As far as important life decisions go, choosing a career is right up there at the top of the list. Your choice of a career will determine how you spend the majority of your days for decades to come. So, like, no pressure or anything, right?
But seriously though, there is an insane amount of pressure on young people to figure out a career path before they even graduate from high school. And strangely, no one really tells you how to choose a career in the first place. They just expect you to “follow your passion” and go from there.
While passions should be factored into your career choice, there is so much more that goes into career decision-making. In this guide, we’re dishing on how to choose a career that is rewarding, purposeful, and, ultimately, successful. Ready to find your dream career? Let’s go!
Start with a Self-Assessment
First things first: You should perform a self-assessment. A self-assessment can give you a better understanding of yourself by encouraging you to think about the things that are important to you. Too often, young people will stumble into their careers by accident or get nudged into a specific field by a well-meaning relative, never taking their own values, motivations, or interests into account.
The beauty of a self-assessment is that only YOU can answer the questions. Because really, who knows you better than yourself?
To help you dig a little deeper into yourself, here are a few critical areas to cover in your self-assessment:
- Interests. Let’s start with an easy one: What do you like to do? List 10 or more things you enjoy doing and/or that make you fulfilled. Then, see if you connect related interests and translate them into a potential career. If you’re into gaming and technology, consider a career in video game design. If you enjoy drawing and helping kids, think about becoming an art teacher.
- Skills. Next, take stock of your skills. What are you really good at? Break down your skills into two categories: soft and hard skills. Soft skills such as communication and leadership are transferable skills, meaning you can make use of them in a variety of potential careers. Hard skills such as computer, marketing, or writing skills are teachable skills that may be unique to a specific career.
- Values. Your values are the things that you consider important in life. In relation to your career, these may include things such as work-life balance, variety in your daily duties, opportunities for advancement, independence, and so on. Values can give you motivation at work and are therefore, important to take into consideration.
- Personality. Personal characteristics and qualities can make or break your career success. Just imagine placing your life in the hands of a trauma surgeon who can’t keep calm under pressure (big yikes!). To assess your personality, take a few personality inventory tests online, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R). The insights you gain from these tests will be helpful when you begin weighing your career options.
Explore Your Career Options
After you’ve completed your self-assessment, you can start thinking about how your interests, skills, values, and personality traits might translate into a possible career. What are some occupations and fields that fit into your self-assessment? Is there a particular industry or job that appeals to you?
At this stage, you want to cast a wide net of potential career options without so much getting into the nitty-gritty. Don’t worry about making any big decisions right now. You’re just trying to get a feel for what career options are available to you.
Here are a few resources to help broaden your search for careers and jobs:
- School Counselor. If you’re still in high school and have a career counselor available to you, take advantage! A good career counselor can help you explore career options, administer aptitude tests and give you the important deets on a potential career path that you may be considering above all others.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). The Occupational Outlook Handbook is an excellent source for career information. Provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the OOH provides tons of info on hundreds of careers in the United States, including pay, job outlook, job description, and similar occupations.
- Networking. Joining a professional network group is another amazing way to explore potential career options. General networking groups on Meetup.com and LinkedIn Groups often include a diverse range of professionals, from engineers to entrepreneurs and everything in between. Find a group, start mingling with interesting people, and then just casually ask them to spill the tea on their jobs.
- Internet Forums. Do you have a career in mind that you want to know more about? Internet forums such as Reddit and Quora can give you the scoop on what the job really entails. Just type in “Reddit + What it’s like to be a [your chosen occupation]” and you’ll get some (possibly NSFW) answers that no one else will tell you. Just be aware that some people go there only to complain. In other words, don’t write off a potential career just because some rando paints a terrible picture of the job.
Narrow Down Your List
Netflix Tagger. Cat Cuddler. Mattress Tester. Those are all actual jobs that people have if you can believe it. Unfortunately, those job titles aren’t too easy to come by — because, obviously, we all want to get paid to watch Netflix, cuddle kittens, and sleep.
This leads us to the next stage of how to choose a career: researching your career options to see how viable they are. At this stage, you should have a sizable list of careers that seem interesting to you.
Now, let’s take a deep dive to see what a future in those careers might look like by considering the following:
- Job Description. When weighing potential careers, be sure to look at multiple job descriptions to get a better idea of what you’ll actually be doing on a daily basis. As you get into the nitty-gritty details, you may realize that certain duties are dealbreakers for you. For instance, perhaps the job you’re considering has frequent travel and you prefer to stay close to home. While this job duty may not be a big deal now, it could be an issue in the long term.
