How to Decide on a Career (Even If You Don’t Know What You Want)
Choosing the right career is tricky. Economist Neil Howe estimates that only five percent of people find a good career match on the first try. And even beyond this chilling stat, there’s so much external pressure to land the perfect job, follow your passion and be super successful by the end of your 20s.
No wonder most people break into a cold sweat when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
But deciding on a career can be simplified into three basic problems. Conquer these, and you’ll dramatically up your chances of finding the job that’s right for you.
Problem #1: You Don’t Have Enough Information
There are literally thousands of careers out there—some of which could be at the perfect junction of what you’re good at, what you love and what’s in demand. It’s amazing how many successful people didn’t know their dream job even existed when they were younger.
To combat this problem, try this: devote one hour every day for a week (or heck, a month!) on pure research. Check out career exploration sites, top job lists, your favorite blogs or even a new section of the newspaper. Your mission? Write down any and every job that catches your eye.
This minimal routine will skyrocket your list of career ideas.
Problem #2: You Don’t Know What You Want
There are many great jobs in the world. But there are fewer great jobs that are right for you. Making a good connection between yourself (your values, interests, personality, etc.) and a career can be tough.
For some people, personality tests or heart-to-hearts with a career counselor can jumpstart this stage. But if you’re short on time, money or patience (some of those career tests are worse than the eHarmony intake form), assess career ideas with this practical checklist:
A. Does this career sound interesting?
As author Cal Newport has so eloquently advocated, you don’t have to be passionately head-over-heals for a career in order to thrive. (In fact, following a passion can be a big mistake.) However, a career should genuinely interest you on a gut level. It’s a good sign if you hear about a job and think, “Yeah, tell me more about that!”
B. Does this career involve work that you could be good at?
Many skills can be learned if you commit the time, but pursuing a career that actively goes against your natural tendencies is a giant fail waiting to happen. If you’re an introverted research type, don’t force yourself into a sales job—no matter how cool it sounds. Likewise, big-picture people will not find happiness in a tiny-details job. If the work itself clashes with your personality or skill set, move on.
C. Does this career fulfill your essential needs?
What you need from a career can include everything from basic salary and education requirements to more complicated concerns related to disability, family situation, religious beliefs and beyond.
Once you’ve nailed down what you want from your job, you can match those needs to career options. For example, if a six-figure income tops your priority list, choose a field where you can feasibly make that kind of money (think science, healthcare, technology, business) and avoid lottery industries (like filmmaking and fashion design) where only a lucky few will strike it rich.
D. Does the world need this career?
Practically speaking, you need a job. So before diving down a new career path, see if there’s a reasonably good chance someone will hire you at the end of it. Check out employment projections or industry chatter to gauge if your career is in demand.
Problem #3: You Can’t Make a Decision
You’re 99.99 percent guaranteed to find multiple career choices where you can shine. In this situation, it’s easy to fall into a perpetual motion machine of angst and second-guessing. What if you don’t pick the right career?
But here’s the secret: don’t worry about choosing the best option; choose any (well-researched and practical) option. “Just pick one thing to do,” suggests Brazen founder Penelope Trunk. “And if that doesn’t work, then pick another. Making a choice and trying it is an important career skill.”
So be brave and take action—and you’ll be that much closer to finding a job you love.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about choosing a career?
Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.