09 Oct 2021
Whatever stage of life you’re at, it’s never too early to start looking at future career paths – in fact, the earlier the better.
For some, it’s a straightforward process. They know where they want to go, and take the necessary steps to get there. For others, it’s about exploring their skills, interest, and personality to find a profession that suits.
If you fall into the latter camp and are undecided about which professional direction to take, this article is for you.
The majority of people spend most of their adult life at work. If that time is spent in the right environment, it can lead to self-fulfillment, personal wellbeing, and joy.
If it’s not, it has the opposite effect. Work becomes a monotonous chore – something to get through rather than to enjoy.
This has a negative impact on our mental state, energy, and personal relationships. It can even take its toll on our physical health.
In short, it’s important to make the right career choice, because the wrong one can have far-reaching consequences.
It’s a big decision, and you may feel pressure to get it right the first time – but the good news is that the choices you make now are not absolute. If something turns out to be not what you expected, or your circumstances alter, it’s always possible to make a career change.
The bonus to putting careful thought into your chosen field is that if it’s not the right fit, you’ll be well placed to explore better alternatives.
When looking at your options, it’s important to take a holistic view. A good career choice will meet your needs in every way. It will match your skillset and interests, suit your personality type, provide a healthy work-life balance and offer financial security.
With that in mind, we have to realize that you can’t evaluate the suitability of a career without understanding yourself first.
This means assessing your hard and soft skills, your values and working preferences, what you enjoy, how much commitment you’re prepared to make and much more besides.
Be honest with yourself, and when looking at potential career paths, consider the following questions:
- Does this field make use of my strengths, and do I have any weaknesses that could hold me back?
- Do I have the required skills to succeed, and if not, am I willing to gain them?
- Is my personality suited to the type of work involved?
- Am I willing to take on the demands of this career?
- Does it align with my values, and will I take pride in the work I do?
- Does it allow me the personal freedom I need?
- Does it provide job security and financial stability?
- What are my options for future progression?
These questions are by no means exhaustive but should give you a starting point for evaluating different career paths.
To help with the process here are 10 tips for narrowing down your options, and finding out more about them.
We all like to think we know ourselves pretty well, but in reality, it’s hard to assess our strengths and weaknesses objectively. Personality tests are scientifically designed to uncover our character traits, what we excel at and where we need support.
You’ll find plenty of these online – some free, some paid for. The CliftonStrengths assessment, for example, gives you a detailed report on your greatest strengths and how best to utilize them.
Similarly, the MAPP career assessment helps to identify career matches based on your personality profile.
These tests are a great way to gain an unbiased view of suitable career paths.
Whether it’s your school or college’s careers advisor or an independent professional, talking to an expert can really help put things into perspective.
They’ll ask you questions you may not have thought of yourself, and help you understand what’s important to you in a career.
They can also offer guidance on where to look for more information, and even open up work experience opportunities for you.
It’s important to remember here though that they can’t make a decision on your behalf. Their job is to advise – the rest is down to you.
To help you make an objective decision, try an analytical approach. This could be something as simple as a pros and cons list, or a more strategic exercise.
As an example, consider a force-field analysis.
Write your career choice in the middle of a piece of paper then write positives to one side and negatives to the other. Draw arrows from each towards the career choice, using different weighting to symbolize their significance, then stand back and take it all in.
These kinds of exercises help you think with your head instead of your heart and address the realities of each career choice.
As you start to narrow down your options, do some research into companies in each area.
Consider those you’d like to work for in an ideal world and ask yourself:
- What is their working culture?
- What are their values?
- How do they support employee development?
- What are their pay scales?
- What current innovations are they part of?
There’s plenty of places to look for this information – company websites and social media, job forums like Glassdoor, industry publications.
Taking the time to do this research will help you understand what you’re looking for and if employers in a particular career field are offering it.
You might see it as something you’d do once you are employed, but networking can also help you plan your career.
There are several ways you can do this.
You could attend organized networking events for each of your chosen career paths. These often involve industry talks and allow you to speak to those working in the profession. You could also leverage your LinkedIn network, and set up one-to-one meetings with contacts that can give you first-hand insight.
For a more informal approach, speak to friends and family members with relevant experience. However you choose to do it, networking will give you a better understanding of what it’s like to work in each career field.
No one starts a career with all the skills they need for future success. Professional advancement requires continual development, either through learning on the job, and/or gaining additional qualifications.
For some foresight here, try taking an online course to explore a relevant skill. This will help you decide if you have what it takes to meet new challenges in a given role.
Choosing the right career isn’t just about the here and now – it’s about where it can take you. By making sure you can master the required skills, you’re future-proofing your decision.
There’s no better way to explore a career than being a part of it, and seeing what it entails daily. Internships are valuable here, but require an extensive time commitment, and if you’re looking at multiple career paths that’s likely unfeasible.
Job shadowing is a good alternative – spending a day or two observing someone at their work will give you insight into the tasks you’d undertake and the type of environment you’d likely work in, as well as an opportunity to ask any questions you may have.
When looking at your options, think 5, 10, or 15 years down the line, and consider what state the industry is likely to be in.
You want a career that offers stability as a minimum and at best, growth potential.
It’s impossible to be 100% sure of career security, but doing some research will give you a good idea.
Read business news, industry publications, and company websites to assess the current climate and what’s in the pipeline. If it seems the industry is on the up, there’s a fair chance employee demand will be too.
You can also use sites like Glassdoor to find average salaries for different stages of each career, and assess whether these meet your expected future financial needs.
With a narrowed-down list of your prefered career options you can start applying, learning more about each through the recruitment process.
Job descriptions, psychometric tests, assessment centers, interviews – each stage will teach you more about what to expect should you be successful.
Remember that if you are offered a job, you don’t have to accept. You may decide that it’s not what you wanted, after all, allowing you to focus on roles that are a better fit.
Finally, it’s always useful to have a backup plan, so don’t close any doors, even when you feel that you have settled on a decision.
Your feeling six months into a job may not be the same, or you may find your circumstances change.
If this is the case, go back and look at the other options you explored, or even start afresh. There’s no harm in switching from one career to another provided you’re doing so for the right reasons and can justify the move to any potential employer.
Your choice of career is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. It can impact your happiness and well-being, so it’s important to give it careful thought.
Remember though that nothing is set in stone, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Look at it as an exciting opportunity – the chance to explore the best possible version of your future, and the different paths that could take you there.
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