“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.” —Steve Jobs
For those considering a career change, it can seem overwhelming that the U.S. Department of Labor currently recognizes a total of 12,741 careers. And that number is growing every week! How do you narrow down that list to pursue careers that might be right for you? Where do you start?
Many individuals start the process of career exploration by skipping the exploring. They begin by searching through job listings in the hopes that one or two will jump out at them and the choice will become clear. Others use sites where they can upload their résumé or tweet a mini-résumé to all the large job-search sites in the hopes of hearing back from a few employers. For those who are stressed about which career to pursue, it can feel good just to be doing something concrete that does not require too much time or emotional energy. But if you start your job search before you identify what type of job you actually want, it is likely you will become more discouraged and overwhelmed than when you started.
So what is the best way to explore careers and discover which one(s) might be worth pursuing? My answer to clients when I am asked that question is always the same. The more work you have done getting to know yourself, including understanding and embracing your passions, interests, likes (and dislikes), personality, and abilities, the easier it will be to identify your next career. Putting in this time and effort will also help you more easily develop a strategy to land a job in your chosen field. The catch? It takes work and time. Learning who you are in terms of career is much harder than learning how to look for a job or craft a résumé. That is why a lot of people put it off. If you are willing to put time and energy into discovering who you are in terms of career, it will be an investment in yourself that will help you not only in your career, but also in your relationships.
First, get to know yourself better and continue to discover the authentic “you.” This may not be the “you” that your current coworkers or fellow students have seen. It may not be the “you” that your family members or close friends always see. Many of us learn to adapt and “fit in” to environments so well that we lose touch with parts of ourselves. This step involves introspection and the ability to be honest with oneself. How you accomplish this depends on what works best for you.
Are you a reader? If so, there are several books that could help you identify your passions, values, interests, personality, and abilities. A good place to start is to complete the exercises in Chapter 11 of one of the most established and popular career books, What Color Is Your Parachute?
If you are someone who would rather take personality and career tests, there are many online that may be helpful—and several are free. The Jung Typology Test at humanmetrics.com is similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and does a good job of identifying personality types and linking them to possible careers. After taking the 72-question yes/no test, you will be given a four-letter personality type code. Go to personalitypage.com/careers.html and choose that four-letter code for some career ideas and more information about your type. Though this online test may not give you the exact answers you may be seeking, it will help you start the process of linking your personality type to a career.
If you are a verbal, relational person and would rather talk with someone, it may be most helpful to find an objective friend or knowledgeable career counselor who can lead you through the process. GoodTherapy.org features counselors who specialize in career transitions (do an advanced search for this), and it is helpful to research them online and talk with them ahead of time to find a good match.
If you are a writer, you may find you are best able to think things through by keeping a blog or journal. The important thing is that you find a way to identify what, to you, is motivating, important, interesting, meaningful, and consistent with your personality and abilities.
After investing time and energy in discovering the “authentic you,” the next step is to learn about and identify careers that are consistent with who you are. A good site for this is the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET OnLine site at onetonline.org. There, you can do an advanced search and identify careers based on skills, interests, personality, knowledge, values, and more. Careers are identified with comprehensive and detailed information regarding outlook, trends, education needed, job activities, and expected salaries based on region. You can also go to mynextmove.org to take a free “interest profiler” assessment.
As you go through the process of self-discovery and learning about careers, you may find yourself getting stuck or frustrated. You may even be tempted to ignore this part of the process and go straight into a job search. Depending on your financial situation, you may need to find that next job even if you know that it is not what you ultimately want. But if you make a promise to yourself that you will put in the time, effort, and money to work hard and uncover the “authentic you,” and choose your next career based on what you uncover, you will make an investment in your future that will pay off. If you find yourself getting stuck during the process, it is probably time to ask for help from someone you feel is objective and knowledgeable. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep learning about yourself and career possibilities. As Steve Jobs said, you will know when you find it!
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