I had a difficult time choosing a career path in college, and when people heard that I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living, they would give me advice. Some would say, “What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money? Turn that into your career.” Others would say, “Pursue a career where you can make the most money from the least amount of work.”
While both of these statements have value, there is a more thorough way to choose a career based on your passions, values, and abilities.
If you’re confused about which career path to follow, consider these 16 tips to help you find it.
1. Consider Your Hobbies
Before you do anything, consider what your hobbies are and write them down. Also think about why you enjoy these hobbies. If you like to bake, for example, perhaps the reason is because you like to create, and a creative career like wedding cake design would be a good fit for you.
Or if you enjoy running, maybe it’s because you like challenging yourself and working hard to achieve a goal. A career that demands and rewards hard work with pay raises, promotions, or commissions could be one to consider.
2. Visit a Career Resource Center
When I was in college, there was a huge career resource center on campus. It was similar to a library with tons of books and periodicals and was lined with computers. A student could research virtually any career imaginable. If you are a student, visit your school’s career resource center. If you are not a student, see if you can gain access to one at your local college.
3. Speak to a Career Counselor
A conversation with a career counselor may help clear your mind and point you in the right direction. He or she can also tell you about careers you had no idea even existed.
4. Take a Test
A career counselor may suggest you take a test to help discern and guide you to areas of interest. A popular test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but there are others as well. If you look for tests online, be careful. Some tests cost money and may not be completely (or even remotely) reliable. It is best to take a test under the guidance of a career counselor who can discuss the results with you.
5. Interview Professionals
If you are interested in several great careers, interview people already working in those fields. Call someone you already know in a field of interest or call local businesses and ask to do a quick phone interview. Most people are happy to discuss their day-to-day activities with a willing listener.
6. Shadow Someone
When you conduct your phone interview, ask if you can shadow someone for a day. That will give you a clear idea of what their day is like. In my previous job, I often observed hospital employees to provide operational improvement ideas. During my years with the hospital, I learned there were many jobs I would like to do and many jobs I wouldn’t. If I hadn’t observed the employees, I would never have known this.
7. Get an Internship
If you’ve shadowed someone for a day or more and still like the position, get an internship or summer job. This will give you work experience and could open the door to a future job. If your education qualifies you for a broad range of positions (e.g. a business degree), an internship may allow you to narrow down your field of opportunity and acquire skills that could be useful in different tracks as well.
If you are not positive you want to commit to an internship of several months, consider volunteering. You’ll still be exposed to the profession, but can easily leave it if you decide it’s not for you.
9. Get a Broad Education
If you are a student struggling with what to major in, aim for a broad education instead of guessing at something specific. If a flash of inspiration later reveals your career path, you can specialize in it then. For example, if you like science, but don’t know which area you want to pour your heart and soul into, don’t major in something like Cell Biology. One thing that led me to my Industrial Engineering major was that it covered a range of topics like math, business, and even sales.
10. Take a Class
While taking a class in meteorology may not tell you what it is like to be a meteorologist, you will find out whether or not you enjoy the subject. If you think you may be interested in a particular area, sign up for a class to find out for sure.
11. Go to a Networking Group
Many groups may benefit you in your career hunt. Check out a career networking group and talk to people about careers they are interested in and why. Or attend meetings that focus on particular careers, such as a group for future physical therapists. Just make sure you are allowed to crash the meeting if you are not a member.
Have the Right Mindset
12. Don’t Be Afraid
If you really want to find the best career for you, don’t be afraid to make phone calls and follow someone around for a day. Or make the phone calls and follow someone around in spite of your fear. You may miss out on a great career opportunity if you don’t. If certain careers intimidate you because you’d have to go back to school for them, consider what you have to gain from the investment, and look at funding options before concluding that it’s not affordable.
13. Be Open
When I was growing up, my parents always urged me to be a pharmacist. As a rebel teenager, however, there was no way I would even consider it. Being a pharmacist may have been great for me, but since I wasn’t open to the idea, I’ll never know.
14. Remember Your Values
If you would like to be involved with your family, you will not want a career that requires heavy travel. Take an honest look at your priorities and understand how or if they’ll be affected by the careers you consider. If a potential career will not allow you to live the way you want, check it off your list.
15. Don’t Settle
If you have been searching hard and continue to be confused, don’t give up and settle for something dissatisfying. That said, most of us have to work, and you may need to push through a job you hate for a while. If that’s the case, find aspects of your current job that you enjoy. See if you can move into positions that allow you to work more in those areas, or gain skills to transfer to a new job. Also discipline yourself to use downtime to follow the steps above. We’re happiest when we live up to our full potential. Even if it takes many years to find a satisfying career, it’s better late than never.
16. Switch Careers
If you make a wrong turn, you are not stuck. You can change career paths at any time. Besides, it’s normal to have several careers throughout a lifetime. Plus, many entrepreneurial people are creating independent careers out of their hobbies, education, and past work experience by starting a business.
The more effort you put into your search for the right career, the more you’ll get out of it. Diligently invest your time and effort because change like this is rarely easy, but often rewarding.
Do you have any other ideas on finding your perfect career?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)