How to Decide on a Career Path

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Whether you’re finishing up your education and are ready to venture into the real world or have been working in a certain field for a while and want to try something new, deciding on a career path can seem overwhelming. However, with a little self-exploration and some research, you can easily choose a career that will leave you feeling fulfilled.

EditShort Summary

To decide on a career path, start by making a list of all your skills, interests, and aspirations. Then, choose a broad field to work in based on your strengths and goals. Research various jobs within the field, then match your personal qualities with the day-to-day responsibilities of several jobs to narrow down the possibilities. For help determining what you like and transforming that into a real-world job, read on!

EditSteps

EditEvaluating Your Skills and Interests

  1. Make a list of all your skills and strengths. Take some time to really think through the things you are good at. Consider things like physical skills, practical tasks, and creative work. Perhaps you are a great artist, a whiz with numbers, an excellent salesperson, or an all-star soccer player. Alternatively, you might have a thorough knowledge of historical events, manage your time efficiently, have strong spacial reasoning skills, be a great public speaker, or have a natural knack for technology. List every skill and strength you can think of.[1]
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  2. Explore your interests and passions. Now, think of what you enjoy doing, which may not be the same things that you are good at, and add them to the list. For instance, you might enjoy spending time in nature, attending parties, studying other cultures, putting together model planes, hosting fundraisers, or traveling around the world. Or, you might like to read, listen to music, swim, conduct science experiments, play with animals, cook or bake, ride a motorcycle, volunteer, make craft projects, clean, go fishing, or create sculptures.[2]
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  3. Figure out what you’d like to be known for when you retire. Look ahead to the future and think about what you’d like your life’s work to be. It’s okay if you don’t know right away; spend some time thinking it over. Perhaps you want to build an empire, make a difference in children’s lives, create a new piece of technology, develop sustainable living practices, or bring joy to the elderly. Determining what you want to be known for will help you determine what career path to take.[3]
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  4. Focus on your own aspirations, rather than societal expectations. It’s common to feel pressure from your family members, friends, teachers, and society to follow a certain path. And while doing so might make them happy, it probably won’t make you happy. Let go of other people’s expectations of you and think about what you truly want to do. Choosing a career path should be a personal decision based on a thorough knowledge of your own strengths, weaknesses, interests, and values.[4]
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    • For instance, if your father expects you to take over the family litigation firm, but you’d rather be a teacher than a lawyer, follow your heart. Though he may be upset at first, seeing you do something you love will help him see that a career in litigation wasn’t the right choice for you.
  5. Take a career aptitude test. There are dozens of career aptitude tests online that ask a series of questions formulated to find out what kind of work would suit you the best. These tests analyze your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and personality to help you narrow down your career choice. Do an Internet search for “career aptitude tests” and take several so you can compare the results.
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    • You may want to check out https://www.princetonreview.com/quiz/career-quiz or https://www.whatcareerisrightforme.com/career-aptitude-test.php.

