How to find the answer to “what career is right for me?” (with advice from career experts)•
Everyone talks a lot about how much of a struggle job hunting can be.
And while most people who agree that it’s a struggle are typically referring to the crazy, unpredictable maze that includes applying, researching, preparing and interviewing for whatever decent job opportunities they can get their hands on. However, a huge part of why looking for a job can be such as struggle is the fact that, sometimes you don’t even know WHAT you should be looking for! If you’ve ever felt that feeling, it’s not unheard of to think to yourself:
What job is actually right for my next step in life?
What career path am I actually going for?
…is what I’m doing in my job search setting me up well for that?
These are all some common thoughts that might go through your head specifically if:
1) you’re just starting out in your career OR
2) if you’ve been in many jobs that all don’t feel right for you.
The good news is you’re not alone. A third of people in the U.S. who have a job view the work they do as “just a job to get them by” and pretty much nobody knows what they’re doing when they’re first starting out in the working-world (with very few exceptions)!
So if you’re having a tough time / existential crisis while figuring out what you’re doing in the job world, here’s the key question to be asking yourself:
What career is right for me?
As a helpful guide for figuring out what career is right for you – here are 9 solid pieces of advice from over a dozen company leaders and career experts who’ve not only been through the struggle themselves, but have guided many people through answering this exact question of ‘what career is right for me?’. The advice ranges from NOT following your “passion”, finding your “sweet spot”, and giving yourself a quiz:
1. Don’t follow passion alone, follow your FIT and future
I am not going to tell you to follow your passion because all too often, when deciding on a career path, people focus only on their passion and the ultimate impact the work will have, which are only part of the story. Satisfaction with your career is about FIT.
In order to find the career that is right fit for you, you must first get in touch with your 4 P’s – passion, personality, preferences (for work pace, type of work, work environment, etc.), and principles (to learn more about these things, take self-assessments such as: What is Your Leadership Personality?). Next, learn more about the work you are considering (beyond simply the ultimate impact) with an emphasis on the *day-to-day* experience of *doing the job.* For example, if you are interested in becoming an engineering, the ultimate impact might be the skyscraper you designed; but, the *day-to-day* experience is slow-paced, detailed work in front of a computer screen. I often use my own experience to illustrate this point: my first a Clinical Psychologist (without first exploring the fit factors I’ve shared here) because I was passionate about psychology and wanted to help people. Possessing a Driven personality style, I thrive in fast-paced, ever-changing environments working on challenging projects that achieve results. In contrast, as a therapist, while ultimately I helped people improve their mental health (my passion), what I actually did was sit in a chair for 8 hours per day listening to other people. Rather than action-oriented and ever-changing, it was passive, slow-moving, and repetitive. For me, that was an awful fit! In order to find your perfect fit, take an intern role, volunteer, shadow or speak to others that do the work to better understand how the day-to-day experience is aligned with your passion, personality, preferences, and principles.
-Jamie Lewis Smith, PhD, President of Pixel Leadership Group
My professional advice is to do your best to find a combination of a career that taps into your passion as well as one that will be viable in the future.
Clues to finding your passion
* Look at the flip side of your weaknesses. If there is something you hate to do, look at its opposite. For example, if organizational ability is not one of your strengths, you may be better suited to a less structured, perhaps artistic environment where creativity is a higher priority than organization. If working in an office makes you feel claustrophobic, perhaps you would prefer working outdoors.
* What subjects do you like to read about? If you are consistently drawn to a certain subject, that indicates a strong interest in that area and could provide useful information about your calling.
* How do you spend your leisure time? Sometimes a hobby can be turned into a career.
* What kind of work would you do for free? Volunteer work can uncover some strong interests.
Confirm your passion
* Research–Your local library contains a wealth of information on careers. This is a good place to start your research. Also, conduct informational interviews. Once you have narrowed your options to a few possible careers, set up appointments with individuals in those fields to talk to them about what they do.
* Volunteer/Part-Time Work–Volunteer or part-time work in a field can give you real life experience to base a career decision on.
* Career Assessment–Career assessment can give you valuable information about your interests, values, and skills as they relate to the world of work. Assessment gives you information about yourself and what types of work environments would probably suit you.
Will Your Career Be Around in the Future?
Career changers should research careers that they are interested in by going to the Online Occupational Handbook (http://www.bls.gov/oco/). You can type in the job title that you are interested in and then read an article that gives you information about the projected growth of that field. The article will tell you if the field is expected to grow, stay flat, or decline over the next 10 years. Armed with this information you can make an informed decision about your career choice.
