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When I was in 10th grade, I took a career aptitude test. After hundreds of multiple choice questions, I pressed submit to see my results.
According to the test, my perfect job was … drumroll, please …. cryptologist.
Naturally, my first question was, what’s a cryptologist? Well, apparently a cryptologist works with codes; for instance, some help banks develop encryption techniques. Most study math or computer science in college. As a humanities-oriented student who loved literature, poetry, and art, I wasn’t too excited by this result.
In fact, I was pretty disappointed. After answering all those probing questions, I was no closer to finding an answer to that universal question, What career is right for me? But I did learn that you can rarely find an answer in a career aptitude test.
Instead, figuring out the right job comes from a mix of experiences (both good and bad) and self-reflection on your skills and interests. Plus, it helps to know what jobs are actually out there, considering the professional landscape is changing rapidly to keep up with technology.
What career is right for me? These 9 questions will help you find the answer
If you’re trying to figure out what career is right for you, ask yourself these nine questions to find your answer.
1. What do you enjoy doing? What do your interests have in common?
You’ve seen those inspirational quotes and Instagram posts telling you the key to finding the right job is simple, just “follow your passion.” But passion is a very loaded word, and not everyone is born with a burning desire to play the violin or write the next great American novel.
I’m not convinced passion is something that just exists inside you, anyway. On the contrary, I think you grow your passions by actively cultivating your interests.
So instead of worrying that you don’t have some overriding passion guiding your professional moves, instead think about where your interests lie. What do you enjoy doing? Does anything get you into the flow, where a bunch of time passes with you even noticing?
Or does anything make you feel fulfilled, even if you don’t love doing it at the time? For instance, I love writing, but that doesn’t mean I always enjoy the process of writing. Often, I enjoy having written more than the act itself, but that sense of fulfillment keeps me going.
Maybe you like writing, too, or drawing, building models, cooking, hiking, biking, playing badminton, or traveling to new places. Not every one of your interests will lead to an obvious career path, but you might find some underlying themes in what you enjoy.
If you’re outdoors every chance you get, maybe you can find work that lets you be active, so you don’t feel like you’re wasting away behind a desk. Or if you’re socializing all the time, look for a job that’s people-oriented and feeds your extroverted soul.
Perhaps you need something that lets you be creative, or analytical, or solve problems, or have deep conversations about feelings (e..g, therapist, counselor, etc.). Of course, you don’t need to turn every interest into a job, or worry about monetizing your love of playing squash.
We all have hobbies outside of work that may or may not be related to what we do with our day job. But your interests can help lead the way to a job you’ll enjoy doing, rather than one that will make you want to pull the covers over your head every time your alarm goes off in the morning.
2. Where do your skills lie? What about your natural talents?
Along with reflecting on your interests, consider where your skills lie. What are you naturally good at? What subjects in school did you enjoy most?
Sometimes, when something comes easily to us, we assume it must come easily to everyone. But that’s often not the case. So honor your natural talents, and let yourself gravitate toward a field you feel is a good fit.
At the same time, remember that you can always develop new skills, too. Embracing a “growth mindset” that says you’re capable of learning new things is so important for success.
If you think, “I’m not good at math and never will be,” then you probably won’t get very good at math — but not because you’re not capable. Your “fixed mindset” is keeping you stuck; only a growth mindset will help you get better.
As Henry Ford put it,
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Our mindset has the potential to hold us back or propel us forward. By embracing a mindset of growth, rather than feeling stuck, you expand your options exponentially. So think about where your skills lie, but don’t forget that you can always learn and grow if the desire is there.
3. How would you describe your personality? How about your learning style?
Although career aptitude tests aren’t always helpful (cryptologist, really? smh), I’ve found that personality assessments can be a lot more illuminating. Tests such as Myers-Briggs and the Big Five shed light on what motivates us, how we perceive the world around us, and how we make decisions.
Both are well-respected psychological assessments that uncover various personality types.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Myers-Briggs, for instance, looks at four main categories:
- Do you tend to focus on the outer world (extraversion) or your inner world (introversion)?
- Do you rely on information you take in through your senses (sensing) or rely more heavily on your ability to interpret and create meaning (intuition)?
- Are your decisions based more on logic and consistency (thinking) or on people and special circumstances (feeling)?
- When interacting with the world, do you like to have things settled and decided (judging) or prefer to stay open to your options and any new information that comes along (perceiving)?
After taking the test, you’ll get four letters (e.g., INFP, ESFJ, etc.) that describe your orientation to the world. You’ll also see where you fall on the spectrum of these categories; some people fall heavily toward introversion, for example, whereas others are more in the middle.
These categories aren’t meant to box you in, but rather to help you grow in self-awareness and get a better sense of what makes you tick. Myers-Briggs can also help you understand other people better by acknowledging all the different ways people perceive the world.
Big Five Personality Test
The Big Five test operates a little differently. It defines five main personality categories:
- Openness to experience, or how inventive and curious you are vs. how consistent and cautious
- Conscientiousness, which involves being efficient and organized or more easy-going or even careless
- Extraversion, which aligns with being outgoing vs. more solitary
- Agreeableness, which has to do with being friendly and compassionate vs. challenging and detached
- Neuroticism, which involves being secure and confident vs. nervous or emotionally unstable (always thought this one sounded a bit judgmental, but there it is)
As with the Myers-Briggs assessment, this test can help you become more self-aware, so you can choose a career that honors your personality type, rather than acts against it.
