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What's the Best Job For Me? How to Choose A Career

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a tough question to answer — at any age. In fact, most people change their minds over time. Research says the average American will switch jobs 12 times over the course of their career.

Fortunately, the process for choosing a new career is roughly the same whether you’re just starting your journey or reevaluating the path you’re currently on.

It all starts with a look inward.

Get to know yourself

To make sure you choose the right path, reconnect with who you are and what that means in any professional environment. Your values, interests and skills are all unique to you. Identifying them is the first step to finding the right career. Be honest and remember: There are a lot of different ways to be successful.

  • Define your values: What do you care about in a professional sense? Do you need a high level of stability and security, or do you prefer the exhilaration of bold risks? Do you care most about the quality of the work you do, the relationships you have or both? And what about your values — if pay weren’t a factor, what industries, if any, would you avoid? Answering these questions is a crucial first step.
  • Clarify your interests: Keep an open mind about how your interests intersect with your values. Perhaps you love art, but also enjoy communicating and planning, and can’t deal with the instability that comes with being an artist — maybe a career in museum fundraising is right for you. Think of ways your interests and values might overlap.
  • Identify your skills: You’ve no doubt developed abilities through education, experience or practice. Maybe you learned arithmetic skills as a result of handling money, or public speaking techniques from a performance arts background. List your skills and abilities, both large and small. Use the following thought experiment: “If I worked at a (randomly chosen business), I’d probably be the (role) because I’m good at (skill).”

Feel like you’ve hit a wall, and you just don’t know if your list of values, interests and skills makes sense as a starting point for a career? Try taking an online assessment quiz or two, and use the results to provide greater clarity. Also, it’s a good idea to check back in from time to time; your values, interests and skills can change with experience.

Investigate a range of options

Now that you’ve done an honest self-assessment, it’s time to figure out what career options are the best match for somebody with your values, interests and skills.

  • Cast a wide net: Use online searches, pre-existing lists from places like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and your network to seek out career options that match well with your profile. Don’t be afraid to build a long list of occupations. The more you learn about each, the easier it’ll be to narrow your choice.
  • Go to the source: Even if you’re not yet ready to choose a new career, attending job fairs and networking events will help you discover a wider range of options, and allow you to have conversations with people who have first-hand knowledge of the available paths. Add to (or subtract from) your list based on what you learn.
  • Examine job postings: Knowing the actual responsibilities of various potential roles within each occupation can help you focus your goals. If the activities typically listed in job postings sound like something you’d be good at and enjoy, you’re on the right track.
  • Plot out the journey: Most occupations require a certain amount of education, training or experience. Find out what steps you’ll need to take before arriving at your goal, and decide which obstacles you’re ready to overcome.
  • Forecast the future: Since you’re making plans for your future, it’ll be good to investigate the direction your preferred career options and industries are headed in. Evaluate long-term trends to see which of your options feels like the best bet for achieving your long-term goals.

Make a decision

Now that you’ve compiled and narrowed a list of options based on an understanding of each job’s requirements, you should be left with a few good choices — and a big decision to make. If you haven’t spoken directly to somebody involved in each of the remaining careers, now’s a great time to start.

If you’re having a difficult time deciding on which option is best, try creating a list of pros and cons for each, and ask for advice from people who have direct experience.

Remember to set your sights high and aim for roles and positions that you can grow into over time. If each of the steps you’ll need to take to get to the position you’re interested in sounds as fascinating to you as the results, you’ve found a good direction.

Build a plan

A solid career plan breaks long-term goals into manageable short- and medium-term tasks. That way you’ll continuously make measurable progress to avoid feeling discouraged, while at the same time reminding yourself of the larger purpose of each step you take.

Learn more: Aerotek's Guide to Career Planning

Sample the opportunities

Still not sure which is the best option, or don’t feel like you have enough information? There are several opportunities to get your feet wet without jumping into the deep end. For instance, contract labor and internships are great ways to test the waters. Think of these as “try before you buy” options.

And if you’re looking for advice from someone with knowledge about a range of occupations, you can always reach out to Aerotek.

Aerotek recruiters are dedicated to specific industries so that they can guide people just like you through their career. To connect with a recruiter and truly identify your ideal career, create a free career account and reach out.