-Cheryl E. Palmer, M.Ed., CECC, CPRW President of Call to Career
2. Look for the overlap of three things that make up your career “sweet spot”
When you’re wondering “what career is right for me?” it’s best to think about the intersection between what you’re good at, what organizations need done or what the world needs, and what you enjoy doing. The overlap between those three areas is your sweet spot, your career. To help populate this venn diagram, think about your skills and interests, rather than job titles or genres; you might be surprised to see what the things you enjoy doing add up to career-wise and it’ll expand your search, as similar skills can be applied to a wide variety of careers.
Also think about the overall work environment of someone in the different careers you’re considering. Do you thrive when you’re moving around all day or when you get uninterrupted time at a desk? Do you like a predictable schedule or variety? Do you enjoy interacting with others or having solo time to work on projects? Think about when you’ve done your best work and felt your best and use that as a guide to narrow what type of career might be best for you.
Separately, research helps! If you know someone in a field you’re thinking about, ask if they’ll have a short coffee with you (your treat) to discuss the day-to-day duties of the job. Interviewing itself is another good way to figure out what career is right for you. You can learn a lot about jobs by being interviewed for them, and an interview often forces you to boil down your interests and skills even if it ends up not being a good fit.
-Lucia Smith, HR Consultant at Gray Scalable
In choosing a career, I recommend that individuals find the “sweet spot” between the following elements:
- Their “super powers” or those skills that come natural to them, require little mental or physical resources, and that they feel compelled to do
- Their “super powers” which can be monetized
- Their core values which will lead to fulfillment when met
- Their mission or message
I figured this out haphazardly during my own career change, but apparently this is very similar to the Japanese principle of Ikigai.
My rationale for looking at ones “super powers” or “zone of genius” is that the process of changing careers or building a business requires a lot of time and energy. This ensures that the actual “work” will energize them, rather than drain them.
It’s important to figure out what will fulfill these career seekers, rather than what has driven them in the past. Determining their core values through assessments or experimentation will help them make decisions regarding their career and avoid “shiny object syndrome.” [For example, as a professor of music, I was expected to be RE-creative based on a system built on centuries’ old traditions, which was not in alignment with my core values of creativity and innovation.] I now use my core values as a 3-point barometer for which to make decisions: Is this creative? Is this innovative? Will this help me connect?
Aligning your career with your mission (or message) can sustain you when setbacks occur (or when the money is not flowing right away). It may be necessary to take a look at these aspects as one grows and evolves, particularly for those navigating a change in their career.
-Melissa Slawsky, Ph.D., Consultant at Your Work Life Revolution
My best tip is look for jobs in a different way than everyone else. You should choose a company and a role in that company based on if the activities you will be doing on that job are ones that you 1) enjoy, 2) are good at, and 3) if it’s a job that is available to you.
You look at the activities you do, rather than the concept, identity or prestige of the job or career path. I think of these aspects as 3 overlapping circles in a Venn Diagram. Most people end up doing what they are good at and where there are jobs in. People with the most fulfilling careers are able to find the nexus of all 3 circles.
So rather than combing through job boards, pick companies and roles that are the right fit, meaning they fulfill those 3 aspects. Then approach those companies directly and get the job for your level of experience. When you do a great job, you can move into the exact area you want to be in at that company over time.
-Steven Benson, Founder and CEO of Badger Maps.
Finding the right career is like searching for the sweet spot intersection between what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at doing, and what the marketplace will pay for you to do. Without a bit from each area, the road to a fulfilling career is longer and harder.
Like many other questions in your professional life, What career is right for me? can be answered by digging into the questions underneath.
In area 1 – What do you enjoy?
Do you like meeting new people, or would you rather work alone?
Does your heart pound when someone says, let’s get creative or when you hear, let’s find the bottom line numbers?
Is your day all about fresh air and movement, or do you live for the perfect computer work station and online peers?
In area 2 – What do you do well?
Could you sell sand in the desert, or are you a blunt and direct communicator?
Can you motivate a group to perform, even when circumstances are less than perfect?
Do you catch every little mistake and overlooked detail?
In area 3 – Is there any demand?
Are there any jobs advertised like the one you envision?
Are there any businesses similar to what you are planning?
Do people want what you’re offering enough to pay for it?
It’s important to take the time to answer all the questions and even bounce your ideas off of a coach or mentor. Some common issues I’ve seen include: people who follow their bliss right into financial ruin, those who take a job that eventually makes them sick, or those who are always in demand but only for favors/barter and not pay. Once you answer the core questions then you can compare your answers to available information on selected careers.
-Karen Southall Watts, Coach, Speaker and Author of “Messenger: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Communication“
3. Ask yourself some honest questions
In career development workshops and in one on one coaching, I always emphasize that people need to be very thoughtful and analytical about their job decisions. To often people base it on emotion and when a bad situation arises may jump from one bad job to the another.
First, I recommend people do some soul searching on what they really want out of their career. This can be introspectively on your own or with a career coach. Here are some questions people should think through and answer:
What is really important to me in my job? Higher pay? Becoming an executive? Intellectually stimulating work? Better work / life flexibility? Enjoying the people I work with?
What do I really excel at?
How can I build on what I am best at to deliver business results and enhance my career?
Do I enjoy being an expert or master of a certain function, or would I prefer to leave details to others?
Do I enjoy continual movement between roles and jobs and being challenged with new things?
Do I like breaking new ground as an innovator, or do I work better in a familiar environment?
Do I have interest in working in multiple locations, and does my personal situation support such a move?
During my career, do I want to be a people manager or not?
Do I thrive on executive interaction and exposure, or do I prefer back room analysis?
Am I a Spreadsheet Wizard and love working with numbers, or do I prefer marketing and sales concepts and processes?
Do I like to make presentations and explain things to people, even those in other countries or other functions?
Then I recommend creating a ranking sheet and use an algorithm to numerically compare various job opportunities to the position you are in now. A sample worksheet where you assign priority weightings to characteristics of a job and rate them is shown in this blog.
-Stan C. Kimer, President of Total Engagement Consulting
Without sounding trite, it’s a journey—so be sure to enjoy the ride. If you don’t know what career is best for you, do some homework to get the answers. Consider it a scavenger hunt! Pay attention to clues; these will lead you to answers, which will lead you to additional questions. Follow your own internal GPS to keep moving forward, otherwise you may feel lost or stuck. It’s important to stay the course.
For starters, figure out what brings you joy. If you were told you had to work on a Saturday morning, what job would make you leap out of bed (yes, even on a weekend)? What do you enjoy doing? What have you done as a hobby that you could perhaps parlay into a full-time job? Do you like to cook? Interested in science fiction? Love to write blogs?
Similarly, decide what is most important to you.
If money is high on the list, look for in-demand jobs in industries that offer a lucrative career path (think: tech). If you want to help people and can see yourself in a service-oriented role, check out jobs at non-profits. You’ll be happiest once you determine what brings you joy and what kinds of careers will most likely provide you with that joy when you take job prospects, salary, benefits and more into account.
If you aren’t sure what you’d enjoy,ask people you know if you can shadow them for a day at their job. Find out what they love most about their job, what they like the least. If they could change one thing about it, what would they change? What is their work-life balance like? What about their stress levels? Are they constantly working on deadlines, or is their work more predictable and at a slower pace?
Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook to peruse a variety of career paths and learn about salaries, education requirements and more. Start searching for jobs online to identify the required skills and experiences, and pay attention to your gut reaction. Does the job sound exciting or boring?
Most important, know that it’s OK if you change your mind! The career path that’s best for you right now might not be a fit for you in 10 years. You may outgrow it or change your course—and that’s totally fine.
-Vicki Salemi, Career Expert for Monster
4. Ask people (and experts) who are already “in the field”
Vocational anticipatory socialization is the process an individual goes through as s/he selects a career. In practical terms, at the end of VAS, the hope is that there will not be a significant difference between what you *thought* the career would be versus what you are actually doing “Monday morning.”
Unfortunately, many times the career ideal does not match the reality. One way to protect against this and really understand a career is to interview someone already in the field, someone you can count on to give you the good, bad, and ugly of the job. This can help you be clear on what the real work environment is like. So, while it looks exciting to be a defense attorney on a TV drama or solve crimes using DNA samples on CSI Miami, don’t count on Hollywood depictions being the real day in the life of that job.
Additionally, when considering career options, be clear if your current skill-set is a good match to the career and/or determine what further training you may need. This is important because there is always a risk of the so-called Peter Principle—a person getting promoted to his or her level of *incompetence*. That is, just because you’re a great Marketing Rep, does that mean you’ll be a great Marketing Director? Not necessarily.
Lastly, even with your current skills and interests that are driving your present career aspirations, count on these changing over time and, therefore, leading to ever-changing career interests. Consider, a recent study revealed that millennials jump at least four times in their first decade out of college; as a result, it’s important to know that in choosing careers you need to reflect on where you see yourself in five years *every three years!*
-David M. Kopp, Ph.D. is a management consultant, featured keynote speaker and Author of “Human Resource Development: Performance Through Learning” (BridgePoint Education) and “Famous and Infamous Workplace Training: A Social History of Training and Development” (Palgrave-MacMillan).
The easiest way to discover what the right career for you is to listen, really listen to the right voices. Nope, not to your inner child or the whispers of your long hidden passion – you have to listen to career stakeholders – potential clients, former managers and mentors, colleagues, friends, etc. The answer is all around you and it comes in the form of your personal brand i.e. what you’re known for. What people say about you when you’re not in the room.
Step one – Find your Brand: So how do you discover this? Simple: consider why people call you? Are you the data guy, the tech whiz, or the voice of reason who can shift through various opinions to come to an optimal solution. It’s important to look at trend lines as opposed to one offs. This pattern will give you insight as to what you are good at.
Step two – Consider the gaps.
First, is there a marketing gap? i.e. a difference between what people know about your skill set and what it actually is? For example, I transitioned HR through training so people saw me as an instructor. They didn’t know about my prior career in sales and business management. Sharing that widened my career opportunities and altered my brand. Soon the phone started ringing for different reasons.
Second, is there a gap between your skills and what’d you’d like to do?
This comes in two varieties. Sometimes there are elements of our past careers that, even if we are good at, we’d like to let go of. And sometimes we desire to build a brand around something a skill we’ve yet to acquire. Example: consider a c-suite executive who wants to become a speaker. They may get calls for business consulting, a skill they have, but no longer want to pursue – and at the same time, struggle to secure an audience as a speaker, for although they have the knowledge, they haven’t proven themselves in that area.
Step three: Craft a plan:
There are plenty of assessments that can give you insights as to what you should do for a living. Some are helpful, but none should make the decision for you. Listen to yourself and your audience. People usually know what they want to do. The hard part is constantly advancing skills in that area and then making sure people know about it.
5. Turn your hobby into a career
Finding the career for you require a bit of self reflection. It’s important to think critically about what it is that you like. Is there anything that excites your or passions that you have? Further, do you have hobbies that could translate to a career somehow? Thinking critically and answering some of these questions can help put you on the right path to discovering the best career for you! You can also start networking and having informational interviews to explore career possibilities as well. Find people with careers that seem interesting to you (and hopefully fit in with your responses to the above questions) and reach out to them to learn more about their role, company and career path.
-Mary Pharris, Director of Business Development & Partnerships at Fairygodboss.
6. Give yourself an assessment to gain self awareness
Job fit is the #1 reason people excel in their careers* (Harvard Business Review study). How do you find out the type of jobs that best fit you?
Many people, millennials in particular, have been taught they can do anything they want and be successful. The truth is, in an ideal world that may be true. However, the reality is, if you are not willing to do the work required, acquire and master the necessary skills, or complete the work in a manner that helps others, you will be unhappy and unemployed (possibly, unemployable).
First, use a qualified assessment (used by companies) to determine your thinking style, occupational interest (does not mean you currently have the skills, but are willing to acquire them) and core behavioral traits. Do not rely on assessment products that solely provide face validity. These only show you how you want to be seen, and not how you really are.
Second, with this clarity, complete the 5-steps in the book, “It’s Time to Brag! Career Edition”. Focus on the key areas that are of interest to you. This will help you sell yourself. Many readers and participants in workshops have quickly found employment after being unemployed for long periods of time. They have also used the information to increase their paychecks, receive promotions and be able to sell themselves for other opportunities.
Third, rewrite your resume and network using the brag factors! They work!
Fourth, become a stellar employee. Learn the ho-hum basic skills, particularly soft skills, and build on these skills. Knowing how to input data or find out information is not the same as using it appropriately to make the best decisions and learn from your mistakes [when working towards a fulfilling career]
-Jeannette Seibly, an internationally recognized business advisor and management consultant, Author of “It’s Time to Brag: Five Amazing Steps to Sell Yourself” and more.
Self-awareness is of utmost importance in deciding which career is right. Here are top considerations to build self-awareness that allow you to home in on the right career options:
* Skills, Knowledge & Abilities (SKA): Knowing what you’re good at is useful to start identifying what to pursue. However, just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to do it as a job. The trick is to meld your SKA with the following:
* Core Values: What top 3-5 ways would you like to be defined as a person, what you stand for, and as guide to living your life? Examples of Values: Logical, Kind, Exciting, Knowledgeable, Growth-Oriented, Thoughtful.