4. What kind of environment do you feel most comfortable in? Where can you perform your best?
Not only can personality assessments help you understand what roles suit you best, but they can also shed light on what environments will help you thrive.
Do you prefer a fast-paced office environment fueled by caffeine and deadlines? Would you do well in a big open office space where you can chat with colleagues, or do you need quiet space and nooks and crannies to hear yourself think?
Do you enjoy the structure of an office, or is your dream to work from home or anywhere with WiFi? (Obviously, I’m biased in this regard.) Some people would hate the solitude of working from home, whereas others, myself included, can’t stand going to the same workplace day in and day out.
Think about what environment would help you succeed, and look for a job that matches your preferences.
5. If you could do anything and money were no object, what would you do?
Here’s a useful thought experiment for figuring out what career is right for you: If you could do anything, money and practical issues aside, what would you do? How would you spend your days? What’s your dream job?
Would you want to go trekking with chimpanzees in the jungle, Jane Goodall style? Paint in your studio all day long? Climb mountains, discover cures for diseases, design websites?
If your dream seems totally far-fetched, think of a version you could achieve. Maybe your paintings aren’t paying the bills (yet), but you could work as an art teacher.
Maybe you’re not ready to hike off into the jungle to find the great apes, but you could study zoology and get a job at a local animal sanctuary.
Your ultimate goal probably won’t happen overnight, but it can guide your actions in the here and now. Think about your long-term vision, and then find smaller steps you can take today to achieve it (or at least a related version of it).
6. What options are out there? Can you find a mentor? Can you shadow someone?
Part of the reason I struggled to find the right job after graduation was I simply didn’t know what my options were.
When I was little, I knew I could grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, but no one was talking about becoming a digital marketer or a creative technologist or a data scientist (largely because these jobs didn’t exist yet).
And the idea of digital nomadism hadn’t burst onto the scene. People have been working from home for decades, but these concepts of lifestyle design and using the internet to make money as you travel the world didn’t get popular ’til pretty recently.
If you’re figuring out what job is right for you, it’s key to learn about what options are actually out there. Research careers, seek out mentors, and grow your network.
Maybe someone can share what their day to day looks like or explain what career path they took. Perhaps they’ll let you shadow them (in person or virtually) for a day so you can learn more about their job.
You might find the job you thought you wanted isn’t what you pictured at all. This information will help you pivot before wasting years in the wrong job or thousands of dollars on a degree you don’t need.
Take steps to learn what a job’s really like, so you can figure out if it’s right for you before investing too much of your time, money, and energy.
7. What do you care about? What kind of contribution do you want to make?
Work fulfills a lot of different roles in your life. It helps you survive, because you know, money. Hopefully it also aligns with your interests and goals. Your job helps give structure to your days and bring purpose to your life.
But your work can also make a difference in someone else’s life. Your job might help solve problems, move society forward, and make the world a better place. That’s not to say you need to work for Greenpeace, but you probably want your job to contribute meaningfully to the world in some way.
So what kind of contribution do you want to make in the world? How do you want your work to impact others?
Do you want to provide entertainment? Cure illnesses? Act as a mentor? Share information? Create a new, deregulated digital economy? Make people chocolate chip pancakes?
Whatever you’re into, thinking about the contribution you want to make can help you figure out a career path that’s right for you.
8. What are your financial goals? Could your target job help you reach them?
Although you want to find work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, you also want to pay the bills. Rent, food, travel, and Netflix don’t pay for themselves. And you probably need to save for the future, pay off student loans, or invest.
So when considering what career is right for you, don’t forget to do some research on salaries. If the average income in your target job is barely enough to get by, you might want to change direction.
That said, you’ll probably have a better chance of making it big in a job that actually interests you, rather than one that you chose solely for the paycheck. It’s tough to rise to the top in a field that makes you feel “meh.”
Pursuing your passion could actually be the best decision you make for your bank account. But think about what kind of income would make you feel secure and satisfied in your life, and take finances into account when choosing your next job.
At the very least, this information will be helpful when you negotiate your salary or ask for a raise.
9. Are there opportunities in your target field? Is it predicted to grow in the future?
Now that we’re moving into practical considerations like salary, here’s another: Does your target field have job opportunities?
Is it predicted to grow or shrink in the next few years? Head to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for some industry predictions. If job security is a top priority for you, you might gravitate toward a field that’s expected to grow in the coming years.
Along similar lines, consider whether you’re in the right location to succeed in your career. Maybe to widen your career opportunities, you need to pack your bags and move to Hollywood or Silicon Valley.
Give yourself time to figure out the right career for you
What career is right for me? It’s a universal question, but it’s not easy to answer.
By taking time to reflect on your interests and personal preferences, you can find roles that are a good fit for you. And remember that your “dream job” might change over time. Career paths are often not linear, and you might end up in a very different place than you imagined when you were in college.
At the same time, work is still work; it’s ok if you don’t feel passionate about what you’re doing all the time. But hopefully, your job will fulfill you in certain ways.
In the end, all you can do is grow in self-awareness, be thoughtful about your choices, and keep learning from your experiences. Be patient with yourself as you learn and make mistakes along the way, but also be proactive about making a change if you find yourself in a subpar situation.
It’s up to you to design a career that’s right for you; trust your gut and keep pursuing your goals until you do.