Navigating your way to the right career path can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. What if you looked at it as an adventure game with the prize being a path to an exciting new future? Of course, there are ways to set the tone and embark on a new adventure the right way. Consider picking a fun notebook or maybe a new app where you can keep track of what you discover about possible career paths – and also yourself – along the way.
Above all, remember that finding the right career path is both an adventure and a process. It doesn’t happen quickly. When you take the time to explore potential careers thoughtfully, you will reap amazing results. So how do you start?
When I guide my clients through this process, we start by brainstorming. We talk about what they wanted to be when they were 10 years old. Really, it’s a great place to start. When you were a child, you probably didn’t limit your thinking to typical careers. You were open to being a trapeze artist, a dancer, a firefighter, the President, a baker, or a zookeeper. I’ve heard more than one child say that they were going to be four different things at once! Maybe that’s because children don’t think about careers as work: they think about careers as something that would be fun to do.
So dig through your memories. Write down two or three of your childhood dream careers and see if you can remember why you liked those jobs. What did you think it would be fun to do all day? Why did you think so? Do any of those careers still resonate with you? If your answer is yes, you owe it to yourself to explore them right now.
Identify which parts of that career still resonate with you and look for information about pursuing that career as an adult. Maybe that particular career isn’t feasible for you now, but you could still look for a career that incorporates some of the same skills.
What are your friends doing?
You can continue to explore potential paths by thinking about friends who have careers that you love to hear about. Perhaps a friend is a buyer for a department store, and you love to hear about how they select items to sell. What is it about that career that intrigues you? Choosing the items? The buying trips? Having a say as a trendsetter?
Here’s the thing. Every time you consider a potential career path or job, you add to your information bank. When you invest the time in writing down what you’re thinking (and dreaming) about, patterns will emerge. Those patterns will gradually turn into a path. So keep the faith and stay with the process!
Take a career quiz (or 11)
Then there are career quizzes. Quizzes are great because they help you identify skills and talents that you don’t realize you have. They also identify skills you might have forgotten because you’re not using them right now. Many times when we’ve been working in one job for a while, we find ourselves using the same skills over and over. We forget that we have other skills, too.
Career quizzes will help you identify those forgotten skills and give you new ways to think about yourself and your career. This article lists 11 quizzes that help you explore a new career path. And this quiz gives you a different way to look at your interests and personal style. These assessments also help you learn about your personality traits and behaviors, and give you new ways to describe yourself to others and to yourself.
As you use different words to describe yourself, you will begin to think of your skills and interests in new ways. And don’t forget to make notes about your reaction to the quiz results!
What are your work values?
After you spend some time brainstorming about particular careers, it’s time to switch your focus and examine your work values and your goals. Why work values? When your values are in sync with your work, you are more likely to experience career satisfaction. Work values are things like work-life balance, independence, teamwork, collaboration, growth, and self-determination.
It’s important to name your top five5 work values so you can use them to both identify and eliminate potential careers. For example, if you have a young family and value work-life balance above all, you wouldn’t look at jobs that require travel five days a week as well as evening work. And if you’re motivated by the potential of a large income, you know to look at careers that have an element of risk (risk equals reward; that’s why sales people make the big bucks).
Goals help you explain why
Next write down some career goals. Developing goals can flow out of your career brainstorming. Your goals help you know your why – and knowing why you’re pursuing a certain career will help you recognize it when you come across it.
Look at your lists from brainstorming. What goals do those lists suggest? Do you want to make a contribution to society? Do you want to travel? Do you want a career that offers growth opportunities? Do you want to work for yourself? Do you have a particular income in mind?
Creating goals will give you more information to find that path. As you develop a way to describe your values and your goals, it will be easier to identify careers and jobs that match them.
What do you love to do right now?
Now it’s time to think about the work you love to do.
- What work assignments leave you feeling challenged and competent?
- What skills does it take to accomplish those assignments?
- What work would you like to do more of?
- Would you like to be part of a bigger team, or would you like to spend more time working alone?
- Would you enjoy working on bigger projects?
- Would you like planning more events?
- Do you like to solve problems?
- What skills do you bring to those tasks?
Make lists of both the skills and assignments that you want to use going forward. Rank them from favorite to least favorite.
After you’ve assembled your lists and notes about career options, read them again. Notice the trends; make notes about those trends. See what resonates with you. Then set your notes aside and come back to them later. Let those notes drift around in your mind. You might be surprised at what comes to you!
Identify the careers that resonate with you
When you return to your notes, identify the careers that resonate with you. If you love planning projects and making sure they’re delivered on time and to specifications, find a career that includes project management. If you love to work on a team to accomplish big things, look for careers where people are expected to work on teams – and don’t discount careers in technology. Tech is one of the most team-oriented careers out there. And tech careers go way beyond coding!
Choose the path that’s right for right now
Work your notes; work your new knowledge about you; dream big. A path will appear. Usually more than one path appears, which is good (really, it is). List your potential paths. Then pick the one that you feel in your gut is right, right now. Because here’s the truth of the matter: choosing a new career path doesn’t have to be a final answer. It’s the right answer for where you are in your life right now.
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