Career Selection: What to do when you don't know what you want to do

For many people, choosing or changing a career path can be stressful and lead to decision fatigue. Often, high school students choose degree or career paths without fully understanding the daily work responsibilities. They often switch majors and some struggle to secure jobs related to their degree after graduation. Even people with many years of experience in one career may find looking for a new career challenging. Many people struggle to commit to investing the time and money into a career they are unsure they will enjoy, find fulfilling, be successful or be happy doing five days a week. 

Here are some common concerns:

  • What if I don't pass the certification or don't finish the degree?
  • What if I can't afford the certification or degree?
  • After working in the field for a period, what if I dislike the work?
  • What if I don't perform well at work?
  • What if I get the wrong certification or degree?
  • I am unsure if I want to do this work for the rest of my life. 
  • What if my family or friends are disappointed in my career choice?

At least one of these concerns has cross the mind of every career searcher at one point. So what do you do if these concerns are plaguing you?

Whether you're just beginning your career search, you're re-entering the workforce or you're changing careers, doing something is better than doing nothing. The next few paragraphs will walk you through a self-discovery exercise. You will either need a printer or a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. 

If you have access to a printer, download and print our free Discovery Worksheet. If you don't have access to a printer, no worries. You can download it and replicate it on a blank sheet of paper.

In the "Skills" box, write all the skills you already have. You may have to write small, because you're pretty talented! Skills can be as basic as reading and writing or as complex as rocket science. Skills are basically anything you know how to do. Following directions, creating routines, organizing, creating spreadsheets, identifying photo editing mistakes, cleaning, painting, cooking, reading, caring for children, driving, creating videos (social media counts), writing, etc. If you're still struggling to complete this section, choose a day and write down everything you did in that day. And don't underestimate your ability to win every chess match you play or figure out the end of a movie before it's over. Those are strategy and analytical skills that could be unmatched. 

In the "Interests" box, write all the things you are interested in doing, whether you know how to do them or not. Sometimes skills and interests overlap. That's ok! Write them in both boxes. But there are also times when your interests seem out of reach. Don't worry about that. We're just trying to get everything out of your fabulous brain and on paper so we have a visual place to start. Interests could be video games, watching streaming content, being on social media, taking photos, caring for animals, or you may have an interest in specific animals like horses, dogs or birds. Interests are anything you may currently do in your spare time, and also anything you want to do in your spare time. 

Alright, next box: Education. Take a look at your skills and interests, and think of the highest level education you would need to be eligible to do work aligned with those interests and skills. For example, if one of your interests is "performing surgery", you'll most certainly need a Doctorate, but if your most specialized interest is creating skateboarding videos to post online, the answer may be "none", depending on how good you are at content creation. You'll notice there are two columns in this section: Required and Willing. The reason we have two columns is because the education you're required to have and the education you're willing to get may not be the same. This box visualizes that for you.

The left side should be pretty easy to determine based on your skills and interests. Once you determine the left side, put a check box next to the education level required for your skills and interests.

The right side may be a little more difficult. There are things to consider like time, costs, return on investment, and commitment.  If your skills and interests require a Master's degree, are you willing to go through four years of undergrad and 2 years of graduate school? If you're not, the right side of the education section may need to be something shorter term than the left side. Again, that's ok! This is about what is required, compared to what you're willing to do.  

Once that is complete, move on to the Companies section. Try to think of your interests and skills. You're probably already exposed in some way to those interests and skills. Are you interested in cooking? What is your favorite brand, or restaurant? Are you good at playing video games? If so, what is your favorite game to play? What parent company produces that game? Do you pass a sign or store on the way out of  your neighborhood each day? What company is listed on the sign? Do you like to draw? What brand is your medium? You're on an electronic device at this moment. What brand is it? Jot these companies down in the "companies" section. Also think of any companies you've ever thought it would be nice to work for. If you are stuck, try a quick internet search of top 100 companies to work for this year. A new list is published each year that weighs the employee benefits, environment, culture, and pay and ranks those companies appropriately. Are any of those companies interesting to you?

Now, go back to the Interests and Skills boxes. If you have any duplicates, circle them. These are your strengths. Strengths are things you are both good at doing and enjoy doing. Check the Companies box to see if any of your strengths align with those businesses. If so, circle those business names. 

Congratulations! You just made some major progress in your career choice! You determined what you're good at, what you like, what education level you need, what education level you're willing to get, you may know your strengths, and you have a list of potential companies where you can start your job search. 


Check out my other blog posts.

Becoming a Top Performer at Work

Interviewing: Being Yout Authentic Self

Burnout: My Story and Suggestions for Prevention

Is a Side Hustle Worth It?

What is a Lateral Move?

Check out my Free Resources page

Check out my Continuous Learning page where I recommend professional development books, and provide a list of audio books I am listening to this year.

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