Have you ever asked yourself the question, What career should I have? If so, you know the answers aren’t that obvious. Coming to a decision about what career bests fits you can be quite a dilemma, no matter if you are right out of high school or in your mid-30s looking for a career change.
It sure was for me.
After high school graduation, everyone wanted to know what I was going to study in college. I didn’t know so I just told everyone I’d be taking my general education requirements first and decide on a degree track later. Seemed like the wise thing to do considering I didn’t know what else to do.
In the end, I chose psychology and counseling as a course of study. I didn’t know where that would ultimately take me later in life. All I knew at the time was that it matched up with my personality, my ability to listen and my desire to help people.
My chosen field of study didn’t lead me to a counseling career per se. After grad school, I ended up in education, first as a teacher and then as a principal at a small private school. Years later, I laid down my career as an educator and am now working as a youth pastor. While I’m not counseling in the strictness definition of the word, my education did prepare me in a lot of ways for things I faced (and am facing) when it comes to dealing with families and kids.
So in college, when I asked the What career should I have question, did I end up choosing the right one? Was my path of study appropriate, especially since I didn’t end up pursing that career in the end? Could I have gone through some steps to make a better choice that would have led to a career that aligned with my educational goals?
My answer today is “Maybe.” But I’m not one for too much second-guessing. I believe all things work together for a reason. As I said, I’ve certainly used the skills I learned even if not exactly the way they were intended to be used. My education proved to be beneficial to my career, just not in the way I expected.
My counsel today to someone looking to decide on a career or to make a career change is simple – take your time. Choosing what you want to do for the next few years (or decades) of your life isn’t easy. However, there are some angles to pursue to help you make a good decision. If I could face my 18-yr. old self again, there are some things I’d suggest he consider before starting down a career path.
What Career Should I Have – Tips and Strategies
These are the suggestions I’d give to anyone who asked me how to choose a career. They aren’t in specific order, so just take them all as equally important.
1. Think about, and if possible, project some career goals
This career you want is going to lead somewhere. So it will be important to figure out what you really want from it.
Do you want a career that provides for a family or just for yourself? Would you be willing to postpone marriage and family commitments for a time in order to climb the corporate ladder? Perhaps you’d eventually like to lead a company or perhaps be an entrepreneur who starts one.
Will you be content with a career that has a possible dead end – that will only take you so far? Will there be an avenue for change if it becomes necessary to alter your career altogether?
I didn’t ask myself any of these questions when I was thinking about my career. Helping others was the only concern on my mind. That’s pretty vague and not really a good method of defining a specific goal.
2. How much money do you want to (or need to) make?
I know, I know…money isn’t everything. On the surface this feels like a very superficial question. Why would it matter how much money a particular career offers? Isn’t it enough to be happy in whatever you do?
While it is important to have a certain level of happiness with your career, it’s also extremely important to analyze the income potential of your career choice. Your career will be the #1 income generator over your lifetime. It will be how you provide for the necessities of your family. It will be how you pay off debt. It will be how you buy a house, send your kids to college and eventually provide for yourself in retirement.
That’s a lot of issues your money will have to solve. Therefore, it’s important to make enough to meet all those needs.
So ask yourself, what are the future earning projections for this field? Is the demand high for jobs in this field? How quickly will your income rise? What will you do to make that happen? Will a rise in income require pursuing an advanced degree?
Don’t feel bad about asking these money-related questions. It doesn’t make you a bad person because you are concerned about your future income potential. But the caveat with these questions is that you don’t choose a career only for the money potential. Too many other factors are involved in the decision.
3. Family Implications
It didn’t even cross my mind to consider family when I decided on my a major. I was just happy to finally be able to answer the “So-what-are-you-majoring-in?” question. My mind was not contemplating the significance of a counseling profession when it came to having a wife and raising kids.
This is important because some careers align themselves with traditional family life better than others. A 9-5, 40-hr. workweek gives you time with family on the evenings and weekends. A job in education gives you time off during the summer months, when kids are traditionally out of school. A family who has one spouse with a significant income will allow the other to stay at home with the kids when they are young.
Conversely, an 80-hr. workweek provides little time for family. A job in the military or as a pilot will often take you away from home. Entrepreneurs have to commit significant time to starting their business, especially in the beginning years until things get settled. Some jobs require travel while others often relocate you around the country every few years.
Here’s the thing about either of these scenarios: neither one is wrong in and of itself. I know people in all these scenarios who have made family life work. But the sooner you understand the career implications the better you’ll be able to choose if it’s right for you.
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 helping people with their problems all day long. As I progressed into my graduate program though, 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 think about your personality and how you like to interact with people. Evaluate how you handle daily routines. Will you want some variety in your work? Do you like working indoors or outdoors? How do interact with others? Will you want a career focused on people or something sitting at a desk all day? How do you handle and manage stress? Are you an extrovert or an introvert, a lead dog driver or a loyal supporter?
To help with this there are many career and personality tests that can help you learn about yourself. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 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 tests could encourage or dissuade you from going in a certain career direction.
5. Evaluate your innate talents, skills and abilities
I’d say most people probably start here when it comes to deciding on a career. I did. All I knew is that listening was one my skills and thought that would be enough to base a decision on.
Each of us is born with special talents, skills and abilities. Hopefully you won’t have to look far to discover them. They’ve probably been developing over the years as you have used them for various tasks and in various situations.
But if you aren’t sure, take heart. There are many ways to discover what you might like or what you might be 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, as family and friends may not be objective. They may have ulterior motives for the advice they give.
Further resources could be a mentor, a counselor or a life coach to help evaluate areas of strength. Perhaps doing volunteer work or internships could help you diagnose a specialty or expose deficiencies you hadn’t considered.
6. Can you upgrade?
This step is all about furthering yourself in your career. Will it be possible to earn a Master’s degree or a graduate certificate in the future if you need to? It’s 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.
7. Pray about it
You may not feel comfortable taking this step if you are not religious. But for people of faith, prayer is a must.
The Bible tells us in James 1:5 to pray for wisdom. God promises wisdom for all life situations to those who pray for it. And I can’t think of too many life decisions more important that choosing the career that will define your adult life.
So don’t be afraid to pray about it. Some divine help might be just what you need.
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’ll have those once you’ve worked the process. There is no guarantee the answers will come easily but they won’t come at all unless you start working this through.
Choosing a career is your personal decision. You can’t go to someone and ask, What career should I have? and expect them to decide for you. It doesn’t work that way. They may be able to give you solid advice but in the end you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Questions for Discussion: Do you remember asking the question, “ What career should I have? ” How did it make you feel to be so unsure? How did you eventually come to a decision? If you could go back in time, what career advice would you give your 18-yr. old self? Anyone taken the DISC and care to share your personality type? I’m a high SC.