Prior to applying to business school, I recognized that I needed a change. I loved my career in human resources at a non-profit organization, but I had begun to grow curious about what I could learn in the private sector. The only problem? I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to work in an area I loved and was good at, at a company I loved. Sounds simple, right? It is if you have the right tools.
Luckily, I had great mentors and MBA career counselors that helped me define my skill sets and interests by offering the below tips. Even if you aren’t quite ready to pursue an MBA (or a new job), read the following to ensure you’re utilizing your strengths and passions in your career.
Step 1: Determine Your Passions by Paying Attention to What You Consume
The average person spends nearly two hours on social media every day, according to Social Media Today. While you’re scrolling through funny cat pictures and news stories, keep track of the topics that capture your interest.
In addition to the topics, track the company names you’re seeing. I found myself drawn to the topic of customer experience – where companies like Apple, Disney, Nordstrom and Zappos – and industries like airlines, retail and consumer products are frequently mentioned. By paying attention to the topics and companies that you always find yourself reading about, you’ll begin to recognize industries and experiences that you’re interested in.
Step 2: Identify Your Strengths By Taking Time to Reflect
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “When things are going well, keep doing whatever you’re doing” – that should translate to your career as well. It’s important to choose a career that allows you to maximize your strengths and innate talents; research shows that the most effective method for motivating employees is to build on their strengths rather than correct their weaknesses.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself to grow in areas that may help you grow professionally, but identifying your strengths helps you hone in on roles in which you’ll actually feel (and be) most successful.
So how can you uncover your natural strengths, talents and skills?
- Comb through old performance reviews and write down the areas where you performed well. Feedback is a gift; if your manager has taken the time to give it, take the time to review it.
- Create an “Atta Girl!” email folder. Anytime you receive a “great work!” email, add it to the folder. It’s a perfect way to see what others appreciate about your work, as well as a nice pick-me-up when you’re having a rough day. In every job I’ve had, I’ve often referred back to this folder and it’s helped me hone in on the projects where I typically excel.
- Review your current and previous projects. Which ones have you been excited to dig into? Which ones are you dreading – and find yourself procrastinating on? Chances are, the ones you feel most positive about are the ones that come more naturally for you – so record the skills that are required for those projects. For those you prefer to avoid…take time to reflect on what you dislike about them and set that list aside.
- Ask your peers what they appreciate about your working style and skill set– and make sure they’re specific. Your friends and colleagues are great resources to shine the mirror on yourself.
- Utilize online tools to take self-assessments. Myers-Briggs and The Clifton StrengthsFinder are two reputable sources that I’ve found to be extremely helpful.
Step 3: Hone in on Companies and Roles that Align with Your Strengths & Interests
Only once you’ve completed Steps 1 and 2 should you start digging into specific companies and roles that you’d like to learn more about. Use the list of companies you identified in Step 1 to read their web sites and articles about them. What in particular is piquing your interest? The development they provide employees? The work/life balance? The cool product they recently launched?
Among other companies, I quickly identified American Airlines as a possible employer based on a number of factors, including how they develop their female leaders, the MBA Leadership Pipeline, the opportunity to build strong friendships with work colleagues, assigned mentors for new MBA hires, and of course, the opportunity to impact customers’ experiences via insights-driven work.
Then, use the skills you identified as strengths in Step 2 to identify roles within those companies.
For example, I thought American Airlines’ loyalty department and customer-driven projects might align well with my skill sets in analysis and project management.
Step 4: Solicit Advice and Listen
Once you’ve selected a handful of companies you want to further explore, it’s time to listen and learn. Reach out to women (and men!) in the roles, industries and companies in which you’re interested. Ask them questions about their backgrounds, interests and skill sets – and listen for any similarities with your own journey. Remember this is just information-gathering, and not everyone’s experience is the same – so listen with an open mind, and always show appreciation to the person sharing advice.
If you’re attending the Forté MBA Leadership Conference, take advantage of the panels and coffee chats to reflect on how each business leader’s assessment of her work and lifestyle corresponds with or validates what initially piqued your interest about her role and company.
Ultimately, I met with several people at American Airlines before even applying to a single job! Those conversations gave me a better understanding of what particular roles entailed and helped me to better articulate my strengths during the interviews.
Conquer Your Career
While walking through each step above takes time – and often, some brutal self-reflection – it’s ultimately designed to guide you to a career you love. If you’ve already completed your MBA, consider this an ongoing process; take the time to reassess and revisit these steps over time.
Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” So, what are you waiting for? Go conquer your career.
Katie Campbell Dettmann is a Customer Loyalty Strategy Analyst at American Airlines. She holds BBA & ABJ degrees in Marketing and Broadcast Journalism from the University of Georgia and an MBA with concentrations in Market Analysis & Strategy and Management from The Duke University Fuqua School of Business. During the Duke MBA, Katie was a Forte Fellow, an Admissions Fellow, and served as President of the Duke MBA Hospitality & Travel Club. She’s a member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity, and Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO).