How to Figure Out What Job You Want

It seems that life is one major decision after another, doesn’t it? No sooner than you’ve selected a college or university, and it’s time to consider your career (the rest of your biggie). Where to live? Whom to date? Whether to get never ends.

The good news? Your career choice is no longer until death do you part. Our parents (and certainly our grandparents, and every generation before them) had a single career for their entire working lives. But not so anymore. Many articles and (pseudo)studies claim that seven is the average number of careers over a lifetime in the modern world. And while that number seems a little high (and the definition of “career” varies widely), most would agree that it’s definitely higher than one, with 2-4 a safe estimate. In fact, the term “job hopping” has entered the public vernacular to describe the new status quo.

So, how do you figure out what job you want? You ask, and answer, questions.

Know Thyself

Socrates, Polonius, Lao Tzu, and countless others over history have sung the praises of taking the time to understand ourselves thoroughly and completely.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” ― Lao Tzu

Your career is important, if for no other reason than you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it. Eight hours per day, five days per week, for decades. You need to reflect on who you are, and what you’re good at, when choosing your career (or considering a job switch). Ask questions. What are your strengths? Weaknesses? What special skills do you have? Write them down in three simple columns and then look it over. Just look. Read. Consider. The irony is that knowing ourselves is so much more difficult than knowing others. Many of us never give it a second thought.

You can get some help in this department from any of a number of online “career tests”. These offer advice on what you’re most suited for based on your responses to a series of aptitude questions.

The science may be imprecise, but it just might throw light on a few things you’d never have thought of yourself.

An easy way into all of this is to consider three simple things:

  1. What are your hobbies? What you do for fun and in your spare time might very well be something you could morph into a career. Especially in the digital world.

  2. What was your favourite subject in school? What careers are closely connected to it?

  3. When your mind wanders, where does it go? What do you daydream most about? What does that say about you?

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Make a list of careers you think you’d love based on your answers. Jot down suggestions from career tests and career counselors.

Determine What Is Most Important To You

A career can be a lot of things to different people. You need to determine what is most important to you. Do you want to make a lot of money? Do you want to help others? Sadly, those criteria are often mutually which one matters more? Do you need evenings and weekends free, or do you enjoy shift work? Some careers can immediately be scratched off your list based on your answers, and others might spring to mind that need to be added.

Be Sure Your Current Job Is “Wrong”

Switching careers is scary. Starting over at the bottom. Having to learn how to do everything all over again. It’s worth the time and effort to determine whether you’re really unhappy in your current job. Scrutinize the reason(s) why you want a change. If you feel there’s little to no chance for promotion, talk to your boss about it. If you feel unchallenged and under used, make those feelings known to your immediate supervisor and request greater responsibilities. “Fixing” your current job is much easier than finding a new one, and if it’s something you used to love, than it’s worth looking at what happened.

Do Some Research and Look Around

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potentials down to just a few, it’s time to look at stats and figures. A quick Google search can reveal a lot about the industry. Is it on the upswing (good), or has it stalled (bad). Are people hiring? Does it require a lot of fancy degrees and certifications (which is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but worth noting).

Check job boards like Monster and Workopolis to see available positions.

Cross out those that are not hiring, require too much additional education (unless you have the time, money, and desire to get it), or fall short in any number of ways.

Other Useful Links

The Best & Worst Paying Jobs in America

Highest Paying Jobs in the U.S.

Best Paid Jobs of 2013 in the United Kingdom

Career Guidance Forum on Reddit

In a perfect world, your list should only be 1-2 choices now. Choose one and go after it, knowing full well that another change down the road is not only possible, but likely. And that’s okay. It’s your life, and finding something you LOVE is worth all the hassle.

Photo by Celestine Chua

Creative Commons License