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Try It . . . You Might Hate It

Once you understand your aptitudes and natural talents you will have a pretty good idea of the general career direction that you should follow. Now you can start to consider a few jobs that match your aptitudes. This isn't the time to pick your "job for life," but it is a good time to start thinking about it. The more time you have to think, the better your chances are of making the right choice. Remember, it's not where you start your journey that matters. It's when you start that makes all the difference in the world.

Whatever your age, stop for a minute and consider this question: What do you want to do when you get out of school? Chances are you've heard this question before. Often, it comes from an adult who really doesn't care about the answer but just can't think of anything else to say. Maybe someone should write a book that teaches adults how to talk to young people.

So what do you want to do? Most teenagers have no clue, and that's okay.

In a recent study, groups of teenagers were asked what they wanted to be when they got out of school. The most common answer was, "I want to be employed."

Let's agree on one thing. Your ultimate goal is to choose a career that you will enjoy and a job at which you will be good. You probably won't make that final career choice until you are out of school, but now is the time to prepare. Live for today, plan for tomorrow.

As you probably know, there's a lot more to a job than showing up in the morning and leaving at the end of the day. The work environment can be difficult to adjust to, especially if you've never tried it. Your job is something you are going to deal with five days a week for most of your life. There's nothing better than loving your job and there's nothing worse than hating it. Don't forget, it's 86,000 hours of your life and 86,000 hours is a long time to be miserable.

You test-drive a car before you buy it. You try on clothes before you buy them. Why would anyone with half a brain choose a career he or she hasn't tried? You don't need to pick a career while you're still in high school but it's a darn good idea to test-drive a few.

If someone told you that fried worms tasted great, would you agree to eat worms five times a week, for the rest of your life, before you tried them? I hope not.

WARNING: Choosing the wrong job will be hazardous to your health. It could be worse than eating fried worms.

So how do you try a job in a career that you haven't even chosen? You don't try one job, you try several. That way, when the time comes to choose a full-time career you will speak from experience. You will know what fried worms taste like and, if you don't like them, you won't eat them for 86,000 hours of your life. You can make an intelligent career choice based on what you know you are good at (natural aptitudes) combined with what you have tried.

We are talking internships here. Webster's dictionary defines an intern as "a student who is getting practical experience under the guidance of an experienced worker." Most people think internships are only for college-age students. Most people are clueless. Why wait until you've spent three or four years in post-secondary school and tons of money on tuition to start figuring out which jobs you like and which ones you don't? It doesn't make much sense to me.

Internships don't have to be full-time. They can be summer-long, week-long, or just for a day. The length of your internship is not what's important. What you learn and who you meet while you're there are what's most critical. Regardless of length, internships will give you a sneak preview of the jobs you think you might like. You will have a chance to see the jobs from the inside and that way you will see the good, the bad, and the ugly. If the bad and ugly outweigh the good then that's one career you can scratch off your list. A big part of choosing a career that you will love is eliminating as many career choices as possible that you know you won't enjoy.

"Plan ahead - it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark."
- Anonymous

When should you start your sneak previews? As soon as you can and way before you get to college. The more internships you try the more you will know about what you might like to do later in life. More important, internships will help you decide what not to do when you get out of school.

I'll bet you have heard people say this before."I want to be a vet because I love animals." This is a perfect example of choosing a career for the 'wrong' reason. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely a good thing to love animals if you decide to become a vet, but that cannot and should not be the primary reason for choosing a career as a vet.

Check out this story (but not right after lunch!) that a great veterinarian shared with me. A 17-year-old walked into the vet's office one day and told him that he really wanted to be a vet when he got out of school. My friend, the vet, asked the teen why he wanted to be a vet and the kid said, "Because I really love animals." At that point, my friend took the teenager back into the operating room where there was a dog that had just been run over by a car lying on the operating table. The dog was almost cut in half and its guts were spilling out all over the table. The vet looked at the teenager and said, "That's an you still love animals?" I asked my friend what the 17-year old said and he told me that the kid didn't say anything. He just threw up all over the floor and walked right out of the room! The good news is that at that moment the 17-year-old decided he no longer wanted to be a vet. Thank goodness he came to that conclusion before he spent several years and a gazillion dollars on vet school.

Maybe that story is a little gross, but it's a perfect example of why it's so important to 'try' jobs and careers before you start your 86,000-hour journey.

Use your summers wisely. Don't get me wrong. I don't think you should work your summers away. Hanging out is part of growing up. It's your right to hang out and do nothing every once in awhile. But just as hanging out is one of your rights, preparing for tomorrow is one of you responsibilities.

