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How to Choose a Career Path

I was always envious of those people that knew exactly what they to do with their life. By the time they graduated high school, they had a plan and went off to college knowing what their major was going to be. They had it all figured out. I thought I was the only one who didn’t have a clue.

I was, of course, wrong about that. As I got older, I realized more people were like me than like those who knew what they wanted. More people are uncertain and unafraid of making the wrong choice than there are those with a solid plan. You’re not alone in this.

There’s one more thing you need to know, especially if you’re in high school or fresh out: It may feel like you’re making a decision that will impact the whole of your life, and if you don’t chose right, you’ll ruin your life. It’s not true. It’s a different world than that of your parents or grandparents. People change careers all the time. They may return to school for a degree in their 40s or get a completely different job in their 30s. Today’s career paths are more adventurous. People are getting into a job more for the experience and then move on to the next. No more do people stay in the same job until the day they retire. Take the attitude that your own career can be an exploratory journey, and you’re ready to choose your path. So let’s take that first step….

Assess yourself. Find out about your aptitudes, interests, values, etc. that can help you towards occupations that may be a good fit for you. There are many online tools, including our own Job Zone and Career Zone. There’s also and among others that have tools to help career seekers. Print out or make a list of suggested occupations as you go along.

Explore occupations. So now you have a bunch of lists. Highlight the ones that show up on multiple lists and any others that appeal to you. It also can’t hurt to make note of those occupations that you have no clue about what they are. You might find something interesting in the unknown. Don’t worry if you have a lot of occupations circled. You’ll be narrowing those down.

Explore further. Take your highlighted occupations research them some. Most of the tools you used to assess yourself will have further information as will O*Net. Find out what people in those jobs do on a daily basis, what education is needed, the average salary, and so on. All this information will help with the next step.

Narrow down the list. Get rid of any occupation where the duties don’t appeal, the labor market is weak (you want to be able to find a job after all), and any that have educational requirements you’re not prepared to fill. Hopefully now you have a short list of two to five jobs to explore.

Informational Interviews. You’ll want to do a deeper dive on those remaining occupations. You can conduct more research online, but your best bet is an informational interview. An informational interview is just what it sounds like: talking to someone to get more data. See if you can find someone who does the job(s) you’re interested in and give them a call. Express your interest in their occupation and ask for an appointment to discuss it. Prepare some questions to ask to fill in the gaps of your knowledge. Most job/career sites can tell you what the job entails but don’t necessarily tell you the good and bad about an occupation. During an interview, the person can tell you what they love about the job as well as share cautionary tales. They can prepare you for details that the sites didn’t.

Make a choice. Hopefully by now, you’ve developed enough information to have a clear choice. You’ll want to select the occupation that you think will be most satisfying. Remember: no one is permanently stuck with their career decision. Again this is a journey and sometimes as you go along another road looks more appealing than the highway you’re traveling. Let me tell you a bit of my own journey for an example.

I spent the first part of my career in the retail sector doing various jobs but I was mostly an administrative assistant. At one point, I decided to check out the medical field. I got a clerical job in a hospital where I could see the different occupations in action. While I was there, I did a sharp turn and chose to go back to school for IT. While attending classes, I discovered that I was a terrible programmer. So I switched my major to Business with a minor in Information Systems. I graduated and stumbled across the job I’m doing now, Employment & Training Specialist. It’s been quite the trip, and it isn’t over with yet.

Now my career path has been quite meandering with some bushwhacking mixed in to find where I want to be, but yours doesn’t have to be. It may be a research heavy project, but with some determination you’ll discover the start of your own adventure. Of course, searching for a career path doesn’t have to be a solo mission. Your local career center can help. We provide career counseling and can get you to stepping in the right direction.

What job are you curious about? Let us know in the comments!


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