“So what’s going to be your major when you go to college?” The question annoyed and frustrated me as an 18-yr. old high school senior. I had no idea how to choose a career at that age. Nothing had ever seemed to jump out at me.
So, when asked, I’d sheepishly throw out a few ideas. Then say I was just going to take the required core classes my freshman year of college to get those out of the way. Everyone seemed to think that was a good idea.
College did indeed open up a new world of vocational options for me – careers that I had never considered before. My first two quarters were spent getting adjusted to school and meeting new friends. Still nothing overly intrigued me. Business management? Optometry? Finance? Ministry? What direction should I go?
Then, to satisfy a general ed requirement, I took Intro to Psychology in the spring quarter.
I was hooked.
Learning about the intricacies of the human mind fascinated me – how it functions and how we interact with other people. “Plus, I’m a good listener,” I thought. “That should come in handy in that field, right?” So by fall quarter of my sophomore year I was a full-fledged Psych major with a dual emphasis in counseling and child and family studies.
Just to be clear in case you missed that – I made that decision based on one class and the fact that I was a good listener.
But was it the right decision?
I’m not much on retrospective second-guessing. I believe all things work together for a reason. Although my major choice did not lead to a full-time career as a counselor, I’ve certainly used those skills through the years dealing with parents and students in the educational field. It proved to be beneficial, just not in the way I had expected.
It’s counterproductive to obsess over and wallow in regret of our past decisions. Doing that only leads to emotional pain. It produces doubt that can lock us down when making current decisions. However, it is a productive use of our time to evaluate the past so that we can make better and more informed decisions in the future.
Should I have conducted a deeper evaluation when making the decision about which career path to pursue? Probably. There were so many angles that weren’t properly dissected. So, if I could face my 18-year old self again, here are some things I would suggest for him as he tried to figure out how to choose a career.
How to Choose a Career: Questions and Considerations
These are the suggestions I’d give anyone who asked me how to choose a career.
1. Know for sure or at least project some career goals
The first step in how to choose a career is to figure out what you really want from it. After all, it is going to lead you somewhere.
Will you be content if it provides for your family? Or are you focused on climbing the corporate ladder, and willing to postpone family commitments for a time? Do you want to lead a company, perhaps being an entrepreneur who starts their own business? How about a career that gives back to the community? Will it be a dead end career or is there an avenue to change course should it become necessary to alter your career track in the future?
I didn’t ask myself any of these questions. Helping people was the only concern on my mind. That’s not really a clearly defined and specific goal. Noble perhaps, but very vague.
2. How much money do you want or need to make?
You may be saying, “What a superficial question to ask. Why does it matter how much money a particular job brings in? Isn’t it enough to be happy in what you do?”
Yes, it is extremely important to be happy in your career. And yes, it’s extremely important to analyze the income potential of your career choice. Your job will be the #1 income generator over time and it’s imperative to make enough to provide for the needs of your family.
So what are the future earning projections for the field you are considering? Are the jobs even in demand in that field? How quickly will your income rise and what will you do to bring in those monetary benefits? Will it require some continuing education or even pursuing an advanced degree to reach the income levels you desire?
3. Family implications
I completely wasn’t thinking about family when I chose my major. It was just excited to have an answer to the question, “So what are you majoring in?” The thought didn’t cross my mind that this career would have to provide a house, cars, food, clothing, utilities, medical expenses, more food, insurance premiums, school and sports fees, Christmas and birthday gifts and even more food for my future family.
So ask, will a salary of $35,000 support a family of six? Will you be content at a $150,000 job that requires an 80-hour workweek? Will this career be flexible enough to allow your spouse to work or allow time off for kid activities? What if this career requires moving around the country. Will the family benefit from being uprooted over and over again?
4. Consider your ideal work environment based on personality and human interaction
My initial thoughts in college were that I would love being in an office listening to and helping people with their problems all day long. As time wore on and I progressed into my graduate program, it dawned on me that type of workday did not sound appealing after all. Client after client coming in hour after hour dumping their life issues on me sounded more depressing than anything. So I changed my focus to school counseling which is how I ended up in education. That transition seemed to offer me more chance at daily variety.
So how do you handle daily routines? Will you want some variety in your work? Is working indoors agreeable to you or would working under the sun be more enjoyable? How do interact with others? Will you want a career focused on people or something sitting behind a computer or phone all day? How do you handle and manage stress? Are you an extravert or an introvert? A lead dog driver or a loyal supporter?
5. Evaluate your innate talents, skills and abilities
Most people probably start here. I did as well, but didn’t pursue it with enough fervor. All I knew is that listening was one of my skills and thought that would be enough.
There are many ways to discover what you might like or what you are already good at. Family and friends can usually serve as a good resource. So ask them what they see in you that is valuable. (Be careful here though, because family and friends may have ulterior motives for the advice they give.) Perhaps a mentor could also help evaluate areas of strength. Doing volunteer work or internships could also help diagnose a specialty or expose deficiencies not before considered.
There are also many career and personality tests that can aid in the decision. The DISC personality profile, the Strong’s Interest Inventory and Holland’s Occupational Themes (RIASEC) are some of the most commonly used. The results of these types of tests could encourage or dissuade a person from going in a certain career direction.
6. Can You Upgrade?
Is it possible to earn a master’s or a graduate certificate in the future? This is an important question to ask because it might become necessary to upgrade your education to increase your earning potential. If you are already working in your desired industry, you might want to upgrade your education online, so it is worth looking at the availability of online advanced degrees in your area of study. Being able to learn off-campus allows you to continue working full time while you maximize your career potential with an additional degree.
Get the Process Started
This post was full of questions to get your thinking process started on how to choose a career. I can’t give concrete answers…only you have those. They might not come easily but the time given to this process will prove invaluable.
Questions: What career advice would you give your 18-yr. old self if you could go back and tell them how to choose a career? Anyone taken the DISC and care to share your personality type? I’m a high SC.
Prior Post: If I Had One Wish, Would It Be For Money