It all starts when we’re little kids. You may pick up a talent like coloring, dancing, or are a natural with any sport you play. Your parents or relatives may say something like, “they’re going to grow up to be an artist, dancer, actor, or professional athlete.”
Maybe you have a teacher that asks the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The logical response would be that you have no clue. All you know is what you’ve been exposed to by your family or maybe a career day in class.
Schools used to make students take career aptitude tests to see where they’re likely to end up on a limited range of professions. Thankfully, most do not administer this test anymore, likely due to the trauma inflicted when other classmates find out what you’re projected to become.
Then, you hit your later teens and early 20’s. This is when the questions really start to get real. What are you going to do with your life? What profession do you want to go into? How and where are you going to get the education (e.g., college) or experience required for that field?
The choices you make at this stage of life often set you on a particular career path for many years or decades.
- Average worker spends roughly a quarter of their time at work over a 50 year career – that’s 12.5 years!
- 87% of Americans do not have a passion for their jobs
- 25% of people would say work is their #1 source of stress
So what’s the good news? You’re not locked into the first jobs or profession you start in. There’s always time to make a career change regardless of your age or experience.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person holds around 11 jobs throughout their career (11.7 to be exact). This is expected to grow up to 13-15 jobs as Generation Y and Z make up more of the professional workforce.
Several factors likely to increase the average number of jobs held over a career
1. Job market changes at a faster pace
A rapid increase could be sparked by a faster changing job market. As automation, artificial intelligence (AI), or other advanced technologies are adopted by companies, they will need to either reduce or shift their workforce to other tasks.
2. Companies encourage career mobility
Many companies today have started to encourage and assist employees by offering more career mobility and advancement opportunities. This is to prevent losing valuable employees and to ensure they have motivated staff working at all levels. Fewer people will jump ship if they feel their contributions are appreciated and are provided the right growth opportunities.
3. Side hustles become the norm
One trend picking up steam with Millennials that will push the average number of jobs even higher are side hustles. This means establishing another source of income outside of your day job. In most cases, these side hustles may not require as much time or effort as your full-time job. For example, this could be jobs such as ride sharing (e.g., Uber, Lyft), home rental, copy writing, or selling products on an online market like Amazon during free time or on the weekends.
In short, you could be switching to a new job (not necessarily a new company) every 4-6 years. This goes to show why it’s important to keep asking yourself the question:
Maybe you don’t know the answer right now and that’s completely fine. Even if you think you’ve figured it out, the answer may change every few years as you grow, learn, and build experience.
How do you figure out what industry, career path, or jobs are a good fit for you?
There is a big world of opportunities waiting for you out there with so many ways to apply your talent, experience, and passion. Whether you want to become a writer, IT professional, archaeologist, astronomer, owner of a non-profit, lawyer, or any of the thousands other fields – the right path is entirely personal.
With all of those options out there, how do you know what the right path is for you?
For some, the path may not be as clear as is for others. You may end up stumbling upon a career in the near future that you have never thought about or seriously considered. However, for most of us, it will take focus and assessment of your desires and experiences to intentionally figure it out.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. 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.Steve Jobs
To help you define a career path you can get excited about, we’ve covered steps you can begin taking today.
1. Consider your past experiences
If you’ve been previously employed, you should consider and even write down what you liked and did not like about those experiences. Think about various aspects of the job, responsibilities, projects or assignments, co-workers, and company culture.
More importantly, think about how you feel going into work on an average day. Are you typically pumped or happy to get out of bed and get to work? Are you challenged to grow professionally? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful?
It’s fine if your answer is “no” to any of these questions – this is what the majority of people would say.
It helps to make a list of your pros and cons across those and possibly other categories. This will help you narrow down what contributes to a positive work experience and career path. It doesn’t mean you have to continue doing the same thing, but it may mean you shouldn’t if your con list is bigger.
Understanding what you’re looking for will help you to frame questions for potential employers during interviews. It can also be used as a tool to set expectations with your current manager to establish a good working environment.
2. Understand your strengths (and weaknesses)
One of my previous employers graciously sent us to an offsite training seminar. It was all about understanding what your strengths are so you can focus on those skills to make you a better employee.
We utilized StrengthsFinder 2.0 to drive many of these activities. It’s a great tool and I would highly recommend reading the book to help you with this exercise.
The basic premise is that you will want to write down all of your professional and personal strengths. Then you’ll focus on and emphasize them with anything you’re assigned to do; such as detailed analysis, presentations, collaborating with teams, building something, or any other business related task.
However, the main issue I had is there really wasn’t much focus on at least making yourself aware of your weaknesses. In fact, you may actually want to pursue a role because your lacking in an area that would benefit you in the long run.
Take for example, you want to be an entrepreneur and start an online business. Maybe you haven’t done any previous work with Finance, Marketing, or Sales which are critical to any business.
You may want to consider taking an online course, attend classes at your local college, or even take an entry-level position to build core experience. If you didn’t understand your strengths AND weaknesses, you may end up jumping head first into a career or business that has little chance at success. Who knows, it may also lead to a job that you become passionate and excited about.
With that said, most of us will want to pursue a career that aligns with and highlights our strengths. You have a much higher chance of success if your career path is geared towards roles and responsibilities that compliment what you’re good at.
3. Evaluate why you pursued previous jobs
Did you go after a certain job or college degree because your friends were doing the same? Are you in a profession because it’s considered prestigious or your family values the work? Was it the easy choice since you had no clue what you wanted to be?
It’s worth a quick thought on why and how you got to where you are today. Really evaluate the choices and experiences that led to what you’re doing now.
