Finding the right career path can be an exciting (albeit daunting) process that can influence all aspects of your life. While your first line of thought might be to choose a profession that pays well, you also need to consider other factors like your lifestyle, personality and interests, all of which can inform your career choice and how happy you will be with it down the line.
A 2020 Gallup study found that only 36% of the US workforce was actively engaged at work, while two-thirds were partially or actively disengaged. These are staggering figures that have massive implications both for businesses and individuals alike. Feeling disengaged with your career can have adverse effects on your professional success and your health and well-being.
Regardless of whether you’re fresh out of university or you’re considering a career change, giving your career choice a serious consideration can make a big difference in your overall feeling of success and happiness in life.
Within this guide, we will share with you 10 vital steps on how to find the right career path and start making your first moves.
1. Take a career assessment test
Think of choosing a career like a jigsaw puzzle. Many pieces need to fit nicely together to build a complete picture of who you are as a professional. You need to consider several factors such as your personality, natural talents, interests, lifestyle and existing skillset. It can be hard to identify all of these by yourself; that’s where career testing comes in.
Career tests are a great way to sift through the noise and uncover your true talents and traits. Our thoughts and opinions can be subjective and flawed, making it difficult for us to understand what we want to do in life. Therefore, these tests can help you see yourself in a more objective light and take informed decisions about your career.
Psychometric testing analyses different facets of your personhood, including your aptitude, cognitive abilities and personality, and uses this data to measure your suitability for various roles and working environments.
For instance, our CareerHunter test uses a sophisticated algorithm to see how users match up against 250 career paths. Once completing all six tests, you receive a personalised report that provides you with suitable career options that best fit your talents and personality.
While some of your matches may not have considered before, you can rest assured that the options you receive are a good fit for you.
2. Identify what’s important to you
As mentioned, there are a few factors to consider when choosing your career. Rather than letting salary be the determining factor for your career choice, think about what else you would value within a profession.
Specific jobs, like being a professor, confer a great status but not a high income. Others, like being a lawyer or a doctor, pay well, but they also require long or unpredictable working hours. Other roles, such as entrepreneurship, can mean lots of excitement and creative control but can also be an unstable source of income.
Whatever your choice, make sure to select a career that aligns with your values and expectations, as it can have a significant impact on how happy and satisfied you will be with your career in the long run.
3. Do trial jobs
You might think trial jobs are challenging to come by, but that’s not necessarily true. In her TEDx talk, Emma Rosen, a work happiness expert, explains how she trialled 25 jobs before turning 25. She tried anything from more conventional jobs like property development and interior design to really niche options like working in a police dog unit and alpaca farming.
How do you get a trial job? Just ask for it. Rather than applying through job ads, where the employer is probably looking for someone long-term, why not reach out to businesses, introduce yourself and tell them what you’re trying to do? They might not have an urgent need for another interior designer, but if you reach out and explain your situation, they might give you a few weeks or a month to trial the job.
Job trials are an excellent way to disqualify career options that might sound appealing but won’t work in the long run. As an employee, you might be on probation for a few months when you get a new job, so why not put the jobs themselves on probation and see if you actually like them?
And if the employers and companies you contact don’t have the budget to hire you as temporary staff, you could also look for job shadowing, volunteering and short internship options too!
4. Take action
When we’re unsure about what we want to do, it can be tempting to sit back in a corner and do nothing at all. You might find yourself doing calculations in your head, weighing the pros and cons of every single option but end up making no visible efforts to change your life in the real world. This is what psychologists call ‘analysis paralysis’.
Thinking about your career options can only take you so far. Discovering your career path calls for action, and that’s a whole different ball game. If you’re considering two career options, for instance, pick the one that is more accessible to you and take it from there.
For example, you might have a degree in finance, but you find yourself drawn to writing and graphic design. How do you choose which one to pursue? Why not pick a job with a financial firm and offer to help out the marketing team with their content or graphic design needs? This way, you’ve got your leg through the door and can try out your other career paths without suffering any financial loss.
5. Take one step at a time
While taking action might make sense when you have a few career options to strive towards, things can get a bit out of hand when there are too many options or, indeed, no options at all.
