How to Choose a Career
Choosing your future career is a daunting prospect, especially when you’re still in high school. It may not even really be possible for you now to know what career you’re best suited for, as your exposure to potential jobs has been so limited.
As a child the only jobs you are aware of are the jobs of your parents, relatives and other people you come into contact with often. But you don’t have to become a lawyer just because you’re mom is a lawyer. And you don't have to join the family business just because your dad has a guaranteed position available for you after you graduate.
By the time you graduate, the job market may look considerably different than it does now. Some of the hottest jobs employers are trying to fill right now include search engine marketer, mobile and web developer, web architect, and data engineer -- all fields that were uncommon or even unheard of ten years ago. It's likely that in another ten years even these jobs will be outdated.
So how do you plan ahead for jobs that likely do not even exist?
1. Know What You’re Good At
It can be pretty clear at an early age what strengths you’ve been gifted with. Some children love being around people and can make friends easily. Some children thrive when spending time by themselves working on a project of interest. Are you good at physical challenges, picking up sports and dance moves easily? Are you a deep thinker or strategist who is always planning ahead? Or are you spontaneous and creative, often called the life of the party? These show you hints of your natural strengths that will rarely change throughout your life.
It’s just as important to realize what it is you’re not good at. You can spend a lot of time trying to bring your math grade up from a B- to a B+, but is it even worth it if you hate every second? Why spend time becoming “less worse” at something that doesn’t even interest you? We don’t advocate failing any of your classes, but we do believe your time may be better spent becoming an expert in subjects that you are good at and do enjoy.
To get more insight into your natural strengths, take Majors Matcher.
2. Know What You Like
You probably have a good idea of what you like to do and subjects that interest you. It’s easy for you to spend two hours a day reading because you’re fascinated with science fiction. Or perhaps you spent your free time after school designing a video game, playing an instrument, or engaging in political debates online. Maybe you just spend all of your time socializing with friends or playing with your pets. Knowing what you enjoy can give you insight into what careers you may be best suited for.
Continue to focus on subjects and hobbies that interest you, but also make sure you begin to get experiences outside of your home and school. It’s possible you have many other passions out there waiting to be discovered. You can also gain insight into how your interests can translate into real-life jobs. For example, if you love decorating and have a natural strength of organization you can turn that into a career in event planning, or interior design. But you may never be aware of all the career options available to you until you get outside of your comfort zone and explore.
3. Consider Future Goals & Your Desired Lifestyle
Where do you want to live? How big of a house do you want to have? Do you want to purchase a new car every few years, or are you OK driving a junker?
Here's where you have to consider the income potential of the various careers you are interested in and decide what's most important to you. If you are really passionate about social work make sure you are aware of the average starting and mid-career salaries for that field. Is that something you can live with?
Maybe you're not really sure what you want to do, but you already know you want to live in an expensive area or own a nice house. This means you should start considering careers with high income potential.
Some other questions to ask yourself:
- Where do you want to live? Will you have to move to a particular area to make it in your chosen career?
- What do you like to do all day? Is sitting at a desk for hours at a time going to make you miserable?
- Do you like working with other people, or do you prefer to work on solo projects most of the time?
- Do you want to have a lot of free time to spend with family or on hobbies?
- Will you be OK with working weekends and holidays?
- Do you want a job you can leave at the office, or are you OK with taking some work home with you?
4. Don't Make a Decision Right Away
It's possible that through exploring your strengths and interests a career will present itself right away. Perhaps you do realize you want to become a doctor, a nurse, an engineer, a teacher, a computer developer, a political speech writer, or an entrepreneur.
That's great! You can now go about choosing the education to help you meet your goals.
However, it's more likely that you still don't know exactly what to do. Even if you've identified your strengths and areas of interest, it may take you several years to determine exactly what your career should be. That's OK! As we said before, you probably have to go out and explore in order to really find out what you want to do.
5. Learn Valuable and Transferable Skills
Now that you have some ideas about what you like to do and what you’re good at, you can start gaining skills and an education that put you in a position to pursue your passions. There are many different places where you can hone your skills.
Community colleges are often more job oriented and practical, as well as being more affordable. If you’ve decided your ideal career is a Dental hygienist, mechanic, or veterinary technician this could be a good choice for you! You’ll receive applicable training in your field and get into the workforce in the shortest amount of time.
If you've decided you want to spend several years immersed in a subject your fascinated with, a four-year research university or liberal arts college is for you. But how do you choose which school when there are so many options?
Some schools are hyper-focused on a specific area and don't offer as broad of an education. A good example of this is the business school Bentley, which specializes in business subjects so they can really be the best in that particular area (but not a good choice if you think you might change majors to a different subject altogether).
If you only have a general idea of what you’d like to do as a career, you may decide to attend a liberal arts college. These schools offer a broad education in multiple subjects such as math, science, English, art, sociology and history to name a few. An example of a good liberal arts college is Amherst.
Going to a liberal arts school often means you have to complete core requirements in multiple different subjects. You’ll lose the hyper-focus and cutting-edge technology found in some research universities, but you’ll gain knowledge and skills in many different subjects and also learn how to write and reason well and to think crucially. These are some of the key skills you’ll need to prepare you for jobs that don’t exist yet.
The Importance of Internships
When employers look to hire new college grads, they often consider internships more valuable than an amazing GPA. Why? Internships demonstrate real-world work experience as well as initiative on the part of the student. Internships can also be an easy way for you to try out different jobs and careers to see if they are a good fit for you.
Make sure you include a relevant internship or two in your college experience to get the most out of your education. Learn more about the different types of internships available here.
What if I Still Don't Know What to Do?
We don't recommend that students decide on a school or a major or a career unless they are reasonable sure it's a good choice for them. Nor should you feel pushed into a certain college and career path because your guidance counselor / parent / best friend / etc. thinks you should.
If you really can't make up your mind, it may benefit you to put off your college education for a year. Form some sort of alternative plan, which could involve working to save up money, traveling, volunteering or some sort of apprenticeship program. During your year off, try taking some classes at a local community college or take advantage of the many free classes available online through places like Coursea, edX, Udemy or Khan Academy.
This decision may make your parents nervous, but students who have a plan in place are often quite successful in taking a year off between high school and college. Just make sure you're making the right decision for you.