How can you make the big decision about choosing a lasting and fulfilling career? Try making a lot of smaller career choices to get there.
Job search and career advisor Biron Clark, founder of CareerSidekick.com, explains that if you think of your career journey as fluid, you can explore and try different things to craft the career you ultimately want. “Aim to build valuable skills, join industries and roles that excite you, and build your network as you go,” Clark wrote in an email. “If you do this, then your career is on the right track.”
Here’s how to decide which career you want, especially if you’re unsure of where to start.
8 Ways to Choose a Career
Reflect. Bob McIntosh, career advisor and webinar facilitator at the MassHire Lowell Career Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, recommends that people reflect on their current situation. “Do they really want to change their career, or do they want to get out of a certain type of work environment?” For example, you may be a little disgruntled with where you work due to the size of the company. Working for a smaller company might put you at ease, and so it may not be necessary to fully change to a new career. “Reflection would be the first way to change a career, if they in fact need to,” he says.
When it comes to self-reflection, Kyle Elliott, career coach and founder of CaffeinatedKyle.com, empowers clients to get beyond feelings of uncertainty. “Job seekers often unintentionally hide behind the phrase, ‘I don’t know,’ so I don’t allow clients to use it during our coaching sessions,” Elliott wrote in an email. It’s a rule that motivates clients to focus on what they do now, and also identify their ideal career paths.
- Consider previous jobs and what worked for you. Elliott says you can get some clarity when you don’t know what you want to do for a living by reflecting on previous jobs that you have held. “Make a comprehensive list of each job, along with the aspects you most enjoyed about them. While these may be the job duties themselves, they may also be something more broad like the company culture,” he says. If you take notes of any common themes that arise, this can help guide your search.
- Ask family members and friends that you trust. Elliott says you can also note any trends in feedback provided by people who are close to you. “Consider also completing a ‘mini 360’ with those around you. Ask friends, family members and other people you trust what roles they could envision you doing for a living. You can also inquire as to the companies they could see you working at,” he says.
- Determine transferrable skills. “For example, if someone were in project management, they already have a lot of great transferrable skills that would make the transition to, let’s say, corporate training,” McIntosh says. “Communication, project management, which is also important, program development, strong skills like that.” Figure out which skills you have that could also be useful in a different field.
- Talk to professionals in various fields. Clark recommends connecting on LinkedIn. Start by saying you’re considering a career similar to theirs, with just a single question to start. This kind of introduction boosts the odds that you’ll get a response. (Check out Clark’s detailed guide LinkedIn Cold Messages: How to Reach Out About a Job for more ideas.) When it comes to networking, McIntosh says that if you have the option to see the person talking to you about their job, then that can be very helpful. “It makes a difference being able to see people’s faces as they’re talking to better gauge their own sincerity,” he says.
- Consider your personality and individual preferences. McIntosh recommends taking a personality assessment, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness Profile. “If someone is more introverted and they’ve been in an environment that is very outgoing and exposes them to a lot of people, that may be a reason why they need to change their career. They want to find an environment where there’s more solitude, where they can work alone or with one other person,” he says.
- Look into a fast-growing industry. Careers in fast-growing industries may give you more opportunities. Clark recommends exploring the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast for the industries expected to grow fastest, and also the list of industries seeing the fastest wage and salary growth to help you brainstorm.
- Try a focused Google and YouTube search. If you know what field interests you, but you are not sure what jobs are available in these fields, Clark says to make a short list of a few broad fields such as health care, sales, software or cybersecurity, for instance. Then, your search query, “Top health care careers” or “Fast-growing health care careers” should yield results that get you closer to picking the career you want.
Ways to Narrow Down Your Options
To narrow down final options, Elliott suggests comparing your shortlist of opportunities to your short- and long-term life goals. “If you want to spend more time with your children, for instance, ask yourself which option would move you closer to this goal,” he says. McIntosh also focuses on family considerations. For example, choosing a certain career that means a lifestyle change like moving your family to the city. “I don’t think we can pursue work for our own purpose, I think we have to consider other people as well,” he says.
Comparing differences in salary is another way to refine your list of career options. Clark says, “Don’t choose a career only based on salary, but use it as a good tie-breaker or added piece of data to help in narrowing your choices.” Clark recommends using Glassdoor, Payscale and Salary.com to conduct research on salaries and how they may change in five to 10 years.
What if You’re Concerned About Stress Level, Work-Life Balance or Equity?
Is part of your uncertainty when it comes to choosing a career about the work environment, better pay or how you will be treated? Here are some additional tips.
Stress level and work-life balance. Elliott emphasizes the importance of getting clear on what you want, and do not want, in your next job. You also need to establish which items are most important to you. “Make a list of what you absolutely need in your next role, as well as anything that would be a deal-breaker,” Elliott says. Once that’s done, prioritize the items on your list to help you assess different work opportunities as they come your way.
Equity and diversity. When you’re concerned about choosing a career or workplace that supports diversity, equity and inclusion, Elliott encourages getting a closer look first before you take a job because companies take a lot of time to curate a particular external image. “As a job seeker, it’s your responsibility to take a peek behind the curtain and learn what the company is really like. With this in mind, reach out to current and former employees to see what people enjoyed, as well as what they disliked, about working at the organization.”
Age-specific concerns. What if you are a mature job seeker looking to totally change your career? McIntosh’s clients are typically in their 50s and he says that ageism is a reality with some employers. But McIntosh always encourages his clients not to throw in the towel just yet. McIntosh told one mature job seeker who was on the very brink of landing a better position but neither of them knew it yet, “‘You’re talented,’ I kept telling this person. ‘You’re very talented, it’s going to happen and I refuse to let you give up.'” When it comes to career uncertainty, McIntosh emphasizes that how you handle your emotions as a job seeker and how you see your greatness matters.
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