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How to Choose a Career Path

Picking a career path is one of life’s most important decisions — our careers consume between 50,000 and 150,000 hours of our lives and can determine many things from where we live to how flexible our schedules are. They also tend to be our primary way of making an impact on the world and play a large role in forming our adult identities.

Understandably, this momentous decision can cause much stress and anxiety. Finding our true calling doesn’t come to all of us at a young age — we often have to examine ourselves and figure out which of the thousands of fields we’re best suited for. If it has come time for you to pick a career, the following steps will help to guide you through this daunting process.

Define Your Success

Before we talk about the right ways to decide on a career path, we’d first like to mention a wrong way — choosing a career based on someone else’s definition of success. For much of your life, parents, friends and society have probably defined success by high-paying, high-status jobs. While this lifestyle may be suitable for some, it can make many others miserable.

Instead, think about careers that will give you fulfillment. To find a fulfilling job, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What Do You Love?

A significant portion of your life will be spent working, so picking a field you’re passionate about will have a significant impact on your happiness in life overall. Start by considering this question— if money weren’t part of the equation, what would you do?

2. What Are You Good at Doing?

If there isn’t any field that particularly excites you — or perhaps you love so many you just can’t decide — think about the skills you have. Are you a more analytic person who enjoys math and science, or are you more creatively inclined? Do you prefer tasks that involve research and reading or more hands-on work that involves creating or fixing things?

Keep in mind that are three categories of skills considered to be valuable in the workplace:

  1. Employability Skills: These are general qualities essential to practically all workplaces, such as the ability to express yourself well, the ability to work well with others and having a positive attitude.
  2. Transferable Skills: These skills are ones that are useful in a variety of work environments, such as being good with numbers, having an eye for detail and being able to motivate people.
  3. Specialist Skills: These skills are only applicable in certain jobs, such as a command of a language, a license to operate certain equipment or the ability to use certain computer software.

Make a list of abilities that you have and select the ones you think are the strongest. Asking family or friends may also be helpful, as they may recognize strengths that you’re not even aware of.

3. What Are Your Values?

Think about what things in life are important to you. What causes do you feel most passionate about, and what careers advance those causes? A career that reflects your values will help you feel more fulfilled.

A career that reflects your values will help you feel more fulfilled.

The above three things form the G+P+V formula, which means “Gifts + Passions + Values.” A career that meets all three of these criteria is thought to be your calling.

4. What Work Environment Do You Prefer?

If you have a preference for certain working conditions, this can also help you narrow down your options. Here are some things to consider: 

  • Working With Others: Do you enjoy working in groups or by yourself?
  • Inside or Outside: Would you be more comfortable sitting behind a desk in an air-conditioned office, or do you prefer to work outdoors?
  • Mobility: Would you prefer traveling or staying put?
  • Variety: Would you prefer dealing with unexpected situations or sticking to a routine?
  • Schedule: Would you prefer a 9-5, Monday-Friday job, or would you be willing to work more unconventional hours?
  • Pressure: Are you an adrenaline junkie who thrives in high-pressure environments, or would you like your work to be more peaceful and relaxing?
  • Job Security: Would you prefer to work from contract to contract or have a more steady job unlikely to change?
  • Fun: Would you want your job to be enjoyable or would you just prefer to get paid?
  • Safety: Would you mind doing a job that exposes you to dangerous or unpleasant situations?

Take a Career Test

If you’re not sure which careers your passions, skills and values are best suited for, taking a career test can be useful, and many of them are free. Careers tests typically ask you a series of questions to be completed within a certain time frame. They will evaluate your interests and abilities and match you with suitable career options.

Take a Personality Test

Your personality is another factor that may make you better suited for certain jobs, so knowing your personality type will help you decide on a career. The Myers-Briggs personality test, which provides a much nuanced, in-depth analysis of your personality, is in the form of a questionnaire and sorts you based on the following dichotomies:

  1. Extroversion/Introversion
  2. Sensing/Intuitive 
  3. Feeling/Thinking 
  4. Judging/Perceiving

From these four pairs, 16 personality types are possible, and each is thought to be best suited for certain careers. For example, ENTJs, which stands for people who are extroverted, intuitive, thinking and judging, are considered to be best suited for medicine. On the other hand, ISFPs, which stands for people who are introverted, sensing, feeling and perceiving, are thought to make the best jewelers.

There are also in-depth guides available that suggest careers based on your personality type.

Browse Job Lists

You can also get career ideas by browsing LinkedIn or extensive job lists like the one provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

You can get career ideas by browsing LinkedIn or extensive job lists like the one provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Make A List of Potential Jobs

Make a list of the jobs you’ve found and those suggested by your career and personality tests. Decide which of these appeal most to you, and if you’re not familiar with the job title, research it. It may end up being a job you’re perfect for.

Start Researching the Jobs

Now it’s time to take the jobs on your list that most appeal to you and learn more about them. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Speak with the counselor at your school.
  • Read blogs related to the industry.
  • Follow industry leaders on social media.
  • Talk with someone you know in the industry.
  • Ask questions in online forums.

