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Each year job seekers are bombarded with articles showcasing “The 10 Best Careers for People who Like X” or “The Hottest New Jobs for Millennials.” And, while it may be interesting to learn about how much money anesthesiologists earn (boatloads) or how many Ping-Pong tables that startup down the road has in the break room (seven), these lists can be misleading. Why?
Because they suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to finding the career path that is right for you. If there is one thing we know though, it is that finding the right career is a very individual choice. Being an anesthesiologist is probably not the best job for someone who doesn’t like blood and never took a biology class in college, for example, though it surely does pay well!
So, instead of relying on someone else’s vision of what the best careers are, look to yourself and to your hobbies, interests, and skills in order to gain insight into the type of job that is right for you. Whether you are a seasoned professional looking to make a mid-career switch or a younger person just entering the job market, spending some time reflecting on what you want and need from your career will pay off in the end, in more than just dollars and cents.
Below, we provide some questions to help you begin the process of thinking through your career options by paying careful attention to your interests. Take out a trusty notebook and pen, or open a text doc on your computer — you’ll want to keep a record of all of these musings. Let’s go:
Ask Yourself: When am I happiest?
When do you feel most content? Perhaps it is when you are doing volunteer work at your local hospital or when you are organizing a post-game social event for your soccer team on the weekends. Too many people rigidly divide work and play, assuming that what gives them pleasure in their personal life can’t cross over to their professional life, when in fact, the opposite might be true: It is possible, and perhaps even preferable, to import the things that give us the most satisfaction into our professional lives.
However, it’s important not to be too literal here. If you enjoy being at the hospital, it doesn’t necessarily mean you were meant to be a doctor or a nurse. Likewise, just because you enjoy organizing for your soccer team, this doesn’t mean you have a career as a professional soccer coach for MLS in your future. Instead, break the activities down like this:
|Hobby||What You Like About It||Related Professional Tracks|
|Volunteering at Hospital||*making a difference, being needed, talking to diverse groups of people, being in a busy environment||*social worker, teacher, mental health counselor, hospital administration|
|Social Coordinator for Soccer Team||*planning events, choosing where we go, organizing people, creating fun for friends||*event planner, wedding planner, tour guide, museum programmer|
When you break down your hobbies and interests in an organized way, you begin to see patterns. And once you see those patterns, you are closer than ever to a career that will satisfy! But you are not done yet. Read on.
Ask Yourself: What causes and issues am I most passionate about?
Everyone cares about something and the issues and causes that get your pulse racing may be the keys to a happy career. Maybe you are interested in animal welfare, or political activism, or the health of your local streams and rivers. Make a list of what matters to you and then look for commonalities.
If, for example, all of your causes/issues have to do with children’s health issues, then that is probably a pretty good indicator that you would be interested in a career having to do with children. This doesn’t mean you have to jump into a School of Education grad program right away, but it is hearty food for thought.
Ask Yourself: What does my ideal workday look like?
Some people thrive on a structured workday, while others simply cannot see their way to showing up at 9 AM simply because. Make a list of Must Have’s and Can’t Stands to help you understand what you need from your work environment:
|Must Have||Can’t Stand|
|Quiet, not too many people coming and going||Travel, being away from family|
|Structure – clear deadlines||Working weekends, nights|
|Family environment – coworkers are friendly||Working face-to-face with clients|
|Arrive at 9, leave at 5||Being stuck in meetings all day|
While some things may be non-negotiable, this exercise will be useful in helping you to envision whether or not a particular career is right for you. If you can’t stand meeting with clients all day, then a career in sales is probably not for you. If you need a family environment at work, with friendly and supportive co-workers, an investment bank might not be your place. There will be a right place for you, however, and you will find it.
Ask Someone Else: What do you see me doing?
While you certainly don’t want to let someone else’s vision of you determine your career path, polling trusted family members and friends can provide valuable insights and may even shed some light on corners of your personality that you haven’t examined in a while. Beware though — all of this advice should be taken with a grain of salt. (Consider how many folks out there went to law school or medical school simply because their parents wanted a doctor or lawyer in the family. It’s likely you know one or two!)
Ask Someone Else: What is your workday like?
Now that you have spent time thinking about what you are passionate about, what makes you happy and satisfied, and what your ideal workday looks like, you are probably starting to have some ideas about which career field might make the most sense for you. If certain fields or jobs are starting to emerge as winners, then write those thoughts down immediately before they slip away! After you’ve done that, it’s time to seek out the people who actually have that job and ask them for an information interview.
An information interview is different from a job interview in that what you are after is not a job, but rather insight into what a particular job is like. Armed with your list of Must Have’s, things that matter to you, and, now, information about what a particular job is actually like, you are well on your way to making an informed decision. Below are some questions you’ll want to be sure to ask when you are having your informational interview:
· What is your favorite part of your job?
· What do you do on a daily basis?
· Where do you see this field going in the next few years?
· What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering this field?
· What do you think it takes to thrive in this field?
· How did you get this job?
· How would I get a job like this?
If you have ever had a job you didn’t like or simply found uninspiring, you know how important it is to find a career that speaks to you. Finding the right career is about more than just how much money you make and what your business card says. If you plan to work full time, you will likely spend more of your waking hours at work than you do at home! Given that, the pressure to find your way into something that satisfies your curiosity, provides you with the right work environment and a path to a better future is immense. If you are fortunate enough to find a career that does all of the above, you can count yourself among the fortunate people who look forward to their Mondays. That career is out there for you – now it’s time to go find it!
Britt Klontz is an online PR enthusiast who is obsessed with to-do lists and organization apps like Evernote. She frequently studies the intersection between the Internet and job trends and the impact it has on career planning.
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Good luck in your search.