What Job Should I Do? A 10-Step Approach to Choosing Your Career Path
Have you ever found yourself envying those people who seem to know exactly what they want to do with their lives? If so, just know that you are not alone. In reality, most people struggle to figure out what career they want to pursue. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the average person in the United States has roughly twelve jobs between the ages of 18 and 54! Put simply, there seems to be a lot more to this “picking the right career” thing than meets the eye.
In this post, we will examine why some common career choice methodologies are not always effective and provide ten simple steps that can hopefully get you on the path to choosing the right job for you. So, if you find yourself asking, “what job should I do?” – then this post is for you.
What about career quizzes and aptitude tests?
Before we jump into our ten-step approach to helping you figure out what job you should do, we should first consider the many career quizzes and assessment tests that are readily available these days. A simple Google search for career tests will return a seemingly endless array of aptitude tests that promise amazing results for anyone who wants to figure out what job they should do. You may have already tried several of them yourself, but are still finding yourself confused about your career path.
Here's the thing about those tests: they sometimes work to help people find some general direction, but they are usually not focused enough to ensure that they point job seekers to the right career choice. According to some experts, however, people usually use those quizzes for the wrong reasons. You see, the tests are really only useful for helping you pick out career options that might align with your interests, values, or abilities. But note the keyword in that sentence: “or.”
Those career aptitude assessments are typically not the best way to evaluate every aspect of who you are. One test might focus on your interests, which can be useful for identifying possible career choices that you might be happy to pursue. Another quiz might focus on your personality, which can help you see which paths might fit your disposition. Meanwhile, another test might direct its attention to your skills, which will help you see which jobs you might be able to do.
Most tests, however, are ill-suited to provide the comprehensive assessment needed to put all of those things together in a way that offers truly decisive guidance to help you select a job. Moreover, most tests do not consider things like cultural differences, personal circumstances, or various barriers that might make certain occupations more difficult for you to pursue. And even when career tests do provide guidance, that guidance is usually limited to broad occupations like education, law enforcement, or healthcare.
With all that said, however, we still recommend taking one or more of those quizzes, because the more information you have the easier your choice will be. At the same time, however, just recognize that those results will likely be only part of the broader picture you need to see to figure out exactly what job you should do.
What job should I do? 10 steps to help you answer that question
Now that you understand the limitations of traditional career tests, it is time to get to work on discovering the right job for you. The ten steps detailed below can help guide you in your own self-assessment as you evaluate your interests, personality, skills, and values to find a career path that matches your needs.
1. Figure out your passion
Yes, it sounds like a cliché, but there’s no way around it; if you want to figure out what job you should do, you will need to understand exactly what it is that makes you happy. No matter how skilled you are at something, you won’t ever be truly fulfilled until you find a job that aligns with your true interests. Don’t start by asking yourself, “What job should I do?” Begin with these even more important questions:
What do I really like doing?
What areas of life interest me the most?
What activities do I hate the most?
When am I the most motivated?
What activities bore me?
Questions like these can help you narrow your focus and may eliminate certain types of jobs right off the bat. For example, if you hate sitting still for long periods of time, then most office jobs would make you miserable. Yet, you would be likely to enjoy a career that enables you to move around throughout the day.
2. Identify your priorities
Next, you should take some time to figure out your priorities. Each of us values different things, and different types of jobs can provide you an opportunity to align your priorities with your work. Again, ask yourself some simple questions to help you determine what truly matters to you. For example:
Do you have a set dream or goal that you want to achieve?
Are you motivated by money or the desire to make a difference – or both?
How do you define wealth? Some people include things like family, friends, and quality of life in their wealth calculation. What does it mean to you? What kind of salary do you want to earn? What salary do you need to be happy?
Where do you want to be in five years? Ten? Twenty?
Do you have talents that you want to use in your career? Is there some special talent that you prize more than others?
Would you prefer to work in a small or large company?
Does advancement matter to you, or are you just looking for a set, stable career?
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you like challenges, or do you prefer to avoid unexpected problems?
Again, these are the types of questions that can help you determine which type of job you should do. Make a list of your priorities and try to arrange them in order of importance. That will help you to narrow your search later more effectively.
3. Take assessment quizzes
As we noted above, career assessment tests are neither foolproof nor conclusive for most people. However, they can be a valuable tool to help you identify potential career paths, as long as you answer honestly and keep the tests’ limitations in mind. Just search for some online tests that you can take and see what you come up with for results. If possible, try to find tests that measure not only your skills and aptitudes but your personality as well. That should give you a broader selection of potential paths from which to choose.
