7 Things To Do When You Can't Decide on a Career

By Jamie Birt

Updated June 20, 2022 | Published March 1, 2021

Updated June 20, 2022

Published March 1, 2021

Jamie Birt is a career coach with 5+ years of experience helping job seekers navigate the job search through one-to-one coaching, webinars and events. She’s motivated by the mission to help people find fulfillment and belonging in their careers.

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Most people spend between eight and 10 hours per day working so it's important to choose a job that provides physical or emotional benefits. If you are just entering the workforce or considering a career change, you may be struggling to decide what path to take.

In this article, we discuss why people sometimes can't decide on a career and explain seven steps for choosing the right career path for you.

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What is an ideal career path?

The definition of a career path differs from the job that a person holds. Your career path is made up of a series of educational or job-related learning experiences, professional responsibilities and job titles that interconnect. People can select jobs or experiences with passions in various areas such as design, mathematics, technology, education, medicine and much more. Ideally, your career path should lead you toward your larger professional goals.

For example, a person might have a long-term goal of being a published author. In this case, their career path might start with a bachelor's degree in journalism, English composition or a related subject. Their journey might also include smaller publications, a professional writing job and creative writing courses.

Read more: Q&A: Which Career Should I Choose?

Why you may be unable to decide on a career

Here are four reasons that may be holding you back from deciding about your future career path:

Feeling overwhelmed

Choosing a career is important, and it's very common for people to experience a temporary feeling of stress or pressure when faced with making important decisions. If you are feeling this way because you're not sure where to start, the most important parts of your journey are going to be mapping out your ideas and developing an optimistic attitude.

Wanting to find a job that makes you happy

Most people spend about 40 hours a week fulfilling the requirements of their full-time jobs. If your priority is to find a job that makes you feel happy, the first step is to decide what happiness means for you. The most important component of a job search for people in this position is going to be prioritizing their wants and needs.

Read more: 40 Ways To Find Happiness at Work

Finding multiple career choices exciting

Some people have many interests and passions while others have a strong aptitude or natural skill in a subject that applies to a variety of fields. These are positive things, but sometimes having too many options can make choosing a career harder. If multiple career paths interest you, the most important parts of your journey are going to be narrowing your list and consulting an advisor or mentor.

Being unsure what you're interested in

Sometimes, people may be unsure about what type of jobs there are that would suit their abilities or unique talents. For people experiencing this uncertainty, the most important part of the career search is going to be taking a personality test to help determine which careers align with their attributes and qualities.

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7 steps for choosing the right career path for you

Here is a list of seven steps for you to take when deciding about your career path:

1. Make a mind map

A mind map is a visual organization tool. You can use diagrams, notes and even pictures to help you summarize or define what you're looking for in a career. A mind map is a technique that invites creativity, so you don't need to adhere to a specific format. Consider getting a large blank piece of paper and jot down ideas, phrases or subjects that appeal to you.

You may also choose to write or draw words or images that relate to your personality type or overall ideas for your life or career. If you already have a few ideas in mind, you may choose to create a Venn diagram or a pro and cons list. Think of a mind map as a way to generate ideas before you start to organize them.

2. Take a personality test

Your personality is an important thing to consider when choosing the right career path for you. There are a variety of personality tests designed specifically to help people determine a subject to study, a career to pursue and even the types of interpersonal relationships that are best suited for them. Consider a personality test or assessment that reviews interest, aptitude, character and emotional composition. Here is a list of five personality tests for you to consider:

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality assessment composed of over 90 questions regarding eight key elements of a person's character. The test results are presented in a four-letter code which is regularly used to help people decide on subjects to study, careers to pursue or the type of work environment to work in.

  • The Birkman Method: The Birkman Method is an online assessment that measures personality traits, social awareness and potential professional proclivity. This comprehensive test is nearly 300 questions long and measures a person's typical behaviors and interpersonal norms to make suggestions about which careers they should pursue.

  • True Colors Test: The True Colors Test is an assessment that helps participants identify the type of thinker, planner and learner they are. The results categorize people by assigning them one of four distinct personality colors and suggesting personal and professional pursuits that align with those categories.

  • HIGH5 Test: The HIGH5 Test is a 20-minute assessment that helps participants to identify their professional strengths and weaknesses. The test uses 100 questions to summarize a person's personality and guide them toward careers that suit their attitude, ability and goals.

  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is a personality questionnaire that uses 16 factors of personality and behavior to assign participants one main temperament type, and one secondary temperament type. You can then use these results to identify which careers are best suited for your distinct personality and way of thinking.

Read more: 18 Personality Tests To Help You Discover Your Strengths

3. Rule out what doesn't interest you

Sometimes, the results of your personality test will include a list of suggested careers. After making a mind map, and completing an assessment, you may be able to clearly identify career choices or paths that don't match your personality or interests. If one of the suggested careers goes against your nature, belief system or does not interest you, cross that idea off of your list.

Eliminating job types that aren't for you narrows your focus. A list with fewer potential job titles is likely to help you concentrate and feel positive about choosing the right career for you.

4. Research your options

After taking some time to narrow your list, explore each potential career option. You can conduct preliminary research online, consult people who have this career or even try to set up a shadow day or learning experience in that field. Here are four things to consider and review when researching your career options:

  • Review the requirements. Each job or career path is likely to have a set of educational or professional requirements for candidates to complete. These may be degree requirements, licensure, work experience or coursework. Knowing requirements will help you narrow your list and make your decision.

  • Consider work-life balance. Work-life balance is the distinction between the time and energy someone devotes to work in comparison to the time and energy they can spend in their personal lives. Each person has their ideal for balancing family commitments, personal obligations, internal fulfillment, leisure and work—and different career paths offer varying degrees of work-life balance.

  • Assess the potential for job satisfaction. Job satisfaction refers to a person's overall fulfillment and contentment in their career and daily work. Satisfaction at work is composed of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which relate to specific work conditions, financial compensation, work relationships and other benefits.

  • Think about your short- and long-term goals. Your short- and long-term professional goals involve your hopes and objectives for your daily routine and overall career trajectory. These may include your professional or personal lifestyle, professional or academic titles, job satisfaction or specific achievements.

Read more: 10 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance Now (That Actually Work)

5. Prioritize your wants and needs

Your wants and needs represent your professional and personal ideals for your work and life. Your future career will provide you with compensation and certain benefits, and it's likely to take up a considerable portion of your time. Make a list of things like salary, benefits, personal contentment, the ability to affect change and the opportunity for internal or professional growth.

Look at that list and write down what you need in terms of each item and what your ideal is for each. Then rearrange the list so that the elements are in order from most to least important. Compare this list with the research that you conducted for each of the potential career options you are considering.

Related: How to Prioritize Tasks in the Workplace

6. Consult an adviser or mentor

Your academic adviser or professional mentor is likely to know a lot about you and your history. Take time to explain your goals to them and describe your feelings about starting your career. Speaking with a trusted individual about your feelings can help you organize your ideas and gain clarity. It is likely that this person will also have helpful insights and experience for you to consider and learn from.

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor

7. Try your best and believe in yourself

Trying your best and believing in yourself are crucial for maintaining a positive attitude when choosing the right career for you. Whether the first step is applying for a job or enrolling in a class or program, having an optimistic outlook may help you find the inner strength to embrace the steps needed to start your journey.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed. 

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