Whether you're diving into the job market for the first time as a recent grad or a seasoned worker looking to change direction, choosing a career path can be a challenging task. A successful career search requires an honest, thorough examination of your strengths and weaknesses, goals and passions. The following are a few tips to help you navigate the daunting array of career choices ahead of you.
1. Do your research
When you're a kid, the list of career aspirations on your radar is pretty brief: astronaut, veterinarian, ballerina, U.S. president. But even when you're an adult, your awareness of the career options available to you is often limited. The world is filled with fascinating jobs you never knew existed. The first step in your career search should be simply to research the various career possibilities out there.
Annie Favreau, in the Chicago Tribune, suggests setting aside one hour per day for a week, or even a month, to research potential careers by combing through Internet career exploration sites, blogs you like, top job rankings or new sections of the newspaper. Keep a list of every job that catches your eye, and before long you'll have a broader sense of the options out there.
2. Assess your options
Favreau suggests a basic checklist that can help you determine whether a potential career is a good fit. Does the career interest you? A job doesn't have to inspire overwhelming passion in you to be one in which you could thrive. Many of us have passions that work better as hobbies than as actual careers. However, the career you're considering should be something that interests you "on a gut level," Favreau says.
The next important question to ask: is the career a good fit for your strengths and personality? While most jobs involve skills that can be acquired, it's important not to pick a career that clashes with some of your basic personality traits. If you're a big-picture person, a job that requires you to constantly focus on small details may be a struggle.
3. Be practical
Experts agree that choosing a job based on an attractive salary alone will rarely lead to happiness long-term, but money should be a consideration when you're considering career options. If financial stability is something that matters to you, be sure your chosen career can provide it. If living paycheck to paycheck while pursuing a creative passion is a reality you're comfortable with, then that's okay too. Curt Rosengren, on U.S. News's careers section, writes that the important thing is to see salary as part of the equation, not the whole equation.
Another practical consideration that you should take into account is whether there are opportunities for growth in the field you choose. Check employment projections or follow industry news, Favreau advises, to make sure there will be jobs available once you start heading down the career path you've chosen.
4. Decide what outcomes would motivate you
An ideal career fit is one that allows you to work towards outcomes that energize you, Rosengren believes. If you can figure out which outcomes you care most about, whether they involve helping people, protecting the environment, spreading ideas and information, increasing efficiency, or something else, you'll be better equipped to find a career that's meaningful and engaging to you.
5. Don't be afraid to make a mistake
Choosing a career can seem overwhelming, and it's easy to feel paralyzed by indecision. Therese Schwenkler of Brazen Careerist advises thinking about choosing a career path like you would about finding a spouse. You wouldn't expect to enter the dating world already knowing whom you were going to marry, and you shouldn't necessarily expect to find your ideal career your first time out of the gate, either. As Schwenkler puts it, "By going on dates with potential careers, we're exposed to new contacts, new experiences and unforeseen opportunities that we never could have envisioned from the get-go."
In other words, do your research and make a well-informed decision but don't agonize too much about making the wrong choice. Starting down one career path may lead you to another that you hadn't considered or wouldn't have seen yourself in at the beginning.
"How to Decide Which Career is Right for You," U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 8, 2010, Curt Rosengren
"How to decide on a career (even if you don't know what you want)," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 20, 2013, Annie Favreau
"Why Finding Your Career Path is Like Choosing a Spouse," Brazen Careerist, Oct. 12, 2012, Therese Schwenkler
Not sure what types of careers would be a good fit for you? Try this career assessment test to help determine what professional fields match your personality and skills.