An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Career in 2024

O, right career, right career. Wherefore art thou, right career?

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

find the right career guide

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 is easy and 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 wellbeing.

Regardless whether you’re fresh out of college or you’re considering a career change, giving your career choice 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 15 vital steps on how to find the right career path and start making your first moves.

1. Take a career 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 skill set. 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 analyzes 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 example, our very own six-part assessment over at CareerHunter uses a sophisticated algorithm to see how users match up against 200+ career paths. Once you complete all six tests, you receive a personalized 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 trialed 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 internship options, or work part time if your schedule allows it!

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 example, 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 you 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 5 or 10 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 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 that 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 3am 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 9-to-5 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?

Likewise, 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 example, 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 growth hackers, 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 best-selling 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 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 behaviors 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 example, if you’re 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 organization 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.

11. Work with a career coach

If you’ve worked in a field that’s not quite right for you for a while, it’s easy to start losing hope. You might be feeling stuck or tired, or telling yourself that you’re never going to find a job that fulfils you more than your current role does.

That doesn’t have to be the case, however. Career counselors are there to help people like you, who are trying to evaluate their career choices and make changes so as to lead a more meaningful professional life.

Thanks to the internet, you can work with coaches in all parts of the world, should you be unfamiliar with any career coaches in your area. Many career coaches offer affordable resources on their websites, too, such as checklists and quizzes that you can use to brainstorm in your own time.

12. Sign up for courses

So, let’s say there’s a field that’s always interested you but you never got the chance to learn an awful lot about. This could be anything, from programming to accounting to illustration. When you have little exposure to a subject, the best way to gauge whether you could make a career out of it some day is to start learning more and more about it.

Signing up for an online course or in-person tutoring to gain knowledge in a field that interests you can be the best place to initiate changes in your professional life. You might be pleasantly surprised, and discover a strong passion and a renewed sense of motivation to make a career out of this new subject — or you might realize that you’re better off keeping it as a hobby. Either way, you’ll know something that you currently don’t!

13. Consider your strengths

A lot of the time, people quit their job when it doesn’t pay well, provides them with no room for career progression, or their boss treats them poorly. It’s not uncommon, however, for people to walk out on a job that doesn’t align with their personal values or doesn’t challenge them enough!

That’s why it’s important to consider what you enjoy and what you’re good at when brainstorming possible career paths for the future. Though skills are not fixed, but rather can be learned and enhanced, there are bound to be certain skills or abilities that come to you a bit more naturally.

For example, you might have excellent communication skills and love conversing with people; or you might have a knack for analyzing data and formulating strategies based on your findings.

If you’re unsure where your talents lie, speak with colleagues, friends and family members, and ask for their honest opinions.

14. Identify your working style

To find a career path that suits you, it can be helpful to consider your working style. If you’ve not heard of this term before, it refers to how you go about carrying out your tasks in the workplace.

For example, Asana lists the following six working styles that a professional might have: independent, cooperative, supportive, idea oriented, detail oriented, and balanced.

Do you prefer to work independently? Do you thrive when providing support to others? Is attention to detail your strongest suit? Knowing what comes naturally to you and what you enjoy doing can really help narrow down your choices when considering what type of work would suit you best.

15. Make a list of potential career paths

When trying to figure out what career might be a good fit for you, it’s important to keep in mind that there might be more than one answer. After all, most people have a broad range of interests and abilities, and also carry the capacity to grow and change over time.

Even if you narrow down your options to a professional field, such as healthcare or the arts, there will still be various roles you could be pursuing within it. A list can help you identify the pros and cons of each role, from how much you could be earning to the work–life balance you could be enjoying. This is important in identifying the profession that ticks most of your boxes.

Final thoughts

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.

Watch the video below for a few simple steps to finding the right career:

Got a question? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on December 30, 2016. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.