Are you enrolled in college but still unsure what career path to pursue? If so, you’re not alone. Excluding the few people who have particular passions (for law, health sciences, engineering or another path), so many people find themselves anxious as they must decide on their majors. Choosing a career at any age is daunting. It requires self-awareness, an honest assessment of your strengths and skills and what you actually enjoy doing. You must also possess a certain level of knowledge of the work environment in any particular profession in order to select a path that ideally will last for decades.
Many young people feel rushed to select the “perfect” major so they can follow a particular career trajectory. But if you made the choice due to familial pressure or anticipated earnings, it likely won’t lead to great satisfaction. Taking the time to find a career that best matches your interests and strengths is a difficult but worthwhile undertaking. Here are some top tips to help you get started on identifying the right career path for you.
- Take time for self-assessment! Most colleges offer career services and academic advisement. Use them! Seek out these professionals whose job it is to help you explore your strengths/challenges, likes/dislikes, skills and values. There are various exercises and aptitude-type tests they can provide to help you discover your path. Talk to professors who are also professionals working in fields you are considering entering. They can give you a reality check and answer your questions.
- Network with everyone you know. It can feel like there are so many possibilities, so how do you begin to narrow down your options? I always recommend starting with the people you know in a variety of professions. If someone is working in a field that interests you or has a job that seems particularly exciting, ask if you can shadow him or her or conduct an informational interview so you get a sense of the workplace and job responsibilities. By observing how people spend their days, and asking targeted questions, you can begin to parse out what you like and what doesn’t appeal to you. But remember, professions can vary in different settings so don’t make a judgment based on only one person.
- Gain real world experience. Internships and volunteer programs are a great way to “try on” different professions. You can see what it is like to work in a particular setting and decide if you actually like the day-to-day realities. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Experiences that challenge us tend to teach us the most about what we really can do and where our strengths lie.
- Think about the lifestyle you want. What type of lifestyle do you want to have for the long haul? Are you someone who is energized by working fourteen-hour days? Are you most productive in a flexible environment? How do you want to balance your work and home life? It is important that the demands of your career match how you want to live. Think ahead and choose a career that matches your interests but also your desired lifestyle. If you need remote options or flextime, make sure there are settings in your chosen profession that offer that.
- It’s not always about the money. Yes, money is certainly important, but it shouldn’t be the driving force behind your decision. Choosing a career based solely on salary won’t serve you well in the long run. If that high paying job isn’t a match for your interests and strengths, it ultimately won’t make you happy and you are more likely to seek change mid-career. If you choose a profession that provides you with personal satisfaction and a work setting where you feel motivated to achieve, you will likely be successful and perhaps more importantly, happy.
Treat this time of self-exploration with rigor. The more you commit to putting in the work, the more likely you are to end up in a profession that is right for you and will serve you well for years to come.