Do you remember that one question literally all of us were asked when we were kids? You know, the one that went something like: “So, what do you wanna be when you grow up?” It’s almost a rite of passage — the first official step everyone has to take on the long winding road to finding a career. Many of us probably had some of the common answers in mind: doctor, police officer, astronaut, firefighter. Still, you probably figured that was a problem for you to solve. Well, as it turns out, future-you is here now, and that question might be even more confusing than it was back when you were missing your two front teeth.
In case you’ve been wondering, no, it’s not just you. Deciding on a career is a hard thing to do for most people, especially in today’s society in which the number of different careers is ever-increasing. You have a lot of interests, but how do you decide which one to pursue professionally, or even academically? Maybe you were lucky enough to discover your passion area early on in life, but how can that translate into a sustainable money-making job for you? Ultimately, HOW DO I CHOOSE A CAREER? All of these are important and intimidating questions, and the answers to them may not be immediately obvious. Luckily — for all of us — there are four basic, yet effective steps we can employ (pun intended) to help narrow down the field.
Step 1: Start at the Root — Know Thyself
Socrates said it, Drake said it, and so did many people in between: Know yourself. Not only is it great psychological advice, it also happens to be savvy career advice. The first step in figuring out what career path is right for you is figuring out who you are. One of the main reasons looking for a career can be tough is that we might not even know what to look for, but getting to know yourself better can help shed some light. Here’s a quick exercise. Ask yourself:
What are my values (personally, socially, professionally)?
Do I like being around people, or do they drain my energy?
What do I enjoy doing?
What am I good at?
If you value the freedom to move around and be exposed to various environments, you might not want to go for a career that would have you seated in a cubicle all week. If you really don’t enjoy (or aren’t good at) tasks that require a high degree of technical skills, it would probably be best to steer clear of electrical engineering. These questions are much simpler than “What do you want to do for your career?” but they can uncover key clues about they type of work that might suit you best. AND you don’t have to find these answers on your own. Connecting with a career advisor or completing some online skills inventories can assist you on your hunt.
Step 2: Build a List
So you’ve gotten to know yourself a little better, but where do you go from there? Now it’s time to start compiling a list of careers that sound interesting to you. An important thing to note here is that this list simply contains occupations you want to explore. You don’t have to be at the point where you’re ready to commit yet. For example, say you wanted to be an electrical engineer when you were in middle school. If that still sounds like something you might enjoy, throw it on the list! If you were fascinated by an online article you read about a UX Designer’s typical day at work, throw it on the list! After you’ve compiled a sizeable list of careers that seem to pique your interest, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Research and Explore!
Now that you have a list of careers you want to explore — whether you found them at the end of a personality assessment, read about them in an online article, or just haven’t let go of that childhood dream of being an astronaut — it’s time to…explore them.
Exploration can happen in a variety of ways. Reading job descriptions online, checking degree requirements, conducting informational interviews of people who hold those positions, and a course at your local community college all apply here. As you go through your list, start comparing the information you acquired to what you’ve learned about yourself. Which of the careers on your list don’t seem to fit you so well? Which ones seem to be right up your alley? The more you research, the more items you’ll be able to knock off your list. And guess what? This step can last as long as you need it to and you can always come back and revisit it!
Step 4: Make a Choice…or Two…and a Plan
You’ve taken the time to get to know your skills, values, and inclinations, you’ve built a list of careers you want to explore, and you’ve researched the items on that list, allowing you to narrow it down. At this point, you are probably ready to pick one of the items on your list to delve into a little deeper. Go with the option that you believe will bring you the most satisfaction, both professionally and personally. Make a plan for what you want your path into and through this career to look like, both in the short-term and the long-term. Armed with the knowledge you acquired about yourself and your career of choice, go forth and conquer! And remember, you are allowed do-overs. If you discover that the career path you chose doesn’t quite work for you, you are free to return to Step 1!
Keep in mind that finding a career is a marathon, and you don’t have to hit the nail square on the head on the first go-around. Learn to see your career as a set of stepping stones, and have faith in your ability to build yourself a career worth having.