As the holidays are fast approaching, and you prepare to put away the books for a while to go home to be with family and friends, make some time for the job search by asking those who know and love you well to reflect with you about where you have been. Take them out for a coffee, and bring a journal!
The questions guiding below are for your own personal reflection, but they can all be addressed to friends and family as well. Ask those who are close to you how it is that you talk about work and school? Which tasks do you describe most positively? What do you seem to like most about them? Which tasks / project do you complain about? What do you express as being your reasons for disliking them? Ask them to reflect with you on your Academic and Professional life thus far and where it is that they see you going.
When searching for a job that will best suit you, you want to closely examine your path with an eye to identifying patterns in the choices that you make and have made thus far. What can you learn from them? In the way that you are trained as a sociolinguist to examine presuppositions, you can identify underlying assumptions and (often largely unsconscious) systematicity and patterning in your own academic and professional life. Unfortunately, we often have a very hard time seeing ourselves objectively, but your friends and family can help because they have been along with you on this ride. They probably have seen and undersrtood more about you than you have realized, but have never thought to ask. So ask. What do they see as your strengths, your values?
Your Academic Life
Research: When you are given the choice, what kinds of research topics, communities, and methods of analysis are you drawn to? Do you prefer field research or reading? Why? Maggie Debelius in SWAYGTDWT? talks about this as a question about whether you tend to prefer to get your information from people or from books. This point is a significant one. These tendencies may point to different choices of industry or maybe functions within those industries, or maybe even just ways that you can structure any job to carve out more of the work that you enjoy. You will probably be better at jobs you enjoy simply because you enjoy them.
Study Habits: Ask your friends and family what they have observed about your work habits including whether you prefer to work alone or in groups. What time of day do you get your best work done? Do you seem to prefer the structure of a deadline or do you like to have time and space to be creative and exploratory with your thinking, research, and writing? Do you find yourself volunteering to do things like editing for your peers? The seeds of your future path may well be in the things that people in your life come to you for.
Professors: Think about the feedback you have gotten from your professors about what projects you have done the best on. Go back to these who you trust to ask some more about where they see your strengths. What type of instruction do you prefer (this can tell you something about how you function in a team or what type of supervision you want to look for / ask for). Thinking about professors who you found challenging to work with, what can you identify as being the source of your frustration? Sometimes we forget that we can really ask for the work environment that we want. When we know as much as possible about how we function, the better position we are in to make that dream job!
Classes: Looking back on the classes you have had thus far, what types of classes do you seem to be drawn to? Which do you excel at, even offering to help classmates / peers? When you are given freedom of type of project to create, do you choose multimedia, web-based, or service-type projects? What types of projects do you excel at?
Your Professional Life:
What jobs have you had? Why were you drawn to each?
Which aspects did you most enjoy? Why?
Which did you least enjoy? Why?
What aspects of the workplace were most conducive to your success? What barriers to success did you encounter?
Activity: Many career search books (SWAYGDWT?, What Color is your Parachute?) have your reflect back on your top professional accomplishments in terms of what skills you utilized to accomplish them. This is a very useful exercise in beginning to deconstruct things that you may have done well but without thinking about what you were doing when you were doing them. This will help you break down familiar activities into their constituent pieces. Ideally, you want to find ways to use skills that you already possess and that you know that you love using, I want you to ask those around you to help you identify and understand your acomplishments. Ask them to describe a time that they have seen you really excel at something. What skills, interests, and gifts were most active in those moments? Where do they see you finding expression of those gifts professionally?
Finally, start looking at these people in your life as people who themselves have had professional journeys that you can learn from. Reflect with them about their own Academic and Professional lives by thinking through some of the above questions in their worlds. For example, you may know that your mom worked as a school principal, but you may not know what aspects of her job she most enjoyed or why she was drawn to that path?