Quantifying the Unquantifiable: How to Use Marketability in the Career Exploration Process

By Alex Rizzutto posted 04-09-2019 07:57

  

Whenever I work with students who are exploring careers, I am reminded of Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963),

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet” (p. 79-80).

Sound familiar to you? Many students have identified a variety of interests and careers but struggle to act toward one specific career in fear that it will eradicate all other options. And just like Esther, if they remain paralyzed by indecision, their once ripe opportunities may too go black and fall at their feet. But unlike Plath’s proclamation that “choosing one fig meant losing all the rest,” I encourage students to understand that choosing one fig does not always eliminate the others. In fact, choosing one fig may prompt certain figs to lower their branches for easier access, while at the same time possibly pushing other figs further away.

This isn’t a new problem (The Bell Jar was written more than 50 years ago), but it has certainly intensified due to the advances of modern technology. We have grown accustomed to always having options, whether that is choosing from the hundreds of movies and TV shows on streaming channels, checking Yelp for good restaurants in the area, or deciding which of the numerous social media platforms will best connect you with your friends. With this ubiquity of options, there comes a fear of commitment that can discourage students from acting, especially regarding things like careers where many maintain the false idea that whatever industry or major they pick determines what they will be doing for the rest of their lives. As a result, we must emphasize a component of career exploration that is omitted from coaching conversations far too often: marketability. I define marketability as the ability of a given position to provide one with skills that translate to other positions of interest.

So how do we coach students who have identified several careers of interest, even what aspects of those careers make them feel fulfilled, but cannot decide which is “best” for them to pursue? I recently found success by experimenting with a new strategy that combines reflection with a prioritization exercise.

This student was exceptionally intelligent, exceptionally driven, and exceptionally undecided about which career path to follow. She had identified interests in several careers (some more specific than others) including United Nations adviser, working for a non-governmental organization (NGO), agribusiness consulting, working for a food and beverage supply chain, food quality inspector, and chef. By the time we had assembled this complex list of career options, my next appointment was waiting in the lobby, and so I followed up with an e-mail that contained the following activity.

Activity: 

Step 1: Create Your Fulfillment List. Create a list ranking your top five (or possibly less/more) “needs/desires” for your career. In other words, list the components of the job that are most important for you to be happy. We will call this the Fulfillment List. Set it aside.

My student’s fulfillment list consisted of a range of needs including specific skill uses and subject areas, as well as with whom and where she would be working:

  1. Working with the subject area of GMOS vs. organic crops/agriculture.
  2. International exposure of some sort (preferably Latin America).
  3. Working with farmers.
  4. Analyzing data.

Step 2: Create Your Marketability List. Brainstorm a list of the top five (or possibly less/more) industry areas/specific careers that you are considering. Now, rank this list according to how marketable you believe each role is, meaning which career would provide you with the greatest amount of skills/experiences that translate to the other fields (Note: this may require further discussion with a career coach or looking up relevant job postings to determine what skillsets and qualifications are required for such positions). We will call this the Marketability List.

My student’s Marketability List consisted of:

  1. Food & Beverage Supply Chain
  2. Agribusiness Consulting
  3. U.N. Adviser or Delegate
  4. NGO
  5. Chef

Step 3: Create Your Spreadsheet. Use a spreadsheet in Excel or Word, or create a table of your own and write out each of the items on your Fulfillment List along the first column on the left. Then write out each item on your Marketability List across the top row.

Analyzing one item from your Fulfillment List at a time, go across each row and rank how well you believe that position/industry will satisfy that item of fulfillment with 1=least fulfillment and 5=most fulfillment (if you cannot decide between two items, you can give them the same number, and rank the rest accordingly). Use the last row to calculate totals.

*Marketability (across)

*Fulfillment (down)

Food & Beverage

Agribusiness Consulting

United
Nations

NGO

Chef

GMO v. Organic

3

5

2

4

1

International

2

4

5

3

1

Farmers

2

5

3

4

1

Data

2

5

4

3

1

TOTAL

10

19

14

14

4



Step 4: Weighing Your Results. Once finished, your totals should indicate which career/industry on the Marketability List is your greatest source of possible fulfillment. Now, you yourself must weigh the importance of marketability vs. fulfillment to determine what is ultimately the best direction for you to pursue (keep in mind that it may be easier to find fulfillment higher up the career ladder in a given field than it is to eventually acquire the marketability to move through fields that is found at earlier stages in your career).

So according to my student’s list, agribusiness consulting appears to be the direction to pursue at this time based on its superior score in the Marketability List blended with its high ranking on the Fulfillment List. The ranking done for the Fulfillment and Marketability List prior to making the table is essentially nullified by creating the table, but these lists can be used to add greater value to a certain item (ex. if my student thought that the marketability of working for a food & beverage supply chain was immensely greater than going into agribusiness consulting, she may take that into consideration when reviewing the final result).

Conclusion: Quite frankly, this activity is not perfect, but nothing is really perfect when it comes to the uncertainty of career exploration. Career exploration is a lot more trial and error than anything else. A coaching appointment isn’t about providing the student with that ideal career and assuming everything will be perfect afterwards; that, at last, they will have crossed the finish line of fulfillment that everyone is running toward. Our goal as coaches is to provide students with a sense of direction; to assist them in identifying which “trials” are of greatest interest so that they can gain marketable experience while learning more about what they like about work, what they don’t like about work, and then use that information to refine their career journey and ideas of fulfillment in the workplace.

When faced with a multitude of seemingly immeasurable choices, and the analysis-paralysis tied to these decisions, we can help our students find comfort in utilizing well-thought out, quantifiable measures to guide their career exploration process. The sooner we motivate our students to begin their career “trials”, the closer they will be to understanding what makes them feel fulfilled and which careers provide the opportunity for such fulfillment.

Download the Marketability Activity document to try this activity with your students.

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