‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Not a Career Plan

I see millennials all the time who dislike the work they’re doing and end up quitting. In many cases, they were in a hurry to get out of their parents’ house and applied to jobs just for a paycheck. Young people need a career plan, and going straight into law school or medical school because their parents did doesn’t count.

Your plan should be flexible. It will change, whether you like it or not, and you’ll need to adapt when that occurs. Here are four tips to help you get on the right path:

Pick a career that matches your lifestyle.
Companies hire for “cultural fit,” so instead of applying for a thousand jobs hoping to get a few interviews, do your homework and zero in on the employers with the culture and the right amount of flexibility and benefits that work for you. Yes, even in this economy you have to be picky. Decide on the main attributes you’re looking for in a company before you apply. If you want to travel often and meet new people, consider a sales or consulting position. If you’re more introverted, and don’t mind looking at a computer all day, then a programming job could work for you.

Before you interview for a job, review the benefits that a company offers on its career page, talk to people who work there, and look at pictures and videos posted on social networks of company events and achievements.

Carve out your own niche.
Clearly explain on your résumé, and during interviews, what makes you special. Be specific about what the company will gain from hiring you, depending on the types of roles you’re gunning for. You can identify what your strengths are by getting feedback from your teachers, family, friends, and even co-workers. A niche expertise, such as “website copywriter for the health-care industry,” allows you to focus your job search and stand out in the recruiting process at the same time.

If you try to be everything to everyone, such as labeling yourself just as a copywriter, you will be one of a million people competing for the same types of jobs. Stand out by going niche.

Experiment with several jobs and filter down.
I had eight internships before I graduated college. I learned about the type of company I wanted to work for, the size, and the job function—all of which helped me figure out what to do upon graduation. I had internships in public relations, online marketing, creative design, and sales. Through those experiences, I decided that I wanted to work at a large technology company doing online marketing, located in my home state.

EMC ended up being the right choice for me, based on this criteria and because the company was actively recruiting on my campus. Don’t worry if you aren’t in the right job today—just learn from it and hop to a job that’s a better fit. Since we change jobs so often these days, it’s more acceptable to jump from one opportunity to the next in search of our ideal path.

Be realistic based on actual job prospects.
The idea that you should “follow your passion” is dated advice that’s just not relevant in the current economic climate. If all you do is follow your passion, there’s a good chance you’ll be homeless by the time you’re 30. Pew Research did a survey recently and found that only 2.4 percent of students pick computer science, 5 percent go for engineering, and 1.4 percent for physical sciences—three career areas with particularly high demand.

Think about which companies are hiring in which fields, and how your skills can fill those needs, if you want to pursue a long-term career that pays well. I recommend going to PayScale’s website to identify the salaries of jobs you’re interested in and Indeed.com to see what companies are actively hiring—and what they are hiring for. Then apply for the jobs that match your skills. If you still want to play the guitar or start a food blog, do it in your spare time until you can make a livable income from it.