For some people, there’s never really been a question for where they want their career to go because, at some point, they created a plan and have stuck to it ever since and haven’t looked back. It’s an ideal narrative, but figuring out the right career for yourself isn’t always that easy, and most of us go through a bit of trial and error in the process of trying to figure it out. So, if you’re feeling a bit lost at the moment, take comfort in knowing that you are by no means alone in how you’re feeling.
Now the question is, what do you need to do to figure out the best career path for yourself? While there isn’t a perfect step-by-step guide to answer this question, you can start to get a better sense of the right direction for your career with a little bit of soul searching (don’t worry, it’s nothing deep and intimidating). You’ll want to ask yourself questions about what you like, what you’re good at, and what kind of life you want to have? These questions will lead you through a process of elimination and help you narrow down your options, and hopefully find the right fit.
Let’s get started.
The first set of questions you’re going to ask yourself should be pretty easy to answer because they’re probably going to be noticeable. While it may seem silly to sit down with these, given that they won’t require too much thought, it’s essential because your answers here will create the foundation of your career path. You’ll be able to quickly eliminate some professions with this step, which is the whole purpose, right?
When you’re going through these questions, don’t just answer them in your head. Write them down because you’ll continue to build on them as you consider different career options. By writing everything down, you’ll eventually create a visual that will serve as a career map, which will be helpful and may even be beneficial down the road if you find yourself at a fork in your career and struggling to decide which way to go.
What is your highest level of education and what was your area of study?
Do you have any core values or passions that could influence where and or how you want to work (ex: if you’re passionate about climate change, would you prefer to work for a company that prioritizes sustainability)?
What do you find energizing (working with people, being creative, competitive environments)?
Once you’ve gone through these questions, look at your answers to see if any apparent jobs or career paths stand out to you. Make a list of possible industries or professions that seem fitting based on your answers in this section. As you move through the process, you’ll narrow down your options from this list more and more.
Consider Your Lifestyle
Your next step is to think about what kind of life you want to have. It goes beyond earning a salary to give you your idea of a comfortable life. You’re going to want to consider everything from your ideal office setting and schedule to daily responsibilities to work-life integration. Ask yourself:
Are you willing to regularly work overtime, or do you want boundaries?
What is your ideal work culture (collaborative, super-corporate, laid back)?
Where would you like to work (remote, on-site, hybrid)?
Do you want to work with your hands or prefer a desk job?
Are there any benefits that are non-negotiable for you (PTO, health insurance, flexible schedule, etc.)?
Do you thrive in high-energy environments, or do you want something that’s low-stress?
Would you enjoy a job that requires travel? If so, how much are you willing to do?
What is the minimum salary you’re ready to accept? What’s your (realistic) ideal salary?
Are you willing to invest time (and possibly money) into more training/education?
If you’re in a position where you’re trying to figure out a general career direction like if you’re just entering or re-entering the workforce or considering a career pivot, you can keep these questions pretty high level. However, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to take a specific opportunity, or you’re at a fork in your career, you may need to ask yourself more detailed questions to help you make the best decision for yourself.
Regardless of why you’re finding the best career path for yourself, knowing what kind of lifestyle you want to have both in and outside of work will help you narrow down your options. Then, you can start looking towards the future.
As glamorous as TV and movies make c-suite jobs look, most of us know the realities of what it takes to be in that type of leadership position. Some people want to work in an industry where they can rise to the top. However, for some people, the amount of work required for those kinds of jobs doesn’t align with the lifestyle they know they want. So, you have to ask yourself, how far do you want to go in your career? By thinking long-term, you can narrow down your options even more, which is especially true if the career path you’re already on is splitting and you have to decide which direction to go.
Some long-term considerations include:
What are your professional growth goals?
Do you hope to be able to retire by a certain age?
Do you want to manage a team (or department, or company) at some point, or would you prefer something autonomous?
Are you interested in furthering your education for your career (if so, do you want to work for a company that will support you in it)?
What kind of long-term impacts do you hope to contribute to, either on a small company-level or large scale (ex: transforming industries or driving real societal change)?
Admittedly, the long-term questions will be some of the toughest to answer. How are you supposed to know what you’re going to want 20 years from now when you can’t even decide what you want today? It’s okay if you don’t know all of the answers here. Still, as you continue to progress down your career path, whatever you decide that is, you’ll want to come back to these questions because they’ll help you with goal planning and mapping. They’ll be essential when you’re facing challenging career decisions, such as whether or not to accept a promotion.
You may not have narrowed your choices down to a single career path, but that’s okay because the chances are high that you’re down to two or three options to consider. From here, start networking to meet people on similar paths who can offer guidance and possibly help you get your foot in the door at a desirable company. Remember, there is no wrong answer here because whichever path you choose now, you can always change your mind and pivot down the road. Truth be told, once you understand this, it will make choosing a career path feel a lot less permanent and intimidating.
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