Recruiters love to ask candidates about their five-year plan, but the reality of the matter is that not many people have it. Life is unpredictable, and the world of work is changing so fast that your current five-year plan might be outdated long before you get to the finish line. Therefore, don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself without a grandiose career path to strive towards.
Instead, why not start small? Rather than wondering whether this next job opportunity will really take you where you’re supposed to be in five or ten years, give it a go and see what happens.
Did you enjoy going to work? Or did you feel trapped and bored? Can you see yourself doing this long term? These can be good early indicators of whether or not you’re on the right track.
Taking one step at a time gives you the freedom to adjust your path as circumstances change and really experiment with your options.
6. Start networking
Meeting people who work within your potential industries might be one of the most critical steps you take in your career journey. Indeed, research has found that about 85% of all jobs are filled through networking.
We often underestimate the role networking can play in our job search, opting for more conventional methods such as job boards and job adverts. But networking can also play a significant role when it comes to career exploration. The more people you meet from different walks of life, the more of a diverse portfolio of opportunities and insights you will gain. Ultimately, networking could help you decide whether a career path is right for you or not by merely talking to others.
7. Take your lifestyle into account
Lifestyle is rarely, if ever, considered when we’re making a career choice. However, every job comes with a different schedule, dynamic and working space.
If you decide that you’d like to be a firefighter because you want to help people but don’t want to be on call at 3 am when the next fire alarm goes off, you haven’t really thought things through.
Lifestyle refers to your preferred day-to-day dynamic. Would you like to have a set nine-to-five job and then forget about work once you log off, or do you prefer to have flexible working hours, which might also mean working well into the evening? Do you prefer being indoors or outdoors? Do you like to work with people or by yourself? Some professions are intrinsically collaborative, while others might rely more on solitary work.
All of these things can influence how you feel about your job and, ultimately, whether you will be satisfied with it or not. So, when you’re considering different professions, make sure to factor in the lifestyle that you would like to lead, too.
8. Be curious
New jobs and professions are created every year to respond to rapid changes in technology and socio-economic developments. For instance, take the new title, ‘Head of Remote Work’, which was invented during the COVID-19 pandemic to respond to the new normal of a distributed workforce.
Other professionals, like a growth hacker, digital marketers and virtual assistants, are all products of the internet, and none of them existed before the 2000s.
If you’re struggling to choose a career path, it might be that you haven’t come across or considered one that is right for you. Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love often talks about curiosity as being more important than passion.
Being curious means that you allow yourself to explore different options, and that, in itself, can give you more answers than stubbornly looking for your ‘passion’.
Next time something piques your interest, try to follow it, be it a hobby or a pastime activity you often indulge in. See what topics you like to learn or read about and what kind of activities you’re drawn to. All of these things can be clues that will help you discover the right career.
9. Stay open to change
One way to release some of the pressure of making the right choice is to tell yourself that the career you choose doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all. We can sometimes be too strict with ourselves, thinking there’s only one true calling and that, if we haven’t found it, we have failed. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Have you heard of the story when Singapore Airlines tried to pivot during the pandemic and opened its planes to customers for a dining experience as opposed to flying? If businesses can change tact and adjust to new circumstances, why can’t we do the same as individuals?
When choosing your career path, think about your interests but also be aware that these interests can change over time. This means that your career doesn’t necessarily have to follow a straight, linear path, and that’s okay.
10. Work on your personal branding
Regardless of what profession you choose, it’s likely that you have some type of online presence, which your future employer can easily find before hiring you. Therefore, working on your personal branding can play an essential role in getting the career you want.
There are certain behaviours that can instantly disqualify you from a job, like posting controversial opinions on social media, being overly political, or posting unprofessional photos of yourself. Other than avoiding these common social media mistakes, you can also devote yourself to positive activities that can reinforce your brand.
For instance, if you are considering a profession as an architect, sharing your observations on the latest trends in the industry can position you as a thought leader in that field. Volunteering with an organisation or agency within your selected area can also go a long way in showing the world that you genuinely care about what you do.
Of course, your personal brand should be a true reflection of who you are as a professional and what people can expect when working with you.
At the end of the day, choosing the right career path isn’t a process you go through once in your life and then you’re done.
Instead, careers can be fluid, changing parts of our lives that can offer us immense fulfilment, as long as we stay curious, connect with others in meaningful ways and continue to take steps forward.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 30 December 2016.