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How do I choose my career?

Published March 28, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Choosing a career is a big decision that you need to make carefully. Your career determines your income, your work-life balance, who you spend a big chunk of your day with, where you spend your time, and in many ways, your general happiness.

    As important as a decision as it is, many people change careers throughout their lives as their interests or needs change or new opportunities arise.

    So yes, while it’s a very worthy exercise to narrow down careers that best match your skills and interests, don’t consider any decision a final decision. In various stages of your life, you might want to sit down with yourself again and figure out what career is best for you at that point in time.

    With that in mind, here are a few steps to take to figure out the best career for you right now.

    1. Reflect on who you are and what your interests are

    The most crucial step when choosing a career is assessing who you are and what makes you happy. Ultimately, this'll impact your ability to succeed in specific industries and jobs and help you decide whether you’ll be happy in certain careers.

    For example, if you’re an introvert who doesn’t enjoy being around crowds of people, you might want to avoid careers like party planning or political campaigning.

    When you’re doing this reflection exercise, consider your personality traits, values, skills, and interests.

    Beyond that, also consider what motivates you to succeed. There are, for example, high-impact sales-motivated jobs for people who enjoy hitting targets and overcoming obstacles. On the other hand, if you prefer being behind the scenes managing projects and timelines to meet goals and objectives, there's another set of jobs you might be best suited for.

    As you reflect on yourself, don’t feel like you have to match yourself to a career just yet.

    2. Make a list of your big life goals

    Many people have big life goals that may not be directly tied to their career goals. Making a list of some of those goals can help you decide on a career path that might help you meet those goals. For instance, maybe you want to travel extensively in Asia, and a job as a flight attendant or food critic will help you reach that goal. Whatever your big life goals are, there are likely careers that are better suited to help you meet them.

    3. Do a deep dive into your past experiences in jobs or at school

    Beyond examining your natural skills and personality traits, look at your past school and job experiences. Did you love all of the English classes you have taken? Did you love inventing things for the science fair? Did you have a summer job where you were part of a team working toward a common goal that felt really special? Your past experiences where you had successes and happiness can help inform what career you might like going forward.

    4. Explore career options

    Once you have put pen to paper about what your soft and hard skills are and what your big goals are, you are likely ready to truly begin exploring career options.

    A good place to start is with a school counselor if you're still in high school or college. Counselors are usually privy to job fairs, internships, and other opportunities. They also are likely informed about career opportunities, particularly those available to new college graduates. Set up a meeting and come to your meeting prepared with a few different career ideas and specific questions about them.

    If you're still in college, many campuses have career centers to help you navigate life after college. Your career center is an excellent resource for discovering career options and asking questions about areas you’re interested in. Furthermore, many provide personality assessment tests that can help give you insights into what jobs might be a fit for your interests.

    If you don’t have access to a counselor, do your own research online. There's a huge trove of career information online on forums, career-focused websites, and online special interest groups. The more specialized a search you can do online, the more beneficial the information you'll likely find.

    5. Link your interests and skills to specific careers

    You’ve spent some time assessing your skills and personality traits and have started exploring careers — now it’s time to start pairing these two things together.

    If you’re having trouble figuring out what jobs might fit your personality and interests, use resources like career tests or self-assessments, many of which are available online.

    6. Identify careers that match your life priorities and values

    Even after you’ve identified careers that match your skills and personality, there's an extra layer of reflection to do. Some careers just might not match your bigger priorities. If work-life balance is a priority to you, jobs known to work people to the bone might not be the best fit. And even if your skills seem to align with a certain job, something you value above all else — say, being artistic — might not make a certain career the best fit.

    7. Research fast-growing industries and pay

    As nice as it would be to completely follow your passions when it comes to picking a career, a big reason that most people work is to make a living to support themselves and their families financially. It's worth factoring in what industries are growing along with the pay for various jobs when deciding on a career path.

    8. Network and do informational interviews

    Nothing allows you to learn about various careers more than talking to those already in them. Network with people in jobs that you're interested in. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help making connections to do this. You can also ask people to do informational interviews with you, so you can get a sense of what their career is really like.

    For college students, internships are an excellent way to get real-life experience in various fields so you can make the most informed decision when you do pick a career.

    Final thoughts

    Embarking on a career path is a huge decision. Take some time to explore your options and test the waters before making any big decisions. And remember, if something doesn’t suit you, you’ve still gained valuable experience that will help you get a job elsewhere.