Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Being Assertive in Your Career Path When You Still Don’t Know What You’re Doing

Every few months, I fall into a period of anxiety where I decide that I have to know what I’m going to do with my life right that minute or I’ve wasted all my time and effort. It’s counterproductive because it usually happens when I’m right in the middle of homework. I can’t ignore the urge, so I fall down the rabbit hole of asking every career test and every person in my life what they think I should do. It’s scary to shift immediately from high school, where you’re given almost no power over your daily routine, the classes you take or where you live, to college, where you can basically do whatever you want. 


So what do you do when you’re being asked to make major life decisions for the first time? You ask lots of questions. Start reaching out to people in any career path that you think you’d be interested in to learn about the everyday parts of their job. Schedule an appointment with Career Services and see what types of career paths that someone in your major could go into. Set up a meeting with your advisor to change your major if necessary. Make an account on LinkedIn or Glassdoor so you can search up jobs in your area that recruit people with your skill set. Connect with professionals in your target field. Just start emailing people!


Since high school, I’ve had a practiced speech ready for whenever anyone asks me what I want to do with my life. I would say that I planned on double majoring in English and Public Administration and that I might go into the Peace Corps after graduating from college, right before I settled in the nonprofit sector. This was fine when I was in high school. When I got to UMKC, people started asking me what kind of nonprofits I was interested in. I realized that I didn’t even know the answer. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. So I found a website called Nonprofit Connect, where nonprofits post job listings for the KC area. I emailed everyone who posted a position that I would be even remotely interested in. I asked about what they looked for in applicants in terms of a college degree and what the everyday job responsibilities would be. 


Lots of people didn’t respond to me, but some did. I got an email back from a union organizer who told me that it was more important to have volunteer or internship experience than a specific major, which was so important for me to hear. He offered to get coffee with me some time so I could ask all the questions I wanted. I also heard back from environmental organizations, which sent me lists of volunteer opportunities and clean-up projects. Now I’m volunteering with the Missouri Department of Conservation, which has opened me up to different scholarship opportunities and helped me realize how much I enjoy conservation work. 


Think about what you want to do, find the people who do it, and then draft an email. Mine usually go like this: 


Hello! My name is Lauren Textor and I’m a sophomore English major at UMKC. I found your profile on [insert job site here] and I’m really interested in the type of work that you do. I’ve worked/volunteered with [insert relevant experience here] before, and it taught me a lot about [insert something you learned]. I’m currently getting more involved in [whatever field the person you’re emailing is in] and I was wondering if I could talk to you some time about your experiences. I know you’re busy, but it would be so helpful for me to learn more about the everyday parts of your job and to get a better idea of what kind of work I’d be doing if I continue into [insert field here]. Thank you for your time! I hope to hear from you soon. 


If possible, try to set up a Zoom meeting with them within the next two weeks. Make sure to have a list of prepared questions to ask, to take notes during the meeting and (most importantly) to be genuine about your interest. You don’t have to think of 20 hard interview questions and run through them like you’re going to be writing a tell-all article later. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Think of five talking points and go from there. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time, but the conversation should be allowed to develop naturally. After you’ve made contact and gotten some of your questions answered (whether live or through email), make sure to send a follow-up thank you email and to ask if you can reach out in the future with further questions. This is important because it makes your contact more likely to continue a mentor relationship with you and think of you in the future for relevant job, internship or scholarship opportunities. 


Be assertive, confident and genuine when you’re asking for favors from people you don’t know. You don’t have to be sure of your career path yet. You just have to be willing to do the work to figure it out.

Lauren Textor is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who is studying English. She is one of UMKC's Campus Correspondents. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, painting, and sight-seeing at possibly haunted locations.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️