Your Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing a Career

By Chris Kolmar and Experts - Nov. 19, 2020

Find a Job You Really Want In

If the number of options and decisions that come with choosing a career feels daunting, you’re not alone. However, if you break down the path to choosing a career into steps, the process not only becomes more manageable but more beneficial to your professional development.

In this guide, you will see how choosing a career begins with self-reflection. From there, it is a matter of organization and application of workplace skills and needs.

Perform a Self Assessment

The first step is to know yourself. This will narrow your search and save yourself many headaches down the line from situations where your personal strengths and values might not align with your career.

You want to begin by asking yourself several questions. They include:

  1. What are your soft skills? Soft skills are the personality traits that enable you to succeed in interpersonal relationships in the workplace. They learned through life experience and are more transferable than hard skills. Examples include communication, critical thinking, teamwork, and work ethic.

    Especially since they are transferable, knowing your soft skills will help in adjusting to a new career.

  2. What are your hard skills? Hard skills are generally acquired through specific training and experience. This makes hard skills more quantifiable and easy to recognize. Examples include fluency in computer languages, software expertise, and certification on certain equipment and procedures.

    Since hard skills are specific, you can begin to compare what you have or what you will need to move into new careers by listing your hard skills.

  3. What are your interests? If skills are the tools in your toolbox, then your interests are what you want to use that toolbox for. In this part of the self-assessment, try listing out the top ten things you like to do with your free time. Pick sincere interests that provide value to yourself, such as health and fitness activities, or researching new trends in technology.

  4. What are your values? As you explore job opportunities, you will have to make decisions based on your values. You need to know what is important to you, such as what you expect from a work-life balance or how much independence you want from a job. Having a career aligned with your values is crucial for avoiding issues such as burnout.

  5. What is your personality type? There are many resources, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that can help clarify the defining characteristics of your personality. For example, if you are an introvert who wants to help people, you may choose a career in research and development over elementary school teaching.

Remember, you can always change who you are. If your current set of skills, interests, or values are not necessarily what you expected them to be, use this realization to grow. Try out resources such as training programs and informational sessions for personal and professional development.

Identify Your Must-Haves

Now that you have a better idea of yourself, it’s time to consider what you need from a job. These must-haves will further focus your career options.

When figuring out your must-haves, ask yourself what specific needs, that if they are not met, would dissuade you from a job. Some questions could include:

  1. What kind of schedule do you need? Perhaps you need a traditional nine to five, or maybe you are a night owl and prefer late shifts.

  2. What type of salary do you need? There’s no shame in admitting that money is essential. It may not be the main factor in selecting a job, but it is unreasonable to expect a job that does not provide you with the means to live. On the other hand, you might be willing to be flexible with salary needs if the job offers other crucial needs.

  3. What type of benefits do you need? Healthcare, vacation, and retirement are significant benefits to people seeking long term, stable careers. However, if you are more independent or can achieve these benefits through another route, you may be willing to forgo them for the right opportunity.

  4. What are your location requirements? You might be someone who wants to work from home or needs to work at a place that is accessible by public transportation. This also begs the question, are you willing to relocate for your job? Where a position is located can be key to your decision.

  5. What type of expectations should your boss provide? Some people need more structure while others thrive with more freedom, and a lot of this can be determined by your management. When looking for opportunities, consider what will be expected of you and what you expect from your company.

Must-haves, as the name implies, are make-or-break requirements. If you know these ahead of time, you can then disregard any job in a search that fails to meet your needs.

Make a List of Jobs to Explore

Now it’s time to look for what kind of jobs are out there and fit them to who you are and what you need. The best way to start is to see what kind of careers are out there. Then make a list of what looks to match with your personality. There are many resources for finding jobs. You can:

  1. Look online. Many online resources allow you to search for professions and get detailed descriptions. The information can include everything from job responsibilities to average salaries.

  2. Network. Ask family, friends, and former coworkers about their professional experiences. Networking is an important skill to develop, and in the process of asking around, you may be surprised at finding occupations you did not expect.

  3. Observe daily life. As you go about your day, look around, and notice what others are doing. When you see someone performing a task, ask yourself, “what is their job?” By being more alert to your surroundings, you will soon realize there are more professions than you may expect.

After this, you then research job descriptions of occupations that interest you and make a comprehensive list of which ones you select.

Research and Narrow Down Your List

Once you have your list of jobs that are suitable matches, you should further narrow your list. This way, you can maximize time and energy on applying for jobs that are genuinely beneficial opportunities. To do this research:

  1. Job outlook. Job outlook will tell you the expected growth rate of the occupation. If you find the job you’re interested in has a negative growth rate, it may be a factor in removing it from your list.

  2. Job requirements. Go in-depth and discover what exactly the profession entails. If you are left debating between occupations, consider how the requirements would suit your needs, and affect your daily life.

  3. Salary. Set salary requirements. If a job falls below the requirement, then it is time to remove it from the list.

  4. Opportunities for advancement. If you are choosing a career, you are choosing a future. Therefore, you can disregard jobs that don’t provide much of a future.

Get Training and Update Your Resume

If you have a specific in mind, you will need to meet the profession’s requirements. If you meet all current skills and experience requirements, you will want to highlight these in your resume. Your resume should be its most up to date version when you apply for any job.

If you do not meet certain levels of experience or skill sets, don’t worry, this only means it’s time to find the proper training. This could be through full-time or part-time higher education. Certification programs are also a good option, especially if you are short on time and money, or perhaps you are unsure how much you want to invest in the career.

Find and Apply for Jobs

Using some of your resources from your research, go back, and apply for the jobs that best suit your abilities. Many sites provide a slew of information that will help you both research and apply for positions.

Continue Growing and Learning

Never stop growing as a professional. Whether you plan to stay in the same field your whole life or not, the world is quickly changing, and you need to keep on top of it to the best of your abilities. Some professions require re-certifications, while others pay for continuing education. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a job like this, take full advantage.

All professionals should continue to grow throughout their careers. This will make you adapt to handle new developments in your field. It will also prepare you if you want to make a career change down the line. Regardless, the amount of resources out there makes it simpler to find ways to grow and learn throughout your professional life.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.


Matt Warzel, CPRW, CIR

Matt Warzel a President of a resume writing firm (MJW Careers, LLC) with 15+ years of recruitment, outplacement, career coaching and resume writing experience. Matt is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing Focus) from John Carroll University.

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