Personally, I had no clue what I wanted to do going into junior year of college. I thought being an accountant was the right choice since it paid well, but there wasn’t much else that got me excited about the career. It took some thinking and luck to run into a professor that got me hooked on applying technology to solve business needs.
Everyone’s career story is different. Understanding what choices (intentional or not) got you to where you are now is crucial. Maybe you made a purposeful decision when you were younger to pursue a passion, but many of us didn’t have that foresight.
If you could start over, is there a different career path than the one you’re on now?
4. Discuss with your friends, family, and network
The people around you on a daily basis know you better than anyone. Talk to them about what motivates, excites, and interests you both professionally and personally. Ask them about their career path and work experiences.
Get a dialog started around careers and you’ll be amazed by the advice and perspectives everyone brings. These informal (or formal) chats can provide insights about yourself that may require an external point of view to uncover.
If you’re looking for a professional perspective about a particular role, you may want to do informational interviews. This is where you interview someone that may already be in a profession you want to get into to understand their career path and daily responsibilities. It’s also a great way to get advice on how to be successful in the role long term. It’s important that you come to these meetings with a prioritized set of questions to ask to make the most of their and your time.
Your social network on Facebook or LinkedIn may also be a great sounding board. Even if you wouldn’t call those people “friends”, many are willing to share their career advice and knowledge.
Even if you don’t know someone yet, but you are interested in their job title on LinkedIn – make a connection! Just let them know you’re researching potential career options and are highly interested in the field they’re in. If they are willing to share their story, awesome! If not, try someone else with a similar job title (maybe one of their connections).
Finally, you can do a quick search online for interviews with folks across many industries and professions. This is a great source of information to see if it’s something you’d like to get into.
Getting first hand details from people that live in that career everyday will help you determine whether it’s a good fit for you.
5. Take classes and explore
An easy way to learn about or test the waters with a new career is by taking a training course. You can find introductory classes for just about every profession online.
They often start with the basics and progress to more advanced skills required for the job. Many are specifically geared toward earning a certification to help you gain skills and experience to advance your career.
You can find some of the best free or low cost online training at the following services:
- Cybrary has tons of online courses to help build your Cyber Security or IT skills to propel your career higher – for FREE! These courses will help you prepare to become certified in Information Security Management (CISM), Risk and Information Systems Controls (CRISC), and to become an Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).
- Udacity offers a large selection of courses on a range of subjects across business and emerging technologies like Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Analytics.
- SimpliLearn is an online course catalog targeting various specializations. They also offer Masters Programs if you’re interested in careers focused on Digital Marketing, Project Management, Cloud Computing, Data Sciences, Business Analysis, Web Development, and ITIL Service Management.
- 360Training offers the broadest range of training spanning nearly every industry you can imagine; including Environmental Health & Safety, Real Estate, Insurance, and Food & Beverage. This is a great resource whether you are looking for a new certification, continuing education credits, or just want to explore other professions.
- Treehouse has a free-trial for their courses that are perfect for beginners to teach you how to code in multiple programming languages or design user experiences / interfaces. The courses have been built in partnership with industry leaders like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon, so you know they’re good.
If in-person learning is more your style, you can often find workshops or conventions hosted by business organizations in most medium to large cities. This is where you can meet representatives from several companies that are able to explain what the profession is all about.
While not as high quality, you can also find videos on YouTube that cover the basics of just about any profession you can image. If you like to read, books have likely been written about the career paths you are considering as well.
In short, there are so many ways to explore the multitude of careers out there through online training, classes, workshops, or just browsing the internet or local library. You can learn to find a new passion and weed out careers you may not want to pursue.
6. Define your ideal work environment
We all have preferences for how and where we get our best work done. Every single company is different in the way it structures organizations, executes work, designs facilities, and how it expects employees to act.
In many ways, this is what defines the company’s culture. It’s important to understand your work environment preferences as you go through the process of identifying potential careers and employers.
Here are the top considerations to help you think about the type of environment you work best in:
- Large Company or Small Business
- Collaborative or Individual
- Competitive or Amicable
- Younger or Experienced Peers
- Strategic or Operational
- Manager or Contributor
- Tiered or Flat Hierarchy
- People Person or Getting Hands Dirty
- Fast Pace or Steady
- Indoors or Outdoors
- Office or Work from Home
- Travel or Local
- Salary or Hourly
- Fixed or Flexible Schedule
If you determine any of these are deal breakers, you can quickly narrow down the list of possible career paths. It also helps you take a step back to evaluate your current job against these.
How far off the mark is your current employer and work environment? If it’s missing any of these aspects, are there steps you can take or should you explore other opportunities?
You may not have spent much time thinking about this, but it’s a major factor when it comes to the happiness and satisfaction with your job. While you can get by with a few of these not being aligned, it gets more difficult the higher the count becomes.
7. Consider what work you would do for free
Finally, as ridiculous as it sounds, is there a job you might do for free because you loved it so much?
Think of some of your favorite hobbies or activities. Is there something where you completely get lost in what you’re doing because you enjoy it so much? For some, this could be things like writing, painting, designing, researching, or maybe engaging with people on social media.
Don’t get down on yourself if you can’t figure out what exactly you want to do. The vast majority of people have struggled to identify their dream career or passion at one point.
Many choose a job that pays the highest salary or may be considered a top job. This often leads to lack of satisfaction, burn out, and limited drive to continue building a successful career.
Instead, evaluate what fits best for your goals, personality, interests, and lifestyle outside of work. Each one of us is different and you can find a job you get excited about by following the steps above.