ve done so many different things in my education and career…Interesting question and one that I don’t remember ever having been asked before. Check out the text below to see my response to him.
To be honest, the first time I heard of you or your blog was about an hour ago when I read an interview you did for managementconsulted.com. And I must say you give some really great advice on the consulting industry/way of life. So I thought what-the-heck maybe he has a piece or two of advice for me.
I’m just finishing my sophomore year at the University of Minnesota. I’m an Applied Economics major with a minor in Management. The thing that is on my mind is that I have no idea what I want to do in the future! I know that’s not a big deal for me at this point in my life but in some respects I feel I should know what I want to do to some degree. This summer I have a great internship lined up with a financial services company but I’m really not sure that’s what I want to do.
As I digress: Speaking to a man who has held numerous jobs in fairly different fields (IT – Finance) how did you find your niche? Did it hit you one day? What advice would you have to a young man who loves working with people and is analytical minded but hasn’t a clue where he’ll end up?
Thank you very much for your time and consideration,
Thanks for checking out my website and deciding to hit me up with your question. I know that it’s been a few months since you emailed me, so I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I’m sure that you can imagine how many people hit me up, right? Hopefully, this message is getting to you early enough to be useful to you.
Man, you’ve really got the gears in my head turning with this question. In all of my years of blogging, I can’t ever remember someone asking me about how I found my niche before, so I’m excited to answer your question. In short, I’ve pretty much lived by the old adage “Fake it ’til you make it”…and I’m not joking with that. When I started college in 1995, my original goal was to do something having to do with computer graphics and eventually launch a tech company of some kind, but, after taking my first graphics course, I knew it wasn’t for me. Then, after becoming a Software Engineer, I quickly realized that starting off on the techie path wasn’t going to help me to become a business leader and, at about the same time, I learned about the MBA, which I saw as the way to reach my goals.
Looking into the MBA led me to learn about Management Consulting, which is how I ended up setting the dual goal of earning a Stanford MBA and following that up with a job at McKinsey. Guess I kinda knocked that one out of the park, huh? I eventually decided that Management Consulting was more of a foundation to do any number of other things in my career than the long-term path for me. I’ve made some other shifts since then and learned quite a bit (both good and bad) from each of those moves. At this point, I’d say that I’m in a good place career-wise, but I can’t say that there isn’t another pivot somewhere in my future. As such, I don’t even know if I’ve found my true “niche” yet.
Now that you’ve got me recalling all of this, I feel fortunate that I was able to stumble my way into doing some pretty cool things over the course of my career. If I look back to when I was in your shoes, I would have never thought that my career would take me through so many cool experience. I had no idea that I’d be doing what I’m doing now and, if I look another 15 years in the future, I’ll probably end up surprising myself then too. Enough about me, let’s get on to you…
As I think about your situation, I can’t help but think that you’ve got a lot of great opportunities ahead of you. Based on your email, I can see 4 big qualities about you:
- You like working with people
- You have a strong analytical foundation
- You are still figuring out what you want to be when you grow up
- You’ve got a lot of ambition (based on the fact that you’re thinking about your long-term career path during your Sophomore year of college)
As a former Consultant, I know that I’m biased, but it sounds like Management Consulting could be a great direction for you after college. Working as a Consultant would give you the chance to combine your analytical mind with your people-orientation to deliver a lot of value for your employer and clients. Also, the major Consulting firms are best-in-class at developing core business skills among their staff, so going through an Analyst and/or Associate program would set you up well for doing any number of things afterward. Plus, as you’ve probably heard, the Consulting life can be very intense with seriously rigorous work and lifestyle, both of which can scare some people. I’d argue that those characteristics are some of the best preparation that one can get for being a high-performer in a corporate environment…trust me, I’ve lived it and seen those benefits. In the longer-term, it’s difficult to know what your path will be, but, by starting out in Consulting, you’ll get a well-rounded foundation that could prepare you for many different options in the future.
Fortunately, you’ve still got one more summer internship coming up before you finish college, so you can aim for a Management Consulting internship just to get a taste of the job. If you don’t think an internship in Consulting is the right thing for you, you can also look for something having to do with Corporate Strategy for the summer. These types of internships combined with the work you did for the financial services firm this past summer would set you up very well for the full-time recruiting process next Fall.
Also, I have a feeling that you’ll end up in some sort of grad program in a few years, possibly an MBA or JD program. If you can see something like that in your future, you’d be well-served by knocking out the GMAT and/or LSAT sometime in the next year. It is MUCH easier to study for it while you’re still a student and have your brain conditioned for that kind of studying. Plus, both test scores are good for 5 years, so you could get them out of the way now and keep them in your back pocket until you’re actually ready to apply. This gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of deciding whether to apply to grad school right out of undergrad or spending a few years working before applying.
I guess the big net-net of the above is that you shouldn’t worry too much about not knowing what you want to do yet. While it is good for you to be thinking about this issue right now, you don’t necessarily need to make a final decision right now. People change so much over the course of their 20s and early 30s, so any decisions that you make right now will likely change over the course of the next few years anyway. I would recommend that you focus on the first couple of years after college for the time being and then let those experiences inform the decisions that you’ll make for your mid-to-late 20s…that will be MUCH less stressful than trying to map it all out right now
I don’t know if this response was specific enough to be helpful, but it is 100% honest in terms of how I determined my path over the past 15 years. Take care and good luck with the start of your Junior year of college.