When you’ll probably spend approximately 90,000 hours at work over your lifetime, choosing a career path is not a decision to be taken lightly.
But how do you choose a career path? Are there ways to narrow your options when you’re feeling undecided?
7 Steps To Choose A Career Path
In this article, I share seven steps you can take to identify a potential career path. I also provide reflective questions throughout to help you narrow your options and find the best fit.
1. Identify your career North Star.
A good place to start when trying to determine a career path is to reflect on your dreams and values. You can think of this initial step like finding the “North Star” of your career.
But how do you find this North Star exactly? While some people are crystal clear on their dreams and values (you can skip to step 2 if this happens to be you), most people lack clarity when it comes to their meaning and purpose.
The following are some questions to support you in beginning to identify your North Star.
- Besides work, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
- What does your perfect day look like?
- If you could put a single message on a billboard, what would it say and why?
- How do you want to be remembered? In other words, what legacy do you want to leave?
- If money wasn’t an issue and success was inevitable, how would you spend your time?
As you reflect on these questions, try not to overthink your responses, search for the “right” answer, or focus on reality. Instead, answer as quickly as possible with the goal of generating as many ideas as possible.
Then, as you move through the subsequent steps, you can begin drawing lines and focusing on the practicality of your career options.
2. Get clear on your goals.
Next, you’re going to want to go a level deeper and get clear on your goals, hopefully moving toward work that aligns with them.
As you do this, consider breaking your goals into two categories:
- Long-term goals: What do you want to achieve in the next 5 to 10+ years?
- Short-term goals: What do you want to achieve in the coming months and years?
Note: Be sure to include any and all goals, not just “career” goals, as you want to account for possibilities that may complement or compete with your next job.
Next, brainstorm how you might identify or create a career path that augments both your short-term and long-term goals.
3. Reflect on your interest and hobbies.
While not everyone has the luxury of a job that aligns with their hobbies, you might find it helpful to look at your interests outside of work.
The following are a few questions to get you thinking about how you could align your work with your extracurricular activities.
- What activities do you enjoy outside of work?
- Why do you enjoy these activities?
- How might you be able to incorporate aspects of these activities into your next career?
Personally speaking, I love branding and marketing. While I’m not a brand or marketing executive, I’m able to support my clients in crafting and sharing their career stories. I also developed and own the brand and marketing for my company, CaffeinatedKyle.com.
At the same time, sometimes a hobby is just a hobby. While I love watching Judge Judy (and her new show Judy Justice), I’ve yet to find a way to formally integrate reality TV court shows into my work, and that’s totally okay.
4. Leverage career assessments and personality inventories.
Assessments are another tool that can help you in identifying potential career paths. The Strong Interest Inventory is one of my favorite career assessments because it allows you to uncover your top 10 most aligned careers based on your interests.
The CliftonStrengths and Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are similar assessments that can help you learn more about your strengths and work personality and inspire you to begin thinking about how you show up in your career.
Note: These assessments are merely a starting point since they don’t tell you what you “should” do or if you’ll necessarily succeed in a particular career path.
5. Conduct a Mini 360.
You can also harness the power of informal assessments to explore potential career options. This can be as simple as texting a half-dozen family and friends the following types of questions.
- What types of careers can you envision me excelling in?
- Are there any jobs you can’t see me excelling in?
- What companies can you see me working at?
As you collect your Mini 360 responses, notice what trends emerge. Clients are often surprised by how diverse respondents will share similar responses, which can be a sign that you’re onto something fabulous.
6. Consider your job preferences.
Once you’ve collected additional insights from those around you, it’s important to start taking a look at your job preferences. You can use the following three categories to think about your work preferences:
- Requirements: What do you need in your next job?
- Preferences: What do you want (or not want) in your next job?
- Deal-Breakers: What can’t you have in your next job?
While these job requirements, preferences, and deal-breakers look different for everyone, they often include parameters like geographical location, salary expectations, and company culture. This article includes a comprehensive list of factors to consider when looking for a job.
7. Evaluate the current job market.
Lastly, you’ll want to assess the current job market to see how pragmatic the career path you’ve designed is right now. In other words, you want to be realistic about your career goals.
If you’ve never worked in the tech industry, yet want a role at Meta, for instance, you might need to get a bit creative. This doesn’t necessarily mean a job in big tech isn’t possible, but you might need to add a “lily pad” role or two before getting to your ultimate career goal.
Final Thoughts On Choosing A Career Path
If you’re feeling stuck while choosing a career path, don’t hesitate to speak with a coach who can support you in clarifying your goals, identifying and weighing your options, and developing a path forward.
On a final note, please remember that your next career might not necessarily be your final career. The goal is to find a career you love, and this may change over time. You’ve got this!