Just recognize that your test results are not going to be the end of your decision-making process. Instead, they are just one step in the process of finding out which job you should do. With luck, those results will provide fodder you can use in the next step, as you make a master list of possible career paths.
4. Create a master list of job titles
Take your list of priorities and passions and compare them to the potential career options you gathered from your tests. Try to select about ten possible jobs from the test results and write them down in a new list. If the options are overly broad, use the internet to search for more specific job roles within that career path. That list of ten job titles will be the master list that you use as you begin to dig deeper into each career option.
Keep in mind, that you will not be locked into these ten job options. If you complete the rest of these steps and find that none of the ten really seems like the career for you, you can always return to the previous steps and make a new list. Remember, the goal here is to ensure that you find a job that matches your talents, desire, and priorities. You never have to settle for a choice that will leave you unsatisfied and miserable.
5. Do your homework
With that master list in hand, it is time to start researching each job option so that you can determine which ones come closest to matching your values, priorities, personality, and abilities. As you research each job title, take notes to record important criteria like:
The demand for talent in that field. If the market you dream of is oversaturated, you should be very clear about the challenges you’ll face in landing a job in that field.
The job responsibilities associated with that role. Never assume that you know everything about a job, even if it is one that you think you understand. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can.
The educational or training requirements you would need to get hired in that position. Will it require extra schooling or is it something that you can learn on the job? Do you already have related skills that could transfer to that position?
Obstacles that would prevent you from performing the job’s duties. That could include mental or physical barriers, or even the expense required to obtain the necessary skills.
Go through this process for each job on your master list, until you are satisfied that you fully understand each role and the path needed to qualify for the position. If at any point in the process you decide that a particular role is not for you, don’t be afraid to kick it off your list and replace it with another choice. The goal is to have 10 viable, well-researched options that you can use for the rest of the process. Take your time and make sure that you don’t sandbag yourself with choices you would never want to pursue!
6. Look to the future
Once you have found and researched your 10 job options, the next step is to make sure you’re not walking into a dead end with any of those possibilities. Since you are working to figure out which job you should do in your career, you want to make sure that you are selecting a position and industry that will be around for decades to come. Just as important, you want to pick a role that has growing demand, to ensure that you are not setting yourself up for failure.
You can easily find data online that can help you answer these future-proofing questions:
How healthy is the industry you are considering? Has it been growing in recent years, stagnant, or in decline?
How many other people are doing the job you want to do? Are companies hiring for that position and with what regularity?
How much does that position pay? How has that compensation changed in recent years? In many instances, significant increases in compensation can be an indicator of rising demand.
Are there new technologies or emerging industries that could damage the industry you are researching?
This research may take some time, but it will be well worth the investment. After all, if the first buggy builders had had the internet back when the automobile industry was born, a lot of them might have made far different career choices! If there’s a chance the career you have your eye on might soon go the way of the dodo, it’s better to find out now and avoid that career disruption later on.
7. Narrow your options
You should end up with a list of 10 viable job options you could see yourself doing for years to come. Obviously, you can’t do 10 jobs at once, so you will need to do some further evaluation to trim the list down a bit. Chances are there are still several jobs on the list that rank much lower than others. Try to pick five or six of the most appealing prospects and set the others aside for now. But keep that research close just in case you change your mind at some point.
It is important to narrow your search at this stage for a simple reason: the next stage involves more in-depth research, including searching for others’ experience in that role. By narrowing your search options now, you can reduce the time needed for that part of the process. Of course, if you are still open to pursuing any of those 10 jobs and not quite ready to mark them off your list, that is an option too. Just realize that you will need more time to properly vet a bigger list and that most of them will be eliminated from contention in short order.
8. Reach out to others who are doing that job
This stage of the process may require more time than others, depending on how long it takes you to find people who are either currently in each prospective role or who have been in that job in the past. Thanks to the magic of the internet, with sites like Reddit, Quora, and LinkedIn, you can conduct your own informational survey without sending out mailers or making robocalls.
To conduct a search of Reddit opinions about a particular job, simply type “what is the life of a [job title] like, Reddit?” That query on Google will return links to Reddit pages where people are discussing the profession and their experiences. Those comments can provide some interesting perspectives and may offer insights that you would struggle to obtain elsewhere.
