How to Choose a Career Path: Understanding Yourself

You spend approximately one-third of your life, or 90.000 hours, working. Thus, choosing a career path may be one of the most significant decisions you make. To top it off, you typically make this decision around 18 years old. Although you can change career paths, it is useful to spend time thinking about what you need in a career for it to be fulfilling and enjoyable. By choosing a career that aligns with who you truly are, you are more likely to live a life of purpose.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a career path. But where do you even start and how do you decide on a career path?

In this article, we discuss factors that you should evaluate to choose a career path and provide activities you can work through to narrow in on fitting career options.

Read on to learn more about things to consider before deciding on a career path.

Clock to represent how to identify your values which is important when choosing a career path

Identify Your Interests

An important step in determining a fitting career path is identifying your interests. Choosing a career that aligns with your interests can increase the likelihood that you will enjoy the time spent at work which can lead to success and broader fulfilment. There are many ways to identify your interests and what you enjoy doing including:

  1. Reflecting on what you were doing the last time you lost track of time versus when the clock seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace. Were you cooking a new cuisine, listening to a podcast about international medicine, or writing an essay on a certain topic?
  2. If you’ve volunteered in the past, what were you doing and why were you doing it? Volunteer positions can help you identify general areas you are interested in.
  3. Take an interest assessment quiz such as the Career Interest Test by CareerHunter.

Picking a career path that aligns with your interests is an important step to career longevity. Once you have defined your interests, you can then build on the skills needed to grow your career.

Activity 1: Grab a piece of paper, an iPad, or a computer, and create a table with two columns. Document what you were doing when time went by the quickest in one column and what you were doing when time went by the slowest in the other. Identify whether there are common themes or topic areas where you got lost in time versus those where time wasn’t moving.

Identify Your Skills and Strengths

Perhaps the most common approach to finding a promising career is to identify your strengths. From there, you can identify possible paths that match them. These include natural capabilities you’ve always had and specific knowledge and skills acquired through experience and training. Although you may not have all the skills and strengths needed throughout your career path, you may use your general strengths to identify a promising career path. For example, are you naturally good at logic puzzles? Programming may be a good fit for you. Or are you naturally good at working under pressure? Perhaps you would perform well in emergency services. Identifying your current skills and strengths may help you decide on a career path. However, keep in mind that you can always learn more and sharpen your skills if your natural strengths don’t align with your passions and values.

Activity 2: Take inventory of both your natural strengths and those that you could further fine-tune but would be interested in doing so. Do your skills and strengths point to a certain area of work?

Identify Your Work Values

Understanding your values can be the difference between looking at your career as a journey versus counting down to retirement. Working in a job that matches your values can help you feel fulfilled and live a life of purpose. According to Better Up, “Work values are beliefs or principles relating to your career or place of work.” Additionally, they state that identifying your values and working in a job that aligns with those values means that a person is more likely to feel satisfaction from their career. Once you know your values, you need to find both a career path and an employer that aligns with them.

Activity 3: List your work values. Do you value money, independence, achievement, expertise, cooperation, security, and/or working with others? Once you have come up with your list, prioritize them with 1 being the most important. Some of these values will indicate what you need from an employer whereas others will suggest what you need from the job itself.

Identify Your Personal Values

Understanding your personal values can also be used to identify a suitable career path. Say, for instance, you value family time in your personal life and helping others in your career. Choosing to be an on-call surgeon may not be the best career path as your work values and personal values are competing in this instance. It is likely going to be very difficult to spend adequate time with your family as an on-call surgeon. However, you may be able to choose a different career where you are still helping others, but where you could balance family time.

Activity 4: Repeat Activity 3 but with your personal values. Throughout this activity, imagine yourself in 5, 10, and 15 years to ensure that you consider what you want out of life as a whole. Kids or a partner might not be a focus now, but will it be in 5 or 10 years? Be clear on whether each item in your list is a personal value, a work value, or both.

Understand Your Personality

Finding a career that matches your personality can be the difference between dreading or looking forward to every day of work. Whether you are more introverted and would prefer to work alone, or more extroverted and would prefer to work with others matters when it comes to choosing a career. You can still enter the same broad area of work whether you are introverted or extroverted, but what you do within that field may differ. If you don’t know your personality, there are several online tools you can use to learn more about yourself. Or you can ask your friends and family!

Activity 5: Complete a personality assessment such as 16 Personalities, a free online personality tool to learn more about who you are. Hint, there is a free downloadable PDF at the end that proposes potential career paths based on your results.

Once you have completed these 5 steps, review the documentation you made throughout this article. You should be more clear on what you like versus don’t like, who you are, and what you value. You are more likely to thrive when choosing a career based on your interests, skills, values, and personality. After all, we spend one-third of our life at work. How do you want to spend it?

Talent Incubation Specialist

Amila Duranović

Amila Duranović is an HR generalist at Jarvis - she hires Candidates for Jarvis's Technical Consulting Program.

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Jarvis is a leading IT consulting firm headquartered in Canada that provides total talent solutions with ongoing partnerships across North America’s top financial institutions, cutting-edge startups, and major technology companies.

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