We’re told from a young age that we can be whatever we want to be when we grow up. But no one tells us what happens if we grow up and have no idea what we want to be.
If you’re confused about which career path to follow, consider these tips to help you find it.
How to Pick a Career Based on What You Enjoy
If you’re going to put effort into choosing a path, make sure it’s something you like. Follow these tips to find the types of work you’ll likely enjoy.
1. Consider Your Hobbies
What do you enjoy doing so much you do it for free? Even if you don’t want to turn your favorite hobby itself into a career, identifying the reasons you enjoy it could help you understand how you like to spend your time.
Try a journaling exercise to wrap your head around whether your hobbies could lead you to your dream career:
- Make a List of Your Hobbies. Think about everything you do in your free time, including fun activities, stuff you consider self-care, and volunteering for causes you care about.
- Write About Why You Enjoy Them. For example, do you bake because you like to eat fresh cookies, experiment with recipes, or decorate with icing?
- Note the Commonalities Among Why You Enjoy Your Hobbies. Do you like the creative side of things? Analytical? Competitive?
You might love running in marathons but have no interest in becoming a professional athlete. Maybe your love for a challenge or competition would make you well-suited for a career that demands and rewards hard work, like commission-based sales.
2. Use a Career Resource Center
Colleges and universities typically host a career resource center, similar to a library, where students can browse books, periodicals, and information online about pretty much any career you can imagine.
Career resources show you what jobs entail, the skills you need in the field, and the training or education that will prepare you.
Even if you’re not a student, you might be able to access a career resource center at a local technical or community college.
3. Work With a Career Counselor
A career counselor or coach can help you figure out what you enjoy and what your strengths are, then help pair you with careers that make sense. Having a conversation with one of these experts can help you discover careers you might never have considered — or even knew existed — on your own.
Career counselors often help you spruce up your resume, brush up your interviewing skills, practice negotiating, and steer you toward skills and training you need to work in your desired field.
4. Take a Test
A personality test helps you identify your working style, strengths, and what kind of environment you’ll work best in, based on complementary personalities and types of tasks.
You can find several tests online for free. A lot of tests that go more in-depth cost money, but they could be worth the expense for the amount of insight they offer.
Consider using a personality test that analyzes your traits and strengths rather than one that recommends a specific career. The former helps you understand yourself, so you can see where you’d fit in any field, while the latter focuses on job-specific tasks and interests and doesn’t give as broad a look at the possibilities.
Popular personality tests for careers include:
- Meyers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most well-known personality tests available. The official MBTI assessment costs $49.95 through the Meyers & Briggs Foundation, but 16Personalities offers a knockoff assessment and analysis for free.
- Big Five. Data experts say this test stands out among personality tests because it’s scientifically sound (unlike your typical BuzzFeed quiz), and it measures individual personalities rather than fitting into one of a few boxes (unlike Meyers-Briggs). Take it and see results for free through PersonalityLab, a website maintained by Christopher Soto, Ph.D., as part of his research at Colby College.
- MAPP Career Assessment. The Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP) assessment gives you a report analyzing your personality and a list of possibly compatible career areas. It’s free online; you just have to register with your email address and ZIP code to take the assessment and receive a summary report. You can purchase a career package for a more comprehensive report starting at $89.95.
- CliftonStrengths. This assessment by Gallup focuses on naming your top talents and strengths and how they affect your work. You can see analysis of your top five strengths for $19.99 or your full profile for $49.99.
A career counselor can help you interpret personality test results and apply them to your career search.
5. Take a Course
Learning more about a subject could entice you down a career path. A guided course is a simple way to get a comprehensive introduction to a topic or industry.
Find free online courses in any subject through platforms such as:
If you discover a passion for a subject, explore careers in that area further through research, interviews, volunteering, and networking to learn what it’s like to work in related fields. You may enjoy reading about Supreme Court cases, for example, but discover through your research and talking to people in the legal profession that you have no interest in litigating or going to law school.
How to Learn More About Various Career Fields
Once you have a career field — or a few — in mind, dive deeper to learn what it’s like to work in that field.
6. Interview Professionals
Talk to people who work in the field you’re considering. Connect with people through your family, friends, colleagues, or LinkedIn, and schedule a call or coffee meet-up to learn more about their work.
