Choosing a career can be difficult; even with the help of a career counselor, you may be unsure of what is truly right for you. Maybe you question whether you're passionate about your career choice, or whether your passion is career-worthy.
"It's hard for people to choose a career because they can tend to focus on money instead of the job itself," said Amanda Andino, a recruiting trainer at a Fortune 500 company. "[They] may take a job they won't be passionate about or enjoy because it pays well."
Whether you're an entry-level candidate or an experienced professional, follow these steps to help you decide your ideal path.
1. Determine if you're really in the wrong career.
If you're considering a career change, chances are, you've been debating this issue privately for some time. First, you need to determine if you're in the wrong field or just the wrong environment.
"If you picked the wrong [job], make sure you take the time to figure out why it is the wrong one. What is making you unhappy?" Andino said. "Make sure you find what you are looking for before moving on to the next job."
You may need to dig deeper to determine what is truly bothering you at work. If you often feel anxious, bored or stressed at your current job and struggle with or dislike your daily tasks, a career transition may be necessary.
"You will know you have chosen the right job when you get up every morning, excited to go to work," Andino said. "You look forward to the challenges of your day and truly are passionate about your work day, in and day out. You will also know you have chosen the right one when you align with the beliefs and values of the company you are working for."
2. Figure out what you want — and don't want.
People end up on the wrong career path for many reasons. They may choose a job to please a friend or family member, to achieve a certain status or salary, or simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
"We are taught that if we are good at something, we should do it as a career," said Joanne Sperans, owner of Volo Coaching. "The problem is, we're often good at several things, and we're passionate about several things. It's where those two meet that we should look."
Jane Sunley, CEO of employee engagement company Purple Cubed and author of "It's Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer" (LID Publishing, 2014), said it's best to be specific about your end goals when deciding on a new career direction. You can discover those goals by asking yourself the following questions:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What skills do you use when doing the things you enjoy?
- What means a lot to you?
- What are you good at?
- What do others admire about you and why?
- What things do you do that you're better at than others?
Once you've answered these questions, it will be easier to determine where you want to be and what you need to do to get there, Sunley said.
3. Assess your background and personality.
When you know what you want out of your career, evaluate your qualifications for jobs in that field. Two of the most important factors in choosing your ideal path are your background (education, previous experience, practical skills) and your personality (character traits, interests, values). Both should be taken into consideration but depending on your desired career, your personality may be more important than your résumé.
"Obviously, for highly technical careers like engineering, medicine and law, training is very important," Sperans said. "However, for the 'softer' roles, including executive management, personality traits — like a commitment to one's workplace and employees, a strong work ethic and empathy — are as important, if not more so. You can teach skills, but you can't teach attitude and ethics."
Holding a degree in your chosen field can certainly help, but not having one won't necessarily bar you from getting a job. A person with the right aptitudes and a willingness to learn can be a good fit for a position, even if you don't have formal education in that field. Ideally, your career should be a place where your personality and background intersect.
"People who are thriving in their careers are easy to spot because there is such consistency — they are living what they do, and it shows," said Lisa Severy, career services director at the University of Colorado Boulder and past president of the National Career Development Association. "People who are dissatisfied and stuck in their careers are usually experiencing some disconnect between what they are doing and who they are."
If you're really unsure of where you want to go, explore a few different career paths within a single company.
"You do have to try a few things out before you can make up your mind on your career path," said Keren Kang, CEO of Native Commerce, a digital marketing and e-commerce company. "However, jumping from job to job will always be frowned upon. Join a startup. Startups need jacks-of-all-trades and typically require all employees to wear different hats."
4. Ask for advice, but don't always take it.
Everyone has advice, has seen it all and always knows what to do when it comes to careers — or so they think. Regardless of whether your friends and family offer you great advice, you don't always have to follow their well-intentioned recommendations.
Career coach Phyllis Mufson of Catalyst for Growth noted that outside advice can be very helpful, but only if you take control and ask specific questions that will assist in your self-discovery and career research.
"Suggestions can always be welcomed as a courtesy, but it is unlikely for friends and family to know all the dimensions of the person who is making a career choice," added Jane Roqueplot, owner of JaneCo's Sensible Solutions. "Most people don't even realize their own total person until [they are] assessed to reveal the information about their style, aptitude and values. Family and friends can be far more important in helping one get a job after the appropriate career path has been determined."
5. Be open to all possibilities.
No matter the stage of your life or career, the most important thing to remember when choosing a job is to keep your options open, career experts say. If you're just entering the job market, take the time to explore your interests and learn about different career paths.
"Trust your own instincts, and refrain from being swayed by naysayers," said Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, owner of The Career Success Coach. "Know that trial and error in choosing a career path is part of the process."
The same can be said for individuals making a career change; it's never too late to achieve your professional goals, Kang said. Even if you've been on the wrong path, you can still switch to a job that you may not have considered but that will make you far happier than the one you have now.
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.