How To Choose the Career Path That's Right for You
When we ask people about the most meaningful parts of their life, family, health and work often rank as the top three. Choosing the type of work you’ll do, therefore, is arguably one of the most important decisions you can make.
In this article, we discuss how to choose the right career for you and we offer seven steps you can follow to begin your career journey.
How to choose a career in 7 steps
You can begin choosing a career by taking the following steps:
Perform a self-assessment.
Identify your must-haves.
Make a list of jobs to explore.
Research jobs and employers.
Get training (if you need it) and update your resume.
Find and apply for jobs.
Continue growing and learning.
Selecting a career path can take weeks, months or even years as you continue learning what you want and need in a job. It’s important to note that you may have the option to change your path multiple times in your life, making the ability to choose a new career a valuable life skill.
Related: How To Change Careers
1. Perform a self-assessment
Before making any important decision, it’s a good idea to take time for self-reflection. Choosing a career is no different. In this step, you’ll reflect on what kind of work environment you want to be in, what type of work you enjoy, who you want to work with, and more.
The question of what we want to be when we grow up doesn't necessarily get easier as we prepare to enter the workforce. Often, employees work for years in professions they find are unfulfilling and energy draining. To help you find your path in the world of work, start off with serious reflection on your values and your strengths. Invest time in assessments—such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, Enneagram or DISC—to learn what types of jobs and environments allow you to thrive.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
As you’re reflecting, you may want to write down your notes. These can be helpful references as you’re evaluating job descriptions later on.
Here are a few questions to get you started. Try not to dwell on the questions but rather, write down the first thoughts that come to mind. If you’re not sure of some answers, trusted friends or family may be able to give guidance.
Self-assessment questions to consider:
What are your key values? Example answers: Financial stability, helping others, independence
What technical skills do you possess? Example answers: Data analytics, planning, research, multilingual, photography
What natural aptitudes do you have? Example answers: Writing, leadership, selling, project management, communicating, planning, technical problem-solving
What’s your personality like? Example answers: quiet, outgoing, confident, aggressive, loyal
What are you interested in? Example answers: Technology, writing, medicine, design
Identify your must-haves
Next, take some time to identify your must-haves in a job. These can range from anything like salary or travel to benefits and location. It might be helpful to return to the question-answer activity when recording what you can’t be flexible with when it comes to your career:
Do you need to earn a certain salary?
Do you require certain benefits like specific healthcare coverage or a certain amount of time off?
Could you take a job that involved travel?
Do you need to work in a certain location?
Do you require any sort of flexibility to work from home?
Do you need to adhere to a specific job title or level?
Are there certain tasks you need to or do not want to perform?
Is there a certain work environment you cannot operate well in?
It is important to know what you need from a job ahead of time. For example, if you need to earn a consistent salary, you may want to avoid freelance work. Once you’ve determined your must-haves, you can use the research phase to determine jobs that might not work for you.
Related: How To Get a Job After College
Make a list of jobs to explore
After understanding a bit more about yourself and your needs in a job, start looking for jobs that sound interesting or desirable to you. If there’s a job you don’t know much about, write it down and research it later. You may end up finding an interesting career path.
In addition to assessments, speaking to those who know you well personally and professionally is a good way to narrow down your career path. You may ask what you're good at, what others rely on you for and what you're doing when you are the most motivated or successful.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
Additionally, remember that job titles don’t always represent the actual job perfectly. While a title might not seem desirable, the job description might be a good fit for you. To start your list of jobs, here are some considerations:
Use your network. Do you know friends or colleagues with jobs that seem interesting? Tap into your network to explore jobs both they might hold, and jobs they think you may be interested in and/or good at.
Find interesting industries. Is there a particular industry that seems appealing? Are you naturally drawn to a particular category of work like design, fashion, business or education? Think about friends, family members or acquaintances who have compelling or attractive jobs.
Identify things you enjoy doing. Are there any activities or tasks that make time pass quickly? This can be anything from designing presentations to organizing information to working as part of a group. If you do enjoy designing presentations, for example, write down careers that might involve doing this work.
List your goals and values. Consider where you want to be in two, five and 10 years. Is there a particular title or level you want to achieve? Is there a location you want to be in or a certain lifestyle you want to have? Taking time to think about the future can help you identify jobs that will be a long-term fit.
Evaluate your strengths and talents. What are you good at? Whether you identify soft or hard skills, determining your strengths paired with things you enjoy can help you find a career that sets you up for success. If you’re good at organizing and interpreting data, you might write down jobs like data analyst, computer scientist or data scientist.
Research and narrow down your list
After you’ve explored jobs that seem interesting, start researching each one to create a short list of serious career possibilities. The goal is to arrive at one or two career paths that you’re excited about. You can use the following steps as a guide for your research:
“Day in the life.” To get a better idea about whether a certain career might be a good fit for you, look into what the day-to-day of each job looks like. One way to get a bit more detailed information on jobs is by browsing career paths. Get example job descriptions and common tasks and responsibilities. You might also consider asking if you shadow people in your network with jobs on your list.
Salary. Whether you have a specific salary requirement or not, it might be helpful to learn about average compensation for the jobs you’ve identified. Salary trends is a tool that let you see the trends in compensation for specific jobs in different locations. Enter a job title and you’ll see the salary range in various cities and with different employers.
Job requirements. Before choosing a career, you will need to know what certifications, degrees, training or other credentials are required. You might decide that fulfilling certain requirements aren’t a good fit for you, thus narrowing down your list to careers that are more suitable.
Growth opportunities. It’s important to know if there is an opportunity for growth in your chosen career. This means the availability you’ll have in the career to advance, gain skills and take on more responsibility. Read job descriptions carefully to learn about job requirements.
Job outlook. Another key piece of information is how your selected job stands in the labor market. This includes data like hiring trends and job growth. Search for news stories about the industry or job title that interests you. You will want to give favor to jobs that have steady hiring and growth.
Get training and update your resume
Once you’ve narrowed your list down to one or possibly two career paths, you’ll need to assess whether you need additional training or credentials. While some employers are willing to provide on-the-job training, others will look for candidates who already possess their requirements. For details on a specific job, carefully review the job posting. Pay attention to sections labeled “Requirements” and “Education and Experience.”
Once you’ve determined that you are qualified for this career path, update your resume to reflect your relevant strengths and skills. It can be helpful to explore job postings to understand what employers in your industry and position are looking for in candidates.
Find and apply for jobs
You can begin looking for opportunities on Indeed, on desktop or mobile. To add filters, select the “Filter” button. From there, you can set your search distance, job type (full-time, part-time, contract, etc.), and experience level.
For detailed information on searching for jobs, visit The Essential Job Search Guide.
If you’ve successfully accepted a new job, we’d love to hear about it. Share your story on gotajob.indeed.com.
Continue growing and learning
As with any change, it can take time to adjust to your new career. During this transition time, pay attention to the parts of your job that you’re enjoying. You’ll continue growing, learning and changing as you understand more about yourself, your industry and what works best for you.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you step into a new career:
Make the most out of your first year. In a new job, it can be overwhelming to take in new information, learn the industry and become an established member of the team. You might research how to succeed in your new role.
Keep track of your goals. If you are feeling uneasy or unsatisfied in your career, it can be helpful to go back to your future goals. If your career no longer aligns with what you want in your future, consider shifting your tasks or looking for other roles that might be a better fit.
Pursue your interests. If there is a certain task, activity or role you particularly enjoy, spend time developing and exploring those interests. Following what you enjoy and are good at can help you advance in your career and get the most out of your day-to-day role.
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