- Salary. Obviously, money isn’t everything in a job, but let’s be real — it definitely matters. Some people don’t mind forgoing a higher salary to do the job they love, while others want to identify the best-paying careers that fit their passions and go from there. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to know what the salary range is for your dream job. You can find salary information in the Occupational Outlook Handbook that we linked above or check out Glassdoor for salary trends based on salaries from actual employees.
- Job Outlook. Possibly even more important than salary is job outlook growth. This is the projected number of people employed in a particular profession over a set period. If the job outlook for your ideal occupation is poor, you may have a difficult time landing your dream job in the future. On the other hand, choosing a job in a fast-growing field could make your future job search much easier.
- Education Requirements. What type of education do you need to be successful in your field? These days, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is often seen as the minimum requirement for many occupations. Some occupations require five to seven years of schooling, which may or may not be worth it to you. Keep in mind that there are plenty of high-paying careers that don’t require a degree. For instance, electricians can earn a solid wage ($55K+) by getting their certification through a vocational school or trade school.
Interested in the trade school path? Learn more about trade school vs. college on the Tallo blog.
- Opportunities for Advancement. Are there opportunities for growth in your chosen career? Is there a clear promotion structure in your career path? If the answer to both questions is no, cross the career off your list. You don’t want to find yourself back to square one when you need to make a midlife career switch.
Take Your Career for a Test Drive
You’re almost there! You should now have one or two specific career directions in mind.
But what if you’re going back and forth between two potential career options? What if you’re not sure if the career you’re leaning toward is the right fit for you?
If you find yourself in this career conundrum, you need to go beyond basic internet research. Here’s how to choose a career by going straight to the source:
- Informational Interviews. The informational interview is an effective research tool that is one-part info-session, one-part networking opportunity. You’ll reach out to someone in your dream career and ask them if they wouldn’t mind giving you 20 or so minutes of their time to talk about what working in their field is really like. Not only will you grow your professional network, but you’ll also learn what your career takes and how to position yourself for success in your first job.
- Job Shadowing. Job shadowing is another fantastic way to get a true taste of what working in your chosen career is like. With job shadowing, you’ll get a “day in the life” experience without the commitment of a full-time job. Plus, job shadowing programs typically last only a day or a week, which makes them an ideal opportunity for high school students who are juggling a million other things on top of choosing a career.
- Internships. Perhaps one of the best ways to give your career a test run is by applying for internships in your field. Internships last longer than job shadowing programs (usually about 10-12 weeks) and therefore provide more opportunities for you to gain hands-on experience in your field. Internships are also a great way to establish connections within the industry. Your internship could potentially lead to a full-time job — or, at the very least, a solid reference letter!
Make a Decision
Woohoo, you’ve made it to the last step! *plays The Final Countdown*
Now, it’s time to reflect on everything you’ve learned about yourself, your potential career, and your work experience. So, what career path excites you the most?
Once you’ve officially chosen a career that’s right for you, the work isn’t over yet. Here’s how to launch your career and expand your opportunities:
- Set Career Goals. You know where you’re going — but how will you get there? To reach your final destination, create a list of short- and long-term career goals. Then, come up with actionable steps that will help you accomplish your goals. Don’t forget to review your career goals regularly and change them as needed.
- Have a Backup Plan. Maybe you’re getting a degree in history in the hopes of eventually becoming a museum curator. Great! But what if that plan doesn’t work out? Would you consider becoming a history teacher? Creating an alternative career plan can help ease some anxiety about your future and give you a career path to fall back on in case something derails your original career plan.
- Never Stop Learning. Continuous learning is crucial to launching a successful career. Having a learning mindset not only keeps you competitive in your field, it can also increase your job prospects. Employers are looking for curious individuals who seek out opportunities to learn and grow. Stay current on industry news, take regular workshops to expand your skills, and don’t be afraid to fail.
The World Is Your Oyster
If you’re reading this guide on how to choose a career, it’s safe to assume that you’re working with a clean slate. And TBH, we kinda envy you for it. Your career possibilities are limitless! We mean, sure, having so many options can be a little overwhelming at times. But think of it this way: You have more opportunities to reach your end goal, which is, to say, a thriving career.