It’s time to talk about pay. Join the conversation, and find out how much you’re worth.

Career Paths

How To Figure Out Precisely What You Want as a Career

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

An overview on choosing a careerHow to figure out what you want as a career

Guide Overview

An overview on choosing a career

Your choice of career can impact your satisfaction, success, and achievements in the future. You’re more likely to be happy and successful in a career that suits you rather than one that simply pays the bills. Figuring out what you want as a career as soon as possible can help you get a head start in preparing for it. Use this article to learn what steps you can take to choose a career that works for you.

How to figure out what you want as a career

Use the following steps to learn how to find out what career you want:

1. Use several self-assessment tools

The first step in figuring out what you want as a career is assessing your values, personality, skills, and interests. These characteristics will invariably impact whether or not you’re likely to enjoy a particular occupation and be successful at it. Self-assessment comes in many forms, such as:

  • Take a skills assessment. Knowing what your abilities are is essential to choosing a career because each profession requires a specific skill set comprising both soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are aptitudes you acquire naturally, and hard skills are ones you gain through study or training.
  • Make separate lists for your hard and soft skills. You’re likely to have abilities you don’t know about, so use the results from your skills assessment to make two separate lists: one for soft skills and one for hard skills. For example, empathy is a soft skill, so it should be included with your other soft skills. In contrast, being able type 50 words per minute is a hard skill, which belongs in a separate list. If you’re not sure what your skills are, ask a friend or a mentor for their feedback on the activities you can do effectively.
  • Take an interests quiz. Your interests, such as writing or watching movies, can influence your job performance because you’re likely to perform better if your duties interest you. Therefore, it’s important to figure out what your interests truly are. Assess your interests with a tool such as Strong Interest Inventory (SII). Another great option is the O*NET Interests Profiler, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. This tool uses information about your interests, which you provide by answering questions, to identify your interests and provide career suggestions that suit each interest.
  • Take a personality assessment. Your personality, which includes your unique preferences, can have a major impact on whether or not you like a job. Use a personality assessment method such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to learn about yourself.
  • Take a values test. A profession that fits your values is essential to be happy and engaged at work, so knowing what your values are can help you to choose the right career. For example, if you value having a prestigious job and earning a high salary, you’re unlikely to be happy in a low income, low profile occupation. You can use a tool such as the Survey of Interpersonal Values (SIV) to get the information you need to identify your values.

Learn more: Discover companies hiring by location, job title, and industry

2. Review your work history

If you have been employed before, either full time or part time, ask yourself the following questions to help identify any lessons you may have learned:

  • What did I like most in each of my previous jobs?
  • What was my best employment experience, and why was it great?
  • What were my favorite features of the organization?
  • What did I dislike most about the organization?
  • What did I like or dislike about my previous supervisors?
  • Among my previous supervisors, what did I like most about my favorite one?
  • What is the biggest challenge I have faced in my employment history?
  • Among the individuals I have worked with, which of their qualities did I value most?

Based on your findings, make a list of your preferences in relation to job duties, work settings, companies, bosses, and co-workers. Learn more: How to Choose a Career Path

3. Research different careers

Use the information you have learned about yourself during the self-assessment stage to research various careers. You can use the following methods to get the information you need about specific career paths:

  • Ask friends in your social network. Your peers are likely to know about some career options you may not know about. You may also have friends who have work experience in a career that could work for you. Use your social network, and ask for other people’s opinions.
  • Ask a career professional. Career counselors are professionals who have the skills to match you to a suitable career. Talk to one of these professionals and get some professional advice. Before you schedule that appointment, ensure that your counselor has a state license and is a member of the National Career Development Association (NCDA) to avoid getting bad advice.
  • Use social media. Leverage the reach of social media platforms to research different careers. Read information on profession-based Facebook groups; read Twitter chats on different professions; and use LinkedIn to access job descriptions, interviews, and articles.
  • Attend professional events. Most industries host workshops and conferences. Try to attend a few that relate to different careers that interest you.
  • Gain new knowledge. You can explore possible professions while equipping yourself with the necessary hard skills for working in them by using platforms such as Coursera, which offers free programs in several areas such as math, computer science, and personal development. Additionally, you can boost your knowledge of specific career paths by reading books, watching relevant YouTube videos, and trying new hobbies that could lead to a rewarding career.

Based on your research, make a list of five careers that appeal to you.

4. Consider the necessary preparation

While some careers may need only minimal education or training, others may need extensive preparation. You need to know if a profession is achievable for you in terms of cost of education and training, difficulty of the education and training, and length of time it takes to become qualified. You can use the O*NET Interests Profiler to determine the logistics of each career option recommended by the assessment tool. If there is an option on your list that has not been recommended by O*NET, research it separately. Once you understand the preparation required, narrow your list down to three careers that are both interesting and achievable. You can use the following checklist of questions to compete this step:

  • What education do you need for the career?
  • Can you meet the cost of the education or training?
  • What professional certifications do you need for the career?
  • Are there any student aid programs that can help you to pay for the educational requirements?
  • Are the education requirements achievable in terms of time and effort?
  • Can you gain the necessary academic or professional credentials while you work?
  • What are the hard skills you need to develop for the career?
  • Do you have the soft skills you need for this career?
  • What programs can help you can gain the necessary hard skills?
  • What industry experience can you gain in the near future to give yourself a head start?
  • Is the career worth the effort of preparing for it?

Based on what you learn, narrow your career path options to three for further exploration. Learn more: Fast Learner Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Experience your favorite careers

Here are some methods you can use to get some hands-on experience in the career of your choice:

  • Job shadowing: This technique involves observing a senior worker performing their job duties for as little as a day or as long as a few weeks. Job shadowing can help you to learn about the job, build valuable contacts in a particular career path, and gain valuable skills.
  • Informational interviews: This method involves contacting a successful senior professional in the career of your choice, requesting the opportunity to benefit from their industry expertise, scheduling a meeting, and learning about their career path thus far. It’s also a great way to build industry contacts.
  • Internship: By completing an internship, you can gain a first-hand understanding about a particular career. An internship is likely to be more comprehensive than job shadowing and informational interviews. It can also help you gain work experience that you can list on your resume, which can improve your chances of being hired in the future.
  • Volunteering: You can volunteer in your preferred career path during your free time to gain on-the-job experience and skills that can improve your resume and employability.

6. Select the best career option

You’re likely to excel in a job that aligns with your values, interests, abilities, and personality, so use what you have learned in the previous steps to choose the career path that seems most likely to suit you.

7. Review your choice once every three years

Once you have begun your chosen career, evaluate your decision once every three years to make sure you’re still on the path you desire. Your aspirations, skills, personality, and interests can change over time, and you shouldn’t be afraid to adjust your plans to meet those changes. If necessary, use this process again to find a new career. If you’ve been wondering how to figure out what kind of job you want, you should now have all you need to start narrowing down your options. Use the information we’ve laid out here to get on the path to finding your ideal career.

Related Career Guides