The idea this week: how I learned a lot about my skills by testing my fit for operations work.

Like a lot of students, I spent much of my final year at university unsure what to do next. Should I pursue further studies, start out on a career path, or something else?

I was excited about having an impact with my career, and I thought I might be a good fit for policy work — which seemed like a way I could contribute to solving pressing world problems. I figured this would involve further studies, so I looked into applying for graduate school.

But I was probably deferring too much to my sense of what others thought would be high-impact work, rather than figuring out how I could best contribute over the course of my career. I ended up doing the 80,000 Hours career planning worksheet — and it helped me to generate a longer list of options and questions.

It pointed me toward something I hadn’t considered: doing something that would help me test my fit for lots of different kinds of work.

I realised that becoming athletic union president, a student representative role I’d long been interested in, would give me experience with different kinds of work. It involved marketing, policy writing, working in a bureaucracy, finance, event organisation, and more — what we often call operations management, a set of skills that is in high demand.

After considering other options, speaking to the current athletic union president, and weighing the pros and cons — like the fact that a role with a one-year term was pretty long for a test — I ran for the position and was elected.

Here’s how testing my fit in this role went:

  • I realised I was much more excited about working than doing further study. I loved having a busy to-do list, writing comms, and managing projects.
  • The role also helped me develop career capital, giving me skills and work experience I could draw on when I applied to other jobs in the future.
  • More unexpectedly, it revealed what I value in a working environment. For example, getting clear feedback and having opportunities for personal development are really important to me. Before having worked full time, I didn’t really know what I wanted most out of a job.
  • I personally struggled with the fact that I wasn’t contributing to a pressing problem right away even though I was passionate about the role. I reminded myself that gaining this experience and testing my fit was an important part of having an impactful career — and I was donating some of my income, because that was one of the ways for me to do good no matter my job.
  • Without doing this role, I don’t think I’d have considered applying for my current job in operations at 80,000 Hours. I learned what operations roles are like, that I can succeed in them, and that I felt really excited about the work.

I got pretty lucky — the first job I had after university was a good fit for me, and it helped me get a role at an organisation I love. One of my colleagues tried out at least three different career paths before coming to work here. You may have to try out a number of different roles before you find what works best for you, and you’ll need not only a Plan A, but a Plan B and even a Plan Z.

We have a lot of resources to help people who want to have a positive impact with their careers think about different options and possible paths. You can get started by checking out our career guide.

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