You can perform the same search on Quora, by typing “what is the life of a [job title] like, Quora?” Again, that query will provide you with links to pages on the Quora site that include conversations and comments from people in the industry about their jobs. We recommend searching both sites for insight, since the communities may have different members.
As you read the comments and discussions, keep one thing in mind: it’s helpful to put more stock in the positive comments than the negative ones. People who genuinely appreciate a job or an experience are more likely to provide a balanced review than those who are disgruntled. That is true in the real world and even more true in the more anonymous online universe. Those negative comments may not be providing a full and accurate assessment of the experience.
Once you’ve reviewed those comments, you may have a better idea of which of your top jobs you want to continue to research. If so, you can begin to reach out to people who have experience in that role to get their honest assessments of the position. To do this, use LinkedIn’s “people” option.
On the LinkedIn site, type your desired job in the search box and select the “people” option below the box. That will bring up a list of people who have included that job title in their profile. Reach out to some of those people and see if they are willing to answer some questions about their experience in the field. You don’t need to send a lengthy message, though. Just a simple request like:
I am interested in pursuing a career in [list job title], and was wondering if you could take a few moments to answer some brief questions about the role.
Now, you might be nervous about sending that sort of cold message to a stranger, but don’t be! LinkedIn is a social media site for professionals, and there are always people who are willing to make connections with like-minded peers. You might need to send that same message to twenty or thirty people, but you can rest assured that you will get at least a few to respond. Make sure you have your list of questions prepared in advance so that you can be respectful of their time. Some example questions include:
How long have you been in your role?
Do you enjoy the work?
Is the compensation adequate?
Did you encounter any barriers in obtaining the position?
Is there room for advancement in the field?
If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path?
One thing to keep in mind is that your efforts to reach out to these potential peers will be beneficial in several ways. First, it will enable you to get even more valuable feedback about the position, from people who currently work in the role you are considering. Second, that feedback can come in the form of a back-and-forth discussion, which is always more insightful than simply reading comments on a forum. Finally, some of the contacts you make may end up being part of your future network if you choose to pursue that career path.
9. Work your way toward your final option
At this point, you may have already narrowed your choices down to the top three options. If so, congratulations – you are almost there! If not, now is the time to make some hard choices. Return to your initial list of priorities and review your notes about your personal and professional passion. Take that information and compare it to each of your remaining job options to see which positions will best meet your criteria.
Many people can easily get stuck at this step since that final determination can seem daunting. After all, you are making a decision that could impact the rest of your life! Do not be deterred by the enormity of the task. If it all seems too overwhelming, consult with someone you trust and have them serve as a sounding board as you run through your options.
Once you have selected those top three possibilities, give them a fresh review to ensure that you haven’t missed anything throughout the process. Compare these jobs to one another to see which best aligns with your personality, values, goals, talents, and priorities. That job may just be the perfect career option you have been dreaming of finding!
10. Chart a path toward your best choice
The final step is to begin the process of charting your journey to that job. Make a list of all the things you need to do to achieve that goal, including:
Any additional education or training you need to step into the role.
A plan to cover the costs of that training.
An estimate of when you can expect to be ready to begin your career in that role.
A plan to locate companies that are hiring for that position.
An updated resume and cover letter so that you are fully prepared to begin the job search.
Any other details specific to your present circumstances and desired job role.
This is the point at which you should be able to fully commit to a path and the steps necessary to achieving your job goal. As a result, you should set as many goals and micro-goals as you need to provide yourself with a detailed and achievable roadmap to your career destination. If there was ever a time to put the pedal to the floor and give gas to your career search, this is it.
A final thought to help you on your way
Obviously, selecting a career path can be such a large endeavor that it is easy to lose sight of your big goal. One way that you can eliminate some of that stress is to reach out to a trusted mentor or career coach to help guide you through this process. You should try to get help from someone who has already embarked on their own career path since they can offer invaluable tips and recommendations to help simplify your own career search efforts.
Never underestimate the power of a good mentoring relationship. Some of the biggest names in industry relied on mentors in the earliest days of their careers—people like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Larry Page. If those titans of industry benefited from mentors, you can too.
There is no magic pill that can help you select the right career path, but there are ways to effectively make that choice. If you have found yourself wondering what job you should do, then you may be able to benefit from this simple ten-step process to identify the best job options for your needs. All it takes is time and the desire to align your priorities, abilities, and values with your interests and passion. The right job is out there for you, so go find it!
Ken Chase, Freelance Writer
During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.