How to Decide On a Career

AdobeStock/Marina P.

Woman thinking

April 17, 2024 at 6:23PM UTC
The average American changes careers and does the whole job search thing five to seven times over the span of their working life, so it’s not a stretch to say that the days of committing to one clear-cut career path have long since passed us, especially for millennials (the "job hop" generation). 
As psychologists examine the impact this bounty of options for a new job has on us, what they’re commonly arriving at is this: that having an overload of options often paralyzes people, keeping them from making any choice at all. On the flip side, too many options can also push people into choosing something that’s actually against their best interest. The issue at the root of both this indecision and impulsivity, of course, is fear of making the wrong choice — that what we didn’t choose will, in fact, prove better.
Are you starting to see any parallels between the issues discussed above and your own struggle to choose a professional path? You’re not alone. Here are seven steps that can assist you through the process of this at-times overwhelming life decision.

1. Soul searching time: Ask yourself — what do you truly love to do?

We all want to enjoy our careers, right? 
Certainly, having passion for what you do is the No. 1 prerequisite for job contentment. So — what excites and energizes you? 
Write it down.
 Start your brainstorm broadly; don’t simply write down interests that you already know easily translate to jobs. The goal here is to thoroughly examine everything that brings you joy. You never know what seemingly random side hobby has the potential to turn into something more. 
In fact...

2. Where do you spend your time? Write down your hobbies and interests.

If you’re taking the time to make a particular hobby a regular part of your life, chances are that’s because it brings you joy. Is there a potential this hobby could be turned into something lucrative
If you really revel in hosting and cooking for large groups of family and friends, for instance, there’s a chance your cooking hobby could become a successful catering venture. Try not to overlook any hobby, no matter how big or small, as you brainstorm.
As an example, the entrepreneur Kim Lavine started out making microwavable pillows as gifts for her children's’ teachers, however, when her husband lost his job, she began to wonder whether this seemingly innocuous pastime had the potential to make money. She began selling pillows out of her truck, and then from mall kiosks in her Michigan hometown. Within four years, Lavine’s pillows were in Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond, and the business began at her kitchen table had generated more than $1 million, an experience she describes in her book, Mommy Millionaire.
Are you creative and enjoy crafting? Perhaps try your hand at turning this hobby into a side gig first to see how you like it. Etsy accounts are simple to make, and regardless of whether you stick to turning this hobby into a career, you’ll definitely be learning valuable and marketable skills regardless!

3.  Brainstorm a list of your best strengths and skills AND what your friends ask you to do.

Is there any correlation between what you enjoy and what you’re good at? Does that intersection lend itself to a certain career? What do you Do your friends regularly turn to you to say, edit their resumes or coach them on dating skills?
Having difficulty ascertaining what your strengths are? An extremely good useful source for this is the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Gallup International Research & Education Center Chair Donald O. Clifton. The product of a 25-year, multimillion-dollar effort to identify the most common human strengths, the book is basically one gigantic personality and career quiz. Your test result will consist of a combination of the 34 different strength “themes” Gallup identified, like Achiever, Strategic, and Empathy. After you complete the quiz, the book breaks down what specific careers those with your unique strength combination are best suited to. Easy peasy!
While you’re at it, read up on your Myers-Briggs personality type, too. This is another great personality test that can help you when it comes to choosing the career option that fits your strengths best.

4. What are your values?

The career that will make you happiest is probably one that fits the GPV formula, or Gifts + Passions + Values. 
What personal tenets and desires are you definitely not willing to sacrifice? As an example, if work-life balance is of paramount importance to you, you might want to think twice before pursuing a career in an industry with relatively rigid time requirements, where opportunity for balance can be hard to come by (think accounting or medicine).

5. Is it a hassle getting this all out on paper? It sounds a little eccentric, but you may also want to try asking yourself these same questions while vlogging.

The benefits of vlogging — or video blogging — in helping expedite the decision-making process (and even improving mental health!) have been widely written about. So, what’s the fuss about? 
We’re all for journaling and making lists, but sometimes having to actually vocalize your thoughts and feelings can produce clearer and more revelatory results. You needn’t put any of it on the internet — in fact, in the interest of professionalism and ensuring authenticity while you vlog, we’d encourage you not to! It can sound a little out there, but when it comes to making a major life decision, something you’ve just got to say what you needed to hear.

6. Vlogging not for you? That’s cool, we get it. How about meeting with a career counselor as an alternative?

A career coach or counselor could be just the ticket in helping you pinpoint your dream job. The popularity of these professional coaches has been soaring in recent years, and we can certainly see why. Think of them in a similar way to the pros of hiring a personal trainer. 
Do you absolutely need a personal trainer? Most likely not. However, are you much more likely to achieve your goals if you hire one? You sure are! A professional counselor will help you pick out your most ideal vision of yourself in your dream career, then work with you to set and stick to goals in your day-to-day life to help you achieve that vision. For anyone struggling to choose a field to commit to, having a motivator like this around can create a major impact.

7. Lastly, get yourself out there (aka network) and try to get a feel for what life in a certain career actually looks like.

The benefit of introducing yourself to new humans on professional websites like LinkedIn is two-fold right here — you get to add to your network in a meaningful way, especially if you’re considering a profession change and will need new contacts, and you get the authentic perspective of those within your industry of interest. (Just make sure your profile is up-to-date first!) 
Nervous that nobody will want to talk to you? 
Don’t be. 
Most people love speaking about themselves and their careers, especially if doing so means they get to give recommendations and prove their authority. They’ll be flattered you reached out — and you’ll be thankful to get a truer understanding of what a certain career path looks like than the Internet alone can offer.

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up! 

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always