EditNarrowing Your Options

  1. Think of fields of work broadly. A field of work is far more than a single job—it is an area in which many jobs or trades are possible! Once you have an idea of what field you want to work in, consider all the options within that field. For instance, if you want to work in healthcare, you could be a nurse or a doctor, of course, but you could also schedule appointments for patients, work in medical billing, or manage a physician’s office.
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    • Or, if you study law, you may want to be a lawyer for a large law firm or a non-profit organization, or even write corporate compliance manuals.
  2. Research the responsibilities of several jobs within the field. While certain jobs may sound amazing in theory, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Find out the day-to-day responsibilities for several jobs within the field to help you narrow down your options. Go to the National Career Service website to peruse job profiles for more than 800 positions. Think about whether you can picture yourself completing the tasks happily or if the work seem overwhelming or misaligned with your vision of a new career.[5]
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    • For instance, you may absolutely love animals, but if you’re squeamish about blood or needles, becoming a veterinary technician may not be right for you. However, a dog walker or pet groomer may be a better fit.
  3. Match your personal strengths and qualities with potential jobs. It’s important to choose a career that fits with your temperament and personality. Think about whether you enjoy interacting with other people and if you work better alone or in a group setting. Also, consider if you are a great leader or take direction well, and whether you enjoy planning things or like to go with the flow. You should also think how well you manage time, if you are detail-oriented or focus on the big picture, and if you enjoy coming up with new ideas.[6]
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    • For instance, if you want to work with technology but don’t enjoy being around other people or interacting with strangers, you could choose to work in development rather than marketing.
  4. Consider non-conventional or cross-field work. Many skill sets translate to multiple fields or opportunities. Consider whether your education or experience will allow you to work in a related field. For instance, many teachers have a thorough understanding of the English language, and therefore make excellent editors and publishers.[7]
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    • Alternatively, if you’re super athletic and love sports, perhaps you would do well as a coach, a manager, or an announcer.
  5. Sign up for an internship or apprenticeship to see if it’s a good fit. One of the best ways to find out if a job is right for you is to actually work it! By signing up for an internship or apprenticeship, you’ll get to see what the day-to-day experience in a certain field is like. You’ll also make connections and meet other people in the industry. Do an online search to find internships or apprenticeships in the field you want to work in.[8]
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  6. Try to avoid making a decision based on the money you’ll make. Although you’ll want to have a financially secure future, the expected income shouldn’t be the only determining factor in your decision. Feel free to research potential incomes for a variety of jobs, but aim to to choose one that you feel is the best fit for you, rather than simply picking the one where you’ll make the most money. This will lead to you a fulfilling career.
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EditTaking the Next Steps

  1. Figure out what qualifications you’ll need for the field you’ve chosen. Speak to people that work in the industry to find out what kinds of backgrounds they have. You can also research minimum requirements for the kinds of jobs you hope to have. Once you know what is required, you can then work on becoming qualified for your new career.[9]
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    • For instance, if you want to work as a registered nurse, you’ll need to take classes, complete clinicals, and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
  2. Continue your education, if necessary. Many positions may require a specific certification, license, or degree. If your heart is set on a certain job, but you don’t meet the requirements, take steps to become qualified. Do an online search for classes near you that will help you meet these goals. You can even work part-time while continuing your education in the evenings, if necessary.[10]
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  3. Apply for jobs you think would be a good fit. Once you begin finding jobs that interest you, apply for each position and submit a resume that details your education, experience, and relevant skills. Include a tailored cover letter with each application that explains why you’re interested in the position and how you will add something to the team or company. Make sure all your documents are neat, clean, and free from errors.
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  4. Ensure any prospective company’s values align with your own. A career will be most fulfilling if the company’s values mirror your own. Think about what types of things are really important to you, and what types of things you’d be willing to compromise on. You may want to work with a company that is devoted to living a sustainable lifestyle, developing quality products, or helping people in need.[11]
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    • For instance, if you’re a strict vegan because you believe eating meat is cruel, it would be better to take a job as an accountant for a clothing company than a butcher shop.

EditTips

  • Go through a university course catalog of a school your respect. Circle all items that interest you. Categorize your choices and see if there is a trend towards an education path that resembles your interests.
  • When searching for your job in the field of your choice, always be sure to find out as much as possible about your potential bosses to make sure you will be happy to work with them. An interview is a 2-way process.
  • Joining a professional association in the field that interests you will give you great opportunities to network by joining in online discussions, attending in-person meetings, or reading the organization’s newsletter or journal.

EditRelated wikiHows

  • Design a Life of Your Choice
  • Choose a Career Consultant
  • Switch Careers
  • Discover What You Really Want from a New Career
  • Find a Talent
  • Set Goals
  • Choose the Right Career
  • Expose Kids to Different Careers in the Arts at School
  • Decide on a Career in Public Administration

EditSources and Citations

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