* Driving Needs: Whereas your core values define who you are, you have needs that run the span of mirroring to contradicting your values. Knowing your most dominant needs can help you decide how to satisfy them in reasonable ways instead of driving you to behave in dysfunctional ways. Examples of Needs: To Win, Be Challenged, Be Loved, Be Treated Justly, Maintain Order, Be Acknowledged.
* Personal Style/Behavioral Patterns: What are the usual patterns of your responses or relationships to other personalities, situations, information, things, and tasks? For example, what types of personalities do you usually enjoy spending time or working with, and what are usually challenging for you to deal with? Which environments allow you to be at your best and which ones lower your motivation or self-esteem, deplete your energy, or make you feel like you don’t belong? How much information and learning do you require to feel confident and how much do you need to communicate to others?
-Selena Tan, a Senior Consultant at ClearRock
7. Ask people who know you well
I’ve consulted clients on this in the past and there are two questions I often ask to help them determine for themselves what career is right for them.
First off, I ask about their employment history. Without being aware of it, many professionals naturally etch out a career path for themselves as they work up the ranks in their given profession.
For example, a Junior Designer who became a Graphic Designer who then ended up managing other designers should very obviously pursue a career in design management.
Sometimes individuals have trouble seeing the forest instead of all of the individual trees. By reviewing their career history you may identify a pattern that will point the applicant in the right direction.
Second, if there the job applicant is relatively inexperienced and doesn’t have a solid employment history to mine for patterns, they may require some direct advice from people who know them best.
Simply asking a handful of your most close friends or even family, what they think you excel at, may result in at least getting pointed in the right direction. Asking people who know you best is the most surefire way to get an outside perspective on what you excel at but may not realize you excel at.
In summary, by either consulting people who know you well, or by analyzing your career history for trends and patterns, most applicants should at least get a solid idea of what industry they should be working in and in what capacity.
-Rudeth Shaughnessy, Sr. Editor, Copy My Resume
8. Take a “non-box” approach
As an executive coach, I sometimes work with professionals who have been successful in their careers but want to pivot to a new career. Finding a career is a personal process. My advice to jump start the process includes ‘non-box’ research, establishing a Board of Directors, testing things out, and stepping back.
Develop a list of everything you enjoy doing professionally and personally, and have enjoyed in the past, examine themes then dive into some non-box research. Talk with people in fields that interest you – but also talk with people in fields outside of your areas of interest. Talking with people with different perspectives often leads us to think creatively, and can lead to ‘a-ha’ moments.
Develop your own Board of Directors (BOD). This is a group of people you can discuss career issues with, and bounce ideas off. Ideally, your board should be diverse in terms of profession, age, sex, race, stage of career etc. You can include a champion/cheerleader, someone direct and tells it to you like it is, an explorer who pushes you to stretch and think differently. If you have a mentor, coach and connector, all the better.
Test out career possibilities. Take a class or talk to people in that career. Test out skills related to that career in your workplace or volunteer organizations such as professional or service organizations. For example, an attorney interested in event planning might help plan an event within their company or volunteer organization.
Lastly, step back. Everything is connected – who you are, your life, your well-being is reflected in your professional self. Remaining resilient helps make sound decisions, think clearly, creatively and maintain the persistence needed to find a career. Step back from this decision at times and engage in healthy, enjoyable activities to keep your mind conditioned.
-Lubna Somjee, Ph.D. Clinical/Health Psychologist + Executive Coach
9. It all boils down to few questions and factors that apply to you
For job seekers, it can be hard to figure out if a career path is the right one. Maybe you have tried several jobs already and not found one that ‘clicked.’ If that is the case, take a look at a few key factors to determine what career is right for you.
The amount of contact you have with coworkers, customers, and the public at large can be a big factor in deciding if a career is a good fit for you. If you are a ‘people person,’ then sitting in a cubicle all day managing data is not going to be satisfying long-term. On the other hand, if you prefer to concentrate on details and not deal with many people, make sure you are not taking on a customer service role – you will burn out in a few months.
When looking at a career, focus on more than just the short-term. Yes, you need a job now, but make sure you are looking for a position that has advancement potential. Look at job descriptions for your dream job – the one you hope to have someday and retire from. What kind of qualifications and experience does it require? Will the jobs you are looking at fulfill those requirements?
One of the most effective ways to tell if a career is right for you is to talk with people who are in that career. It is easier than ever to find people willing to give you advice and input about their careers – find influencers on LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, or through old-fashioned face-to-face networking. Ask questions and see if that career path matches up with the things you value and want from your professional life.
-Jessie West, M.Ed. West Coaching and Consulting
Linda Le Phan is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.