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REP: Finding the Perfect Career

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When I was six, if a stranger asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I would have immediately responded with, “I want to be an actress.” Simple, right? I’d play with my Play-Doh, put on pretty princess costumes, and wear my mom’s high heels. Boy, have times changed— who plays with Play-Doh anymore? I went through high school, college, and now I am on my six “month-iversary” of working for Intel, and it seems as though my thought process and answer to the same question has only gotten more complicated.

What do you want to do when YOU “grow up?” Loaded question, huh? I don’t blame you. Rarely, can people pinpoint what they’ll be doing fifteen years down the line and still be happy.

As spring recruitment unfolded (one year ago today), I asked myself this question many times. And though I had years to think about it, the answer was still nebulous. But, as I sit pondering this question today, in the midst of ramping up for my second rotation for the Rotation Engineers Program (REP) —wondering where my final placement within Intel will be—I’ve come to a happy conclusion. With deep insight from lessons learned from others, knowledge gained through tangible mediums, and real-life trial-and-error, I created a list of steps to finding the perfect career. And the best part? These steps can work for anyone and everyone

DISCLAIMER: The following steps require perserverance (defined as: commitment, hard work, patience, and endurance) to achieve optimum results.

1)     Know yourself:

Everyone wants to get paid for doing what they love. How? Identify AND optimize the following:

  • your interests

  • your talents/skills

  • current job need(s)

It helps to start with a list for each and create a three-ring Venn diagram.

List One should cover “your interests.” This includes activities you relish, aka your passions. (Tip: it may even help to begin with things you know you don’t like to frame the picture).

List Two should cover “your talents.” Detail what you’re good at—because “enjoying” an activity and “being good” at it are two DIFFERENT things. Think critically about what you’re good at or what your skills are.

List Three should cover “current economy needs.” What does the current job market need—what jobs are highly valued and sought after? (Tip: If you’re not sure, you can use your resources such as the newspaper and Google to help.)

Now look at all of your lists and try to put it into a Venn diagram. Where is there some overlap? Where are there some stand alone items? This will help you visualize where those commonalities are. For example, do you enjoy programming? Is it one of your skills? Is the market looking for more software programmers? I think you just found one commonality across all three lists. Oh! …that was simple. Now you try.

2)     Choose the right company:

When you are looking for a job, it’s not uncommon to live by the saying “beggars can’t be choosers.” And in this economy, who can blame you? Though if you are looking for a company to stay with long-term, develop your skills, and build strong technical/business/(insert other) acumen, you must exercise your right to be choosy (within reason, of course). What am I trying to say? As a self-confessed “optimizer” (i.e. a person who likes to observe all possible opportunities and optimize the outcome), I believe it is important to gather and evaluate as many job opportunities that maximize your interests, talents, and market needs. Using the career options you found from Step 1 (options that satisfy your interests, talents, and current need), add a few more variables to the mix. Consider these questions:

  • What companies employ such positions?

  • Are there companies more adept for this job field?

  • What kind of company do you want to work for? (big vs. small, start-up vs. established, high tech/blue-collar/biomedical etc.)

Tip: Add only a few variables/considerations at a time. It’s easy to fall into “analysis paralysis” aka over-analyzing a situation so that action is never taken.

3)     Select a good manager

To be fair, CGs (college graduates) and incoming employees do not usually get to choose their future manager. In fact, it is more likely that your first (and most frequent) focus is to get your foot in the door.  But once you are given the opportunity—perhaps after you’ve been with the company for a few months—I believe selecting the right manager is the most important step to career happiness. Why? Because picking a manager is like picking a partner. You invest many hours of your time (~40hrs/wk) at work, interacting with, reporting to, and obtaining feedback from your manager. A good manager helps satisfy the needs you have in a way that is most effective for you. If you’re a high-touch person, for instance, you may appreciate constant feedback. This is unlike an individual who prefers to work independently, and may find constant feedback from his/her manager comparable to being micromanaged.

The bottom line: a good manager knows how to bring out the best in you, and it begins with knowing the type of person you are/how you work best. You’ll soon find out that employees don’t necessarily follow the work but they will follow good managers.

4)     Continue to learn:

An amazing and interesting career does not start and end with the same responsibilities AND set of skills. Think about it. If you really enjoy programming, does working on the same thing day-in-out sound exciting? Don’t get me wrong. I understand some people LOVE programming, but here’s my point: no one wants to stay stagnant for an extended period of time. If you’re forever a programmer, it’s likely that you’ll want to try new computer languages, make new code, and start getting “jazzy” once you’re a true pro. Or, maybe you prefer to change it up more than that. Do programming and try some electrical engineering on the side? Sure, everyone is different. Or worse yet, there’s the hidden terror: you lose steam for something you loved (like what often happens to me when I order the same sandwich from Subway five days in a row).

The takeaway: constantly challenge yourself and your abilities so that you don’t hit a “lull” period. How? Plan. Make a list of the top three things you want to do during a set time period and THINK BIG. Each day, ask yourself what small action you’ve taken to achieve the goals you placed on your list. Pace yourself. And enjoy.

5)     Repeat steps 1-4, as needed.

So where have these steps taken me? As a rotation engineer, I constantly reflect and reassess my career path choices with and in each rotation. My first rotation, for example, taught me that I would like to (and would benefit from) pursuing a technical Ph.D (step 1).

As you can imagine, Intel is a large company with a cornucopia of job positions.  In fact, Intel offers many careers I am interested in, like: program management, technical business, and technology manufacturing (step 2). My first experience with Intel was working in the Technology Manufacturing Group utilizing my materials background to help test products. And currently, I am working in Strategic Business Planning, in which I leverage my technical knowledge to understand market fluctuation, growth, and forecasting.

I have also learned the importance of selecting the right “host” manager to help me hone my strengths, such as: my strong communication/people skills and technical ambition (step 3). As an example, my current host manager has provided me the opportunity to add value to the business group’s annual forecasting project, which is high touch and visibility with senior level individuals.

Additionally, I continue to expand my knowledge and challenge my capabilities with Intel’s large database of learning tools (step 4). For instance, I have taken Lean Six Sigma training, recently signed up for the “Fundamentals of Project Management,” and will soon take advantage of the “Get Software Smart Program” (to expand beyond materials science, my bread and butter). And, I am not done yet.  Each rotation brings new challenges, but, more so, Intel (as a fast-paced technology company) keeps me challenged.

The English theatre critic, Jeremy Collier, once said, “Everyone has a fair turn to be as great as he pleases.” I actively think how I might apply Jeremy’s ideology in my career. But what about YOU? As you’ve read this blog, have you decided that your career will be great?

…what do you want to do when you grow up?