Whether you’re changing career paths midway or graduating college and trying to figure out a career path to start down, such pivotal life steps can be frightening and perplexing. The volume of choices alone and determining what grass is greenest can be overwhelming.
Yet, getting your career path decision right is crucial as it impacts every facet of life from your personal identity, happiness, and lifestyle to your future family planning and retirement. Yeah, that’s a lot of pressure, right?
Five Questions To Ask Yourself To Choose The Right Career
Shakespeare said it best: “to thine own self be true.” The first thing you must consider in your future career is yourself. To answer your original question, you’ll first need to ask yourself some crucial questions to calibrate your career GPS.
1. Who Am I 101?
Get to know what makes you tick on a personal and professional level:
• Interests – Figuring out what you like to do in your free time is an excellent litmus test for what you’ll like, be fulfilled by, and satisfied with job wise. Start with the basics – do you like to spend most of your time inside or outside? Do you prefer to sit, stand or be super active? Do you like technology, animals, or people best? Do you prefer giving or offering directives?
• Skillset – What skills do you bring to the table? Don’t just think about your hard skills learned through education or training. Consider the soft skills you’ve gained through life experiences – these soft skills are performance skills that can help you find the right job for yourself. For example, are you good at organization, time management, negotiations, or teamwork? Indeed offers a great breakdown of hard and soft skill sets sought by employers.
• Innate Talents – Part of feeling centered, comfortable, and fulfilled within a career is in being able to do the things that come naturally to you – the innate strengths and authentic talents you own. What are you good at doing? What do mentors, peers, and others say you excel in doing?
2. What Type Of Company Culture Is A Fit?
Everything from an employee’s happiness to their productivity often hinges on being a fit within the industry and company-specific culture. Company culture is a cumulative of a workplace’s environment, philosophy, standards, and vision.
So, it’s almost impossible to gain a satisfying career if you don’t pick a company culture that complements you and you complement it.
Explore your personality in how you think, feel, behave, and respond. For example, are you a team player with a focus on end results, or are you more of a solo artist with a competitive streak? Are you a self-starter who prefers creative leeway, or do you prefer a highly structured and slower paced work environment?
Also, consider your values and expectations. Are you looking for a career with regulated, routine hours because you have other interests and obligations, or are you willing to tip the scales of the work-life balance in favor of climbing the corporate ladder?
Knowing such answers will help ensure that you thrive in the right workspace and that the work brings mutual value to both you and the right employer.
3. How About Salary?
Like it or not, money does make the world turn, or at least it keeps the lights turning on in your home. Still, money shouldn’t be your primary career specification because a salary doesn’t translate to a happy life.
As you narrow down your career choices to a given field or industry based on the above questions, look at the earning potential within each sector as it relates to your salary expectations. In most cases, you’ll find that this can vary greatly. A lawyer, for example, pursuing a non-profit or government enlisted job will find the salary a fraction of what it is within a corporate firm taking private cases.
4. Where Do I Want To Live?
Another area that will fluctuate greatly is location based on career objectives. Ask yourself if you want to live urban or rural. Is there a specific geographic area, state, or city you’re aiming to live? Are you willing to relocate? Are you willing to travel for work? Can you commute easily?
5. Why Do I Want This Career?
You’re likely seeing by now that your career choices have been narrowed down greatly just by asking yourself the above questions. It’s easy to say that you don’t like to work with animals and omit any related jobs. It’s easy to say, “I don’t want to be away from home often” and cross travel nurse off the list. Now, you’ve reached the difficult part, and that is asking yourself why you’d want a job.
Again, keep yourself first and foremost to greatly simplify the question. Students often pick the wrong career path because of peer pressure and obligation. The best thing anyone seeking a career can do is to follow their own instincts. Envision your career five, 10, 15, 25 years from now. Are you in the same place? Are you happy, successful, and fulfilled there?
Also, if you realize your first career choice is not that fulfilling, don’t despair – there’s plenty more you can do. Changing careers is just as scary as picking your first, but with answers to the right questions, you’ll be prepared for everything.
Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York. She writes extensively on business, education and human resource topics. When Jennifer is not at her desk working, you can usually find her hiking or taking a road trip with her two dogs. You can reach Jennifer @jenmcknzie