Settling on a career path can seem like an impossible challenge – how do you know what to choose? Should you aim for something in the media? The sciences? The trades? Do you choose based on money, passion, how long you need to study? Do you listen to what your parents think, or what your teachers think?
The truth is, there’s no single way to choose a career path. And that’s okay – because there’s also no single career path. Starting out on Path A doesn’t mean you have to stay on Path A forever – it just means you’re on Path A for a while. Just like people change and evolve over time, careers can change and evolve time. Statistics suggest that the average person holds a minimum of 12 jobs over the course of their lives; with the gig economy and side hustles, this number is rapidly increasingly as more and more people try out different types of work.
Step One: Get a job - any job
Your first step toward starting on a career is getting a job. Get a job, any job, as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter too much what your first job is. It might be delivering pizzas or newspapers, mowing lawns, washing cars or working in a fast food restaurant. It doesn’t even need to be paid. It can be a volunteer job. The point is that you get out and get working.
Why doesn’t it matter what type of your job you get?
Because you’re getting work experience. Work experience is vital to beginning any career because it shows that you’re willing to work, and that you’re willing to work hard. Moreover, all jobs will have some skills that will relate to other jobs you take in the future – these are called transferable skills.
Jane wants to be a graphic designer. Her first job is working at a pizza place. She works the front counter. When she interviews for an internship at a boutique graphic design firm, she lists customer service as one of her skills.
The interviewer asks Jane about her customer service experience. Jane can speak knowledgeably about how to handle all sorts of customers, and give examples of how she has worked with difficult customers to find a resolution that has met the needs of both the customer and the company. Her experience and examples help get her the position.
Once you have a job, keep looking for opportunities to improve your skill set, whether in the existing job, or by moving on to something different. You will learn skills in every job you do, even if they are not skills you recognise at the time. As you progress through your career you will build on your skill set and develop new skills. Even if you change career, you will often still be able to draw on skills you have developed in a different career, just in a different context. For example, if you start working as a journalist you may develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to a career in nursing; if you work as a teacher you may develop an understanding of children that can be applied to work as an occupational therapist.
Step Two: Think about what matters
Different people care about different things. This affects their career motivations. Some of the factors that affect career choice include:
Think about what matters to you. It can be helpful to make a mind map or table that lists how you feel about each of these factors, and how important each of them is to you. For some people interest/passion is the most important; for others, financial stability tops the list.
Let these answers help you start brainstorming a rough direction for where you would like to go. Note that for most people, a career path is usually aligned with their skills and/or interest/passion as well, as these areas are more likely to be things the person is good at.
Matthew loves working with hands, being outdoors, and being around plants. He:
For Matthew, it makes sense to look at interest/passion and financial stability as the key deciding factors for working out a career path. Matthew starts looking at jobs that would allow him to:
Once you’ve narrowed the field a bit, start looking around for things you can learn. These can be generalist things to start – get books in the field of your interest, attend free classes by associations or try to volunteer at events and get to know people. This will help you learn about the field in general, which will, in turn, help you get an idea of the different types of jobs available and what they entail.
This will help you get a better idea of what your interests are, and determine what you need to know for the jobs you are interested in, or what experience you need to get.
When starting out on a new career, it’s important to apply for everything within reach. If you want to be a graphic designer, take some classes, and apply for everything related to graphic design, even if it’s just front of house admin work at a graphic design company. The jobs market is competitive, so sometimes it’s not about getting the ideal first job so much as just getting your foot in the door.
Remember: make sure you apply for all the jobs you do want. But don’t only apply for the jobs you want. Apply for everything related to your field until you get a position, and then work your tail off to learn once you’re in – show your interest, show your work ethic, and learn everything you can while the opportunity is within reach.
The Big Questions – Is this really the right career for me?
So you’ve worked through the steps above, you’ve found an industry you’re interested in, and you think you even have two or three jobs you’d like to try out. But how do you know if they’re really right for you? Short of trying them, there are a few questions you can ask yourself.
What are my qualities? How do I cope with stress?
Consider your personality, persistence, resilience, changeability, skills and talents, passion, and susceptibility to stress. Take stock of yourself and assess your own potential realistically. How do you think your qualities match up to the demands of the job? For instance, if you’re interested in horticulture and have been thinking about becoming an arborist, it’s important to think about your susceptibility to stress. Arborists spend a lot of time up high in trees, strapped into a harness – it’s a lot of physical stress in the body, which can lead to other forms of stress. Are you able to cope with that?Are your expectations and goals realistic?
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