"If you wake up tomorrow and believe that you can trade a degree for success, go back to sleep - it was just a bad dream."
Commit several days each summer to checking out jobs. A couple of days here, a few hours there. Work for free. That way, if you like what you're doing, you can extend your stay. If you hate the place you can hit the road. The math here is pretty simple: three or four sneak previews each summer during high school and you've looked at 12 to 16 careers. That way, when you meet with the guidance counselor at school you can do the talking and they can do the listening. It can't help but help.

How will you know which internships to do? Rumor has it that there are 30,000 different jobs to be had. So I guess your choice of internships will be limited to 30,000. That might seem a little overwhelming. Not a problem. All you need to do is go back and review your natural aptitudes and interests. Here's where you figure out how they all fit together. If your aptitudes and interests are strong in the field of landscaping, and you love working outdoors, then you might want to do an internship with a local landscaper. On the other hand, if you have a great interest in plants and animals, but you know you're allergic to hard work, don't even dream of an internship on a farm. Consider your natural talents and what you like to do most. Put them together and you'll know where to go.

This is where the easy part starts. Once you know which internships you want, just walk in and ask. It's not hard to do. Here's how it works.

So you think you want to be a banker and you want a sneak preview of that job this summer? This one's easy. Almost everyone knows a banker.

Odds are, your parents will know at least one banker. Get an email address or a phone number from your parents so that you can contact the banker and ask if you can spend a couple of days at his or her office. Tell the banker that you are thinking about a career in banking. If you are not totally comfortable starting with a call then an email might be easier:

Dear Mr. Jackson,
My parents, David and Sarah Thompson, have told me that you are an excellent banker. I am 16 years old and I am considering a career in banking. I would like to spend a day or two working in your office this summer so that I can get an inside look at what bankers really do. I don't need to be paid and my schedule is flexible. I will contact you next week to see if this might be possible.

Thank you,
Wendy Thompson

A week later, follow up with a call and get ready to go to work. I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't say yes. Not only will most adults say yes, but they will be impressed by a teenager who cares enough about his or her own future to ask for help.

Repeat this process for each career in which you are interested. Don't forget who your best resources are - some of your friends' parents or some of your parents' friends. As always, they will be the easiest to approach and the most willing to help, but feel free to ask anyone to let you do an internship at their company. Before I wrote this chapter, I asked 50 people what they would say if a teenager called them for an internship. They all said yes. Nobody said no. If someone does say no to your request, write it off as experience and go on to the next person. Whatever you do, don't let it discourage you.

Besides the obvious, there are many benefits to these mini-internships or sneak previews. In most cases, you will be working with adults. This will give you an opportunity to make more contacts. Remember "the 'meet' of the matter" chapter? Since these new contacts will be in an industry of interest to you, they are even more valuable. Remember David Brantley, the guy with whom I built the multimillion-dollar company? I first met David while I was doing an internship at the ripe old age of 15! You just never know.

Don't forget to fill that address book. Get a business card from everyone you meet and then stay in touch with them. These days that will be easy since so many people have an email address. Stay in touch with everyone you meet. The days of trading a degree for the perfect job are over. There just aren't enough good jobs to go around anymore. Here's what's happening out in the real world. In just three years, IBM laid off 85,000 associates, AT&T laid off 83,000 employees, and General Motors laid off 74,000 workers. These people weren't laid off for poor performance. They were let go because they weren't needed anymore. When you hit the real world a degree will be a big help. But you'll also need a little something extra to get your foot in the door and to open that window of opportunity - something to separate you from everyone else. Your contacts will be that little something extra. People make people successful. The day will come when you're out on the streets, pounding the pavement, looking for your dream job. It might be hard to think that far ahead, but the 21st century skills you develop now will be critical. I saw an interesting study in the newspaper recently. It was done to see how part-time work affected high school students.

These are the results:

1. High school students who work part-time usually make more money later in life than students who don't work during school.

2. High school seniors who work 20 hours per week are expected to earn 20 percent more after college than those students who don't work during high school.

In another study, Paul Barton with the Educational Testing Service found that students who work up to 20 hours per week actually have better grades than those who don't work at all. Paul Barton should know since his company developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The bottom line? Part-time jobs can ease your transition into the workplace. These jobs will help you improve your knowledge of the job market, gain some workplace skills, and make valuable contacts. Almost every successful person I have ever met worked part-time as a teenager.

After you finish each sneak preview, or part-time job, take a break to evaluate. If you didn't like what you saw then maybe that's not the job for you. At least you learned something. It was time well spent.

On the other hand, if you thought the job was cool then you can consider it as one of your options when choosing a career. Again, you have learned something and your time was well spent. Maybe a few more days at a similar job, but with a different company, would be a good idea.

Don't forget to write a note of thanks to the person who allowed you to do the internship and be sure to stay in touch with all the people with whom you worked. These are the men and women who will help you achieve your goals later in life. They are your new 'contacts'.

A few days each summer is a small price to pay. Your sneak previews will make a huge difference when you enter the real world.

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