Career Discovery
Getting Hired
May 7, 2024

How to Choose a Career: Step-by-Step Checklist

It can be hard to find a career that’s right for you, but this guide helps you learn how to choose a career path that’s right for you.

Not sure how to choose a career that’s right for you? You’re not alone—plenty of people, both new to the workforce and well into an existing career, might not be sure where to start when they want to explore something new.

We’re here to help demystify the process. Explore what the difference is between a career and a job, and how to lay the foundation for choosing the best career for you.

Picking a Career vs. Job

Let’s clarify the differences between jobs and careers before we dive in.

A job is just one singular role you’ve held. For example, managing a fast-food restaurant is a job, but so is being the chief marketing officer for that same restaurant chain.

On the other hand, a career is the combination of jobs, experiences, education, and steps you take to reach your goals. In other words, a job can be part of a career. Jobs can help you pay the bills, but careers are what help you feel fulfilled with your working life.

6 Steps for Finding the Right Career

1. Determine Your Work Style

Before trying to choose a new career, it’s important to determine your work style. Everyone’s work style is unique—that’s why there are so many different types of jobs out there.

Everyone has a set of different work styles and skills that are intrinsic to their personality, based on six different overarching categories. There are quizzes you can take to determine your work style, using how you respond to the idea of different types of tasks or jobs.

The six types of work styles include:

  • Artistic: Artistic people like working in unstructured environments using their imagination and creativity to come up with unconventional solutions. However, this doesn’t mean they only work in artistic fields—scientists, doctors, and other mechanically inclined jobs need the creative problem-solving skills someone with an artistic work style might have.
  • Conventional: People with a conventional work style like to handle information and data, carry out detailed tasks, and are more likely to enjoy working with numbers. These people work well in structured situations and do their best work when they’re following a set plan.
  • Enterprising: These are the people who are most likely to run their own businesses. Those with an enterprising work style like to work with and lead people to success. They can galvanize groups to get projects done and love the opportunity to be the decision-makers on projects and campaigns. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t work without structure—they just might end up making their own.
  • Investigative: The detective among the six work styles, investigative people enjoy learning, observing, and analyzing to solve problems and come up with new ideas. They can work independently and do particularly well in the sciences, where their knack for testing theories and being able to think abstractly works wonders.
  • Realistic: These are the people who enjoy working with their hands and being in controlled, straightforward environments. People with realistic work styles tend to thrive in skilled trades, where they get to work with machines or tools to solve problems directly.
  • Social: This is the work style for people who enjoy working with other people. Those with a social work style love to inspire or help others. They work best when they’re able to communicate, work in groups, and lead productive discussions.
Determining the right career for you

Not sure which of these sounds most like you? Taking the work styles quiz can help you find out which potential careers may be best for you based on your work style.

2. Reflect on Your Motivations & Values

Everyone has different motivations for choosing a career path or a job that can help them figure out which option is right for them. Here are just a few of the most influential motivations and values you should consider before changing careers.

  • Salary: Everything on this list is important, but your salary is what will keep the lights on and put bread on the table. Some people want a higher salary and are willing to take high-stress positions they enjoy, while others can make a living wage and still find joy in less demanding careers.
  • Work-life balance: Some people don’t mind dedicating large portions of their lives to their careers, while others want to be able to come home and spend time with their families and friends at the end of the day.
  • Passion: What do you do really well? Is it the same as what you enjoy doing? These will help you identify how you can make your passion part of your career.
  • Stability: Some people don’t mind the changing paces of careers that rely more on contract work, while others prefer the stability of a job they can work at steadily for years and years.
  • Impact: Not every action needs to be earth-shattering to make a difference. However, some people prefer to work on the frontlines with their community to make a difference, while others are content with contributing to the world in the background.
  • Location: Do you prefer working in an office, or would you rather be fully remote in your role? Some people also use this as an opportunity to move to a place they’ve wanted to work, so it’s important to consider location.

How to Choose a Career as a Teenager

If you’re a teen who’s trying to figure out their career, this is the perfect time to start casually thinking about what you want to do. There shouldn’t be any pressure, and there are no right or wrong answers. After all, just because you’re getting ready to enter the workforce in the next few years doesn’t mean you have to have your entire life figured out the second your principal hands you a diploma.

Take the time you need to determine what speaks to you and think about these factors for your career as an adult:

  • Understand yourself and your interests: What makes you happy? What are your strengths and skills as a person?
  • Consider your values: Your job should be something that you personally believe in and support.
  • Know your earning potential: Financial stability is a major factor in life, especially if you’re planning on going to college or buying a house later on.
  • Try everything: Okay, maybe not absolutely everything—most places don’t allow you to start skydiving until you’re 18. But by trying different activities, like building furniture, volunteering with animals, or writing movie scripts, you can understand more about what you love doing.

3. Research Industries, Companies & Roles

There are countless industries that might work for the type of job you want to have. For example, if you want to get into software development, you could work in the cybersecurity industry, or your skills might also be applicable to IT, video game design, or application development.

Some roles can work across multiple industries—as another example, graphic designers can work in marketing agencies, at a publishing company creating magazines, or in-house at companies that make their own marketing materials. There may be more possibilities than you might expect, so don’t be afraid to brainstorm.

From there, come up with a shortlist. There may be some industries that you have no interest in or others you may be passionate about. Research the ones that speak to you the most and keep them in mind for the next steps you’ll take.

4. Envision a Career Path

You might have a vision for your career—for example, becoming a CTO at an app development company in the distant future. However, that’s just the beginning.

Once you have a vision in mind, search for areas of untapped potential and how your past experiences can help you carve the path ahead. After all, many skills are transferable, and you could end up using them across any number of careers.

When to Change Careers

For some people, there may come a time when you need to explore other career options. Symptoms that you’ve reached this point include:

  • Feeling burned out at work, especially across multiple jobs in the same career
  • Being bored or apathetic at work
  • Feeling jealous of other people’s jobs or wishing you had what they did with their careers
  • Being stuck in a dead-end role with no room for growth or mobility
  • Lacking any passion, joy, or satisfaction in what you do for work

5. Build Your Skills

You won’t just get opportunities to build your skills from a four-year college degree. That’s just one of the many options you have available to get the skills you need for your new career of choice:

  • High school/GED: Some high school or GED programs can provide the qualifications you need to succeed in a new career, such as home health caretakers or delivery driving.
  • College: There are different types of programs colleges offer, especially at community colleges, where you can build your portfolio, gain more work experience, and learn more about the career you want.
  • Trade schools: These cover the skilled trades, allowing people to learn how to become certified in trades such as mechanics, plumbing, carpentry, pipefitting, and more.
  • Training programs: Many companies offer sponsored training programs for specialized certifications through colleges and trade schools without requiring degrees or prerequisites, so people can get specialized certifications to enhance or expand their careers.

Apprenticeships: Also known as “earn and learn” programs, these typically have built-in formal training agreements and contracts to provide on-the-job training and related skills. It’s common for skilled trades to have these programs, but other industries may offer them as well.

6. Make a Career Plan

You might have one specific career in mind or several similar careers with overlapping skill sets. Whatever the case may be, the journey to the career you want starts with laying out a roadmap for how to get there. Working with a career coach can also make this easier.

In turn, this will make it easier for you to determine the steps you need to take first to dive into your new career.

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