It took me a long time to understand any significant part of the labor market, particularly the nature of its demand. When I was graduating college, I didn't really have a sense of what employers were looking for, and that complicated my career path.
I had thought that for someone with my qualifications - a strong academic and extracurricular background and some work experience - there would be at least a couple straightforward paths. This was pre-crisis 2007, so in theory I should have been golden. When I began diving into job posts, however, I saw that employers were looking for skills I didn't have, hadn't considered, or hadn't even heard of: knowledge of Oracle, financial products, a programming language. I hadn't tailored my education to what actually had currency in the market. I had naively assumed my economics program would prepare me for a career . . . in economics.
To be fair, I think Ohio State's economics program did a good job of preparing me to pursue a higher degree, but I wasn't planning on that. It also endowed me with some knowledge and skills that would eventually prove very useful, but only after I'd gotten my foot in the door by combining that base with other qualifications that I'd accrued along a less cohesive and more incremental career path.
My advice for young people as they undertake decisions around their career and education is to look at job openings - particularly the requirements - throughout, not because you're looking for a job in that moment, but for the sake of understanding what you can do when you are, and how to line yourself up for it.
If I were to do it again, I would take some formal classes in the more applied stuff I've picked from work and on my own: courses in business, computer science, or engineering. And in keeping with my own advice, browsing job posts on Craigslist would help me keep in touch with movements in the market.