Monday, October 5th, 2015

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The Geography of Career Decision Making

Sometimes, finding a satisfying job is simply a matter of looking in the right place — literally.

When you’re deciding on a major or career to pursue, you’ll often hear other people make sweeping generalizations about the job prospects linked to certain academic programs or occupations. Some common examples include:

  • "Don’t major in art education. You’ll never get a job in that."
  • "There are no jobs in __________." (Fill in the blank with the ones you’ve heard — e.g., filmmaking, forestry, elementary education.)
  • "If you major in philosophy, you’re going to wind up flipping burgers for the next 45 years."

It’s easy to take such statements to heart. The problem is, these comments are often a stretch at best and downright wrong at worst — particularly if you take geography into account.

What does geography have to do with your career? Well, we’re not talking geography here in terms of Geography 101 — mountains, prairie land, tundra, weather patterns and so on. We’re talking about geography in the context of location, the part of the country or world to which one is referring. Location is one of the many mitigating factors that shoot holes in the generalizations described above.

Take art education, for example. If you live in a fairly rural area where the entire local school district has only two or three art teachers, your chances of landing an art education job may indeed be remote — though, it’s fair to say, there may still be other possibilities for you. If, on the other hand, you live in or are willing to move to a large urban area, your prospects improve significantly.

Likewise, although there may not be a huge demand for philosophy graduates in the town where you live now, don’t feel like you’ve just wasted four years of study. If you’re willing to relocate, you will find there are jobs for people with your background elsewhere. For example, a USA Today article described how major corporations in certain areas are now hiring philosophers to lead training sessions for their workers. You simply need to do some research to find out where the best place is for you to pursue a career.

While some fields require doing your homework to find the best location, others have more obvious fertile locations. The filmmaking possibilities may not be making headlines in Hollywood, Alabama, but there are plenty of opportunities in Hollywood, California. It may be difficult to find a forestry job in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, but you might do quite well in the beautiful woodlands near the coastline of Lincoln City, Oregon.

Geography and generalizations just don’t mix, as many once-worried college students have been pleased to discover after finding the right place to pursue their dreams. So as you explore majors and career possibilities, keep geography in mind. The career you want may indeed be nothing more than a dream where you’re living now. But you may well be able to make it a reality somewhere else if you challenge yourself to consider the bigger geographical picture.

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