How to Choose the Right Career

Making the Best Choice for You

Man thinking about something.
Get serious about choosing a career. RUNSTUDIO/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Like many people, you may be wondering how to choose the right career. The most important thing you can do when you are trying to pick a career is to choose one that is right for you. Finding out what career is a good fit for you is truly all that matters. Ignore people who tell you what type of work to pursue and best careers lists hyped in the media unless you do your homework.

Because you will pour so much of yourself into your job, and spend so much time at work, your career must be suitable for you.

It has to fit well with your interests, aptitudes, work-related values, and personality type. It has to have job duties that you can see yourself performing day in and day out, you must be willing to do everything you must to prepare for it, and it needs to have a good outlook for years to come.  If a career fits these criteria, there is a better chance you will be satisfied with it and enjoy your work. And you won't resent spending so much of your waking hours doing it.

First, Learn More About Yourself

Your first order of business is to learn as much as you can about yourself. If you think you know all there is to know, you will definitely be surprised by what you will discover by doing a thorough self assessment. While you can find online resources to help you with this, the most efficient and effective way to do it—although often not the cheapest—is to hire a career development professional, for example, a career counselor or career development facilitator.

He or she will use various tools to help you gather information about yourself and, based on it, provide you with a list of careers that might be a good fit.

If finances are an issue, don't let that keep you from getting the help you need. Many public libraries, for example, offer career planning services.

Ask the librarian at your local library. If yours doesn't provide this service, you may be able to get help from one in another community. The librarian can also direct you to local agencies that provide career counseling.

If you attended college, you should also check with that institution. Many career services offices provide help to alumni. Some local college or university career offices may be open to members of the community. Programs that train career counselors often have students work with clients at no or a low cost to gain experience.

Next, Learn About the Occupations on Your List

While the self assessment is a great starting point to begin your quest to choose the right career, it is not your final step in this process. Your list will contain seemingly suitable options. Some may be nearly perfect for you, but others may be all wrong. They may be a good match for your personality type, interests, values, and aptitudes, but may be unsuitable in other ways. For example, the job duties may be unappealing; the outlook may be poor; or you may not be willing to get the required education or training. But you won't know any of that without moving ahead to the next step.  Learning about the careers on your list is the only way to make an informed decision.

Before you do anything else, read descriptions of the occupations and learn about the job duties for each one. Try to ignore your preconceived notions. You may think you know something about a particular career, but unless you have personal experience with it or did prior research, you probably don't have enough information to decide whether you would be satisfied with the day-to-day work involved in it.

If after getting a job description and learning about its job duties, you are still interested in an occupation, you must learn what you will have to do to prepare to work in it. Unless you are willing to fulfill the educational and training requirements, you should not keep it on your list. If a career, for example, requires a great deal of education before you can begin working, but you have neither the desire nor the resources to commit to that, it's not a good choice for you.

Likewise, neither is a career that requires little training when you have the inclination and ability to earn a college degree.

Finally, you will be doing yourself a great disservice if you don't look at an occupation's outlook. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (B.L.S.) makes predictions about employment statistics over the next decade. Investing time training for a career only to find out there are limited opportunities when you are ready to enter your field of choice can be a waste of your time, effort, and money. 

When you have narrowed down your choices to just a few, then you should investigate even further, perhaps conducting some informational interviews with those working in the field. You can now make an educated decision. Now that's how to choose the right career.