When the time comes for you to pick a career, you will discover that you have a multitude of options. It can be difficult to pick one, especially if you have no idea what you want to do … or if many things appeal to you. Does it seem like an insurmountable task? It’s not. Yes, you will have to put some effort into making your decision, but your effort will be well worth it in the end. If you follow these steps, you can successfully choose a suitable career and avoid making a big mistake.
Before you can choose the right career, you must learn about yourself. Your values, interests, soft skills, and aptitudes, in combination with your personality type, will make some occupations a good fit for you and others completely inappropriate.
You can use self assessment tools, often called career tests, to gather information about your traits and, subsequently, to generate a list of occupations that are a good fit based on them. Some people choose to work with a career counselor or other career development professionals who can help them navigate this process.
Make a List of Occupations to Explore
You will probably have multiple lists of occupations in front of you at this point—one generated by each of the self assessment tools you used. To keep yourself organized, you should combine them into one master list.
First, look for careers that appear on multiple lists and copy them onto a blank page. Title it “Occupations to Explore.” Your self assessment indicated they are a good fit for you based on several of your traits, so it is definitely worth considering them.
Next, find any occupations on your lists that appeal to you. They may be careers you know a bit about and want to explore further. Also, include professions about which you don’t know much. You might learn something unexpected. Add those to your master list.
Explore the Occupations on Your List
Now it is time to get some basic information about each of the occupations on your list. This step will make you thrilled you managed to narrow your list down to only 10 to 20 options. You wouldn’t want to have to gather information about all the ones that were on your original list!
Use published resources to find job descriptions and educational, training and licensing requirements. Learn about advancement opportunities. Use government produced labor market information to get data about earnings and job outlook.
Create a “Short List”
At this point, you must begin to narrow down your list even more. Based on what you learned from your research so far, you can start to eliminate the careers you don’t want to pursue any further. You should have no more than between two and five occupations on your short list.
There may be jobs on your original list with duties that don’t appeal to you. You may discover that a career that looked interesting has a weak job outlook. Maybe you are unable to or unwilling to fulfill the educational or other requirements of a particular occupation, or you lack some of the soft skills necessary to succeed in it. If your reasons for finding a career unacceptable are non-negotiable, cross it off your list.
Conduct Informational Interviews
With only a few occupations left on your list, you can start doing more in-depth research. An excellent way to do this is to conduct informational interviews with people who have first-hand knowledge about the occupations on your short list. You should access your network, including LinkedIn, to find people who currently work in those fields.
Make Your Career Choice
Finally, after doing all your research, you should feel reasonably ready to make your choice. Pick the occupation that you think will bring you the most satisfaction based on all the information you have gathered. It is important to realize that you are allowed do-overs if you change your mind about your choice at any point in your life. Many people change their careers at least a few times.
Identify Your Goals
Now that you have chosen the right career for you, it’s time to identify your long and short-term goals. If you don’t, it will be difficult to eventually work in the field you chose. Long-term goals typically take about three to five years to reach, while you can usually fulfill a short-term goal in six months to three years.
Let the research you did about required education and training be your guide. If you don’t have all the details, you will have to do some more research. Once you have all the information you need, you can start setting your goals. An example of a long-term goal would be completing your education and training. Short-term goals might be applying to college, apprenticeships or other training programs, and doing internships.
Write a Career Action Plan
A career action plan is a written document that lays out all the steps that will help you reach your primary goal of working in your chosen occupation. You can think of it as a roadmap that will take you from point A to B, and then to C and D. It should include all your short and long-term goals and the steps you will have to take to reach them. You should also include any anticipated barriers to achieving your goals and ways to overcome them.