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How Do I Figure Out What I Want to Do with My Life?

Knowing what you want to do for a career is a life-long process. Your first post-college job is a step in that process — it probably won’t define your life. Many people change directions, job paths, priorities as they get older. You don’t have to figure it all out now, but you can arrive at some initial steps that will take you forward towards success (however you define it).

  1. Talk to lots of people. Use the University of Illinois page on LinkedIn and Illinilink to identify alums from your program who are doing things that sound interesting, and ask them for informational interviews. Ask lots of questions about what they do/don’t like about their jobs, how they got there, what they would recommend. Listen carefully. If you talk to someone that you “click” with — you feel like you could come back to them for a review of your resume or more advice or you just feel like you’ve started a conversation that can continue — then you’ve transcended “informational interviewing” and entered the realm of networking.
  2. Think about your own life experiences. Do some thoughtful navel-gazing. Take a mental inventory of the various jobs, experiences, projects, activities you’ve been a part of. What kind of activities and tasks did you find most rewarding and energizing? What kinds of things have you pursued with focus and tenacity because you cared about them intrinsically — not because a grade or some external validation rested on the outcome? What are the skills you have that you most enjoy using? What kinds of things do you do more easily or comfortably than other people?
  3. Come to drop-in hours, attend an event, or schedule an appointment with the Humanities Professional Resource Center. Get the conversation started — you can come back again when you have more specific questions or career-related needs.
  4. Look for ways to get some professional skills/experience. Think broadly in terms of skills and settings rather than fixating on a specific internship leading to a specific career. Apply for things that sound interesting to you, even if you can’t quite see how the dots connect to a specific future path you have in mind. If you’re already working, think about the skills you’re gaining at your current job and how you might either level up (seek out a supervisory role, take on a new project) or transfer those skills to a more professional setting — or consider getting a different job that will help you build out your experience. (ATLAS internships can be a terrific way for humanities majors to start connecting their skills to the workplace.)
  5. Consider your RSOs or volunteering or activism. Is there a way you can get some leadership experience or take charge of a new initiative? Not everything you do has to be related to your future career (it’s fine to join a club for purely recreational, social, or political reasons!) but the things you spend time on anyway can be a source of career-relevant experience and insight.