10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Picking a Career

Dec 21, 2010

Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions we have to make in our lives. Here are 10 questions that can help bring you closer to a decision.

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The jobs we select can have far-reaching consequences in our lives, impacting everything from our lifestyle to family interactions to health. Career is also an important part of our identity. Because it's such a big deal, deciding what you want to do can be difficult. But with some self-reflection and research, you can gain clarity about the best career choice for you. For starters, think through or seek out the answers to the following questions.

1. What are your interests?

The people who are most satisfied with their jobs are usually those that enjoy what they do. Interests are the people, information, or things we enjoy most. We tend to gravitate toward them and, given the choice, spend our time on them. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you prefer working with people, numbers and data, abstract ideas, or real-world things like animals or equipment? Or some combination?
  • What kinds of books do you have on your shelves?
  • What kinds of events do you go to for fun?
  • Do you like spending time indoors or outdoors?

2. What are your values?

Our values are those things that are most important to us. Values can be an even more important predictor of career satisfaction than interests, so this is a question to spend some time on. If you value money and financial success, you'll need a job that pays well. If you value social justice, you'll want a job where there isn't too much unfairness. If you value fun and spontaneity, you may not be happy with a desk job.

Some jobs allow you to work independently, while others require close collaboration with others. Similarly, some jobs involve supervising others, and some require you to take direction from others. As you consider different careers, think about what you value most when it comes to work.

3. What are your personality traits?

Your personality is also important to consider when deciding on a career. For example, are you an extrovert (someone who enjoys and thrives on talking and being around people) or an introvert (someone who generally prefers a quieter environment and needs some 'alone time' to thrive)? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about your personality:

  • Are you more cooperative or competitive?
  • Do you prefer helping other people, leading and influencing other people, or not working with people?
  • Are you more of a 'thinker' who enjoys ideas, or a 'doer' who enjoys working with things in the real world?
  • Do you consider yourself to be an artistic, creative person, or are you more interested in routine, concrete activities?

4. What skills do you have?

You'll also want to create an inventory of your skills. Identifying things you excel at will help you find good career matches. Think about both your hard skills (specific skills you've acquired, such as computer programming or fluency in a foreign language) and your soft skills (people and life skills, such as teamwork and time management). A bonus: Putting your skills on paper can be an affirmative, eye-opening experience that provides confidence as you move toward your goals.

5. What are your talents and strengths?

Talents are those things you're naturally good at, often from an early age. Strengths are talents you have developed through practice. Some of us are naturally good at math, while others are gifted with language. Some of us are good with our hands, while others have a knack for connecting with people. A good tool for determining and developing your strengths is the StrengthsFinder system. The book StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath includes a quiz that identifies your top 5 strengths and offers suggestions for developing them.

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6. What education or training do you need?

It's quite possible that you'll need additional training or schooling to pursue your desired career path. Research what degrees, licenses, or certifications you'll need to become employed in the fields you're considering. Also think about how much more education or training you're willing to get, and how much time and money you're willing to invest. This knowledge will be important in deciding whether a particular profession is right for you.

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7. Are there jobs available?

It's important to research the labor market for careers you're considering. You can research the labor market both globally (the number of jobs anywhere) and locally (the number of jobs where you live or intend to live). While the labor market shouldn't definitively determine your direction, it's important to know your prospects before entering a profession. Nobody wants to go through years of school only to find out there's no job waiting for them on the other end!

8. What are your salary needs?

Salary doesn't have to be the first consideration when selecting a career, but it should be a factor. If making a lot of money is important to you, your options will be more limited (plus, you'll likely need more qualifications for higher-paying jobs). Some of the professions you're interested in may involve very limited financial reward. It's good to know that going in so you can make an informed decision.

9. Where do you want to live?

The labor market for particular occupations varies depending on location. For example, if you want to be a park ranger or agriculturalist, you'll probably need to live in a rural area. But if you want to go into finance or law, you'll probably need to live in an urban center. Telecommuting jobs can allow you to live virtually anywhere. Other jobs may demand that you spend a lot of time traveling. It's important to be happy with where you live and have a lifestyle that works for you, so give some thought to your future location.

10. Are there opportunities for advancement?

Some jobs offer more upward mobility than others. That means there are opportunities to be promoted or take on additional responsibilities (and make more money). We all know people who seem to be stuck in a rut, their professional lives stalled by a lack of opportunity. It's often hard in these situations to muster a lot of enthusiasm for work. If you're someone who's motivated to grow and challenge yourself, you'll want a career that allows you to do so.

As you go through these questions, get help from others. Talk to parents, teachers, a guidance counselor if available, or other important adults in your life. Think about the big picture - no single question on this list should determine your choice. Here's to your career success!

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