Set up interviews with working professionals to ask about:
- What they do at work each day
- The skills they use the most in their job
- Their work and education history
- Their career trajectory (what they expect to do next)
- Their interests, personality, and work style
- What they believe makes someone well- or ill-suited for their job
7. Shadow Someone
Take an interview a step further, and ask to shadow someone for a day. Watch them do their job and observe their workplace to get a clearer idea of what it’s like to work in the field.
Use this opportunity to observe not only the person you’re shadowing, but also the people around them. You might find someone else in the field doing a different job that feels like a better fit.
Observing these people also shows you which kinds of people the role interacts with in the course of work. For example, say you’re technical-minded and like the idea of running a soundboard for concerts or other performances. You’ll want to know what it’s like to interact with performers and creative professionals while you do that.
8. Get an Internship
To dip your toe into a field where you have no experience, get an internship. Internships give you work and skill-building experience and could open the door to a future job.
Internships are great for exploration because they usually come with an end date. If you realize you don’t like the work, you know you can leave easily in a couple of months and try something else.
Like an internship, volunteering lets you dabble and get hands-on experience in a field. Unlike an internship, volunteer opportunities don’t usually require a time commitment. You get the same exposure to the profession but can leave a little more quickly and easily if it’s not for you.
Idealist lists volunteer opportunities with organizations around the country. You can search by location, causes, and required skills to find something in your field of interest.
10. Go to a Networking Group
Join groups to meet people focused on career or skill development. Talk to people there about their current careers, or about careers they’re interested in and why.
Attending meetings for people interested in particular careers, such as a group for future physical therapists, could help you explore the path to that career. Attending a skill-building group, such as Toastmasters, can show you how various skills and strengths apply to different careers.
11. Look into Growing Fields
If you have wide-ranging interests and skills that don’t point clearly to a single profession, you could pick a career by focusing on fields where opportunities are growing. Research high-demand careers to discover where you could fit in.
Your variety of strengths could be an asset in a fast-growing career field, as these are also often fast-changing. Find your way in through one position, and you could find opportunities to learn and try out new skills and grow in your career as needs in the field change.
How to Choose a Career You Love
Your mindset and values are just as important to your career search as the tangible steps you take to discover possible jobs. Keep these tips in mind as you explore new areas of work to stay on track toward finding the right fit.
12. Don’t Be Afraid
If you really want to find the best career for you, you may have to face some of your fears. Don’t be afraid to make phone calls or to ask to shadow someone for a day — or, even if you feel uncertain, make the calls anyway. You might have to consider big changes such as returning to school if that’s what your dream career calls for.
Face your fears, and don’t let fear hold you back from a great career opportunity.
13. Be Open-Minded
You might have an idea of who you are or what you’re supposed to do based on how you were raised, where you’ve lived, what you’ve studied, and where you’ve worked. Don’t let that preconception pigeonhole you into a career you don’t love.
Keep your mind open to possibilities as you research and explore careers. The information you learn and the people you meet could turn you on to work you never knew existed that could be perfect for you.
14. Remember Your Values
Keep your priorities top of mind as you explore career areas.
If you want to be involved with raising a family, a career that takes you away from home the majority of the time could get in the way. If, on the other hand, frequent travel is important to you, a job that ties you to an office most of the year might feel stifling.
If a potential career won’t let you live the way you want, cross it off your list.
15. Don’t Settle
No good will come of giving up your search and settling for an unsatisfying career path. Everyone deserves to love the work they do, whatever it is.
If you’ve worked hard at your search and come up empty-handed so far, give yourself a break. Try refocusing by finding parts of your current job you really enjoy. With a different perspective, your day-to-day work could help you discover what you’d really love to do and still pay the bills.
Even if you’re well into your working years — or nearing typical retirement age — it’s never too late to start your dream career. Don’t let months, years, or decades of searching discourage you.
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. Change like this is rarely easy but often rewarding.
Start your career search with a focus on your interests and values, and keep those priorities top of mind the whole time. You’ll do yourself a disservice to put all this effort into finding a career only to abandon what you most care about when an opportunity comes along.
Learning what it’s actually like to work in a career takes more than online research. You’ll have to talk to people, get in the field, and put in some time to see the reality of jobs you want. To keep paying your bills while investing that time, you may have to dip into savings, use vacation days creatively, cut your expenses, or find more flexible work.
And if you’re years into working and still searching for the right career path, don’t be afraid to take the leap. You can switch careers anytime with a little research and planning.