These things require relatively little time but should help to narrow down your options. 

Make a List of Pros and Cons

If you can’t decide after doing some basic research, make a list of pros and cons for each career option. The pros could be things like “job security” or “pays well,” and cons could include “highly competitive” or “long hours.” After making a list for each, some options should stand out to you and some should be easy to eliminate.

Dig Deeper

Now it’s time to further investigate your remaining options and figure out what each one really entails. Conducting informational interviews is one of the most effective ways to go about this. Find someone who works in your industry and invite them to lunch or coffee. Ask them what their job entails and whether they have any advice on how to start a career in their field.

Some other ways to gather additional information on your potential careers:

  • Study and practice the skills required for these jobs.
  • Learn more about the required skill by taking classes.
  • Attend meetups for people in the industry.
  • Shadow a professional in the field.

Dig Even Deeper

By this point, you should have a good feel for the benefits and drawbacks of the careers you’re considering. You should also have an idea of whether you’ll enjoy them and can succeed in these fields. The next thing you can do is acquire hands-on experience in the following ways:

  • Apply for an Internship: If you can afford to work temporarily with a lower salary, an internship can help you get a feel for a certain work environment — and can eventually lead to a full-time position. Even if it doesn’t get you a job or you end up not liking the field, an internship will help you build connections and expose you to many people who can offer advice.
  • Create Your Own Internship: Even if a company is not advertising a need for interns, many are still open to the idea of hiring interns if approached with a good proposal. Don’t hesitate to reach out to companies with a resume and cover letter.
  • Find On-Campus Opportunities: If you’re in college, look around campus for opportunities related to the field you want to pursue.
  • Display Your Skills: Create a portfolio of the skills that you’ve learned. If you have learned how to code, create an app to display your abilities. If you’re learning public speaking, give a speech at a nearby elementary school and post of a video of it online.

Find Someone to Mentor You 

Experienced mentors can help you build skills and understand how to deal with the challenges of a particular career. They can also help you avoid common mistakes and provide you with valuable connections. When searching for a mentor, look for the following:

  • Accomplished in the Field: Your mentor should be successful in the area you want to study.
  • Passionate About the Field: People highly enthusiastic about their field often love to teach it to others.
  • Has a Good Work/Life Balance: Your mentor should have enough free time to be able to communicate with you regularly.
  • Has Been Mentored in the Past: If your mentor was once mentored, they will better understand the value of a mentorship to someone who is starting off.

Experienced mentors can help you build skills and understand how to deal with the challenges of a particular career

Create a Career Action Plan

Write out your career goals and the steps you need to take to reach them. Your goals should be specific and time-bound.

Separate your short-term goals, which are goals to be attained within one year, and long-term goals, which are to be achieved in one to five years. For instance, applying to a university or program will take less than a year, so it is considered a short-term goal. Getting a degree, which generally takes several years, is a long-term goal.

When writing out your goals, remember the acronym “SMART,” which stands for:

  • Specific: Your goal should be clear and well-defined.
  • Measurable: Include criteria that indicate progress or accomplishment of the goal.
  • Attainable: The goal you set should have at least a 50% probability of success.
  • Relevant: Your goal should have meaning and relevance to your life.
  • Time-bound: Include a time frame in which to accomplish your goal.

When creating a career action plan, remember to be realistic about your goals. For example, if your goal is to become an HR Director — which requires lots of time and experience — an HR Assistant is a more realistic place to start off.

Try to anticipate any obstacles that may keep you from attaining your goals, and think about how you can overcome them. For instance, if you care for children or aging parents, this may hinder you from completing your degree. A way to overcome this barrier is by arranging for daycare or asking a relative to help out. If you can’t figure out ways around likely obstacles, it may be a good idea to modify your goals.

Check off each step as you reach it, but remember it’s okay to alter your plan. It’s completely normal for goals and priorities to change as time passes.

And if you are transitioning from another career — such as from an editor to a business owner — write out steps you can take to make the transition.

It’s Not Set in Stone

Hopefully our guide will help you to discover your true calling or at least narrow down your list of career options. When you make your final decision, keep in mind that, if you have a change of heart down the road, you can always switch. Many people these days switch careers multiple times in their lives.

Check Out Our Programs

At Vista College, we offer a variety of exciting career options which you can explore on our site. Our classes have a low instructor-to-student ratio, feature hands-on learning and are taught by experienced, knowledgeable instructors.

Our classes have a low instructor-to-student ratio, feature hands-on learning and are taught by experienced, knowledgeable instructors.

Our programs run every five weeks, so you will not have to wait a long time to enroll. We also offer accelerated learning, which means you can graduate in less time. In fact, most of our programs allow you to train and start your new career in less than a year.

We offer classes both during the daytime and nighttime, making it easier for you to fit our classes into your schedule. We also provide career assistance to graduates. Start your new career by contacting us today.

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