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The Complete Guide to Choosing a Career

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There’s no getting away from this indisputable fact— choosing a career is challenging.

It’s a rite of passage and it’s something that most people will have to do, so it makes sense to learn how to do it well.

And it’s not something that you need to do alone.

Here’s our guide to how to choose a career!


Get in the right mindset

Your first step to choosing a career is getting in the right mindset. Finding a role that’s suited to your interests and skills can be mentally draining, so adopting a constructive way of thinking about the task can help support your wellbeing and avoid burnout.

You’ll find choosing a career easier if you keep an open-mind and you think positively about the process, not allowing those demons or doubts to get on top of you.  There are a lot of different strategies for developing your career path, so keeping a positive attitude will help you to keep on the right track. 


Think about what interests you

Choosing a career (if you want to do it well) is something that should be personal. It’s a choice that should be suited to your unique interests. After all, you’ll probably be working in the field that you choose for several years, if not decades. It’s a decision that has long-term consequences, so you want to be certain that the decision you end up making is right for you.

So, how do you do that? Well, you find out what interests you.

You don’t need to absolutely love your job. You do need to have at least a passing interest in some aspect of it, if you want to keep your sanity and mental health intact though.

Make a list of topics and activities that you’re interested in and explore the type of careers and roles that might suit them. Looking at topics in this detail can often reveal particular interests that are suited to a particular career field. Sometimes these might be obvious, but sometimes you might need to think a little more closely to discover them.


Examine your skills, knowledge and experience

Once you’ve found an interest, use the same thought-process to list your skills, knowledge and experience. While discovering your interests will help you find the best career that’s suited to you in terms of your motivations, exploring your skills, knowledge and experience will help you find a career that suited to you in terms of your abilities. 

Basically, you want to find activities that you’re both interested in and that you’ve got an aptitude for in some way.

When making a list of your skills, think about:

  • Skills or knowledge that you currently have
  • Skills or knowledge that you would like to develop
  • Write everything down — even if it sounds odd!

Think about how your interests and skills match possible careers

The easiest way to do it is to list subjects and then build out a list of associations that you have with that subject in terms of careers. What jobs or industries can you think of that are relevant to the specific interest or skill? A possible list might look something like this:

  • Interest/Skill Possible workplaces/careers
  • Writing Journalist, Content Writer, Author, Copywriter, Publishing, Teaching
  • Science Doctor, Nurse, Chemist, Scientist, Researcher, Teacher, Analyst
  • Fixing things Engineer, Mechanic, Carpenter, Electrician, Plumber
  • Being outdoors Gardener, Landscape Architect, Forestry Ranger
  • You get the idea.

A note on employment vocabulary

The vocabulary that’s used to describe the world of employment can make you want to tear your hair out sometimes. It’s vague, opaque and bewildering at times. It makes sense to be aware of how employment is structured, and referred to, in most societies.

That means understanding the words that people use to describe particularly things about jobs.

Jobs are basically sorted into two categories: a sector and an industry. The sector of a job is determined by the type of organisation and the industry of a job is determined by the specific field that the organisation operates in.

Let’s explain. In terms of sector, practically all career fields can be condensed down into three types:

  • Public: Governments (local and national), agencies and other bodies
  • Private: Sole traders, cooperatives, partnerships, limited companies
  • Not-for-Profit: Charities, not-for-profit companies, voluntary organisations

A sector basically refers to how a company is run, who by and for what purpose.

The public sector refers to organisations and other bodies that are run by the government or state, like a local council or a hospital, for example. They aren’t run to make money or profit and usually provide their services for free. 

The private sector refers to businesses and organisations that are run on a profit-making basis and that aren’t controlled by the government or state. They charge for their services and generate profit, which is then usually redistributed to shareholders (people who have an ownership stake in the business).

The not-for-profit sector (or ‘third sector’ as it’s often called) is made up of charities and voluntary groups that can charge for services but must use all the income to pursue the wider aims of the business and keep it running. No profits are paid to the owners of the business.   

The majority of jobs will exist in all of these sectors. That said, there are some roles that can only be found in a few of these — for example, you’re unlikely to find a ‘Local Government Procurement Officer’ role in a private company because its specific to a public sector organisation. You might well find a role that has similar, transferrable skills, which can easily be applied to another job though — like a ‘Group Procurement Officer’ for example.

The second important characteristic of a career to be aware of is the specific field that the organisation operates in — its industry. The main industries are:

  • Accountancy, banking and finance
  • Business, consulting and management
  • Charity and voluntary work
  • Creative arts and design
  • Energy and utilities
  • Engineering and manufacturing
  • Environment and agriculture
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality and events management
  • Information technology
  • Law
  • Law enforcement and security
  • Leisure, sport and tourism
  • Marketing, advertising and PR
  • Media and internet
  • Property and construction
  • Public services and administration
  • Recruitment and HR
  • Retail
  • Sales
  • Science and pharmaceuticals
  • Social care
  • Teacher training and education
  • Transport and logistics
  • List possible careers

With your current interests, skills and knowledge listed, it’s time to start deciding what you might want to work as, and where.

Take your list and start exploring some of the possible workplaces/careers that you’ve come up with. Pick five that really stand out to you and examine these in more depth. You might have written down specific job titles or just industries. Either is good. Take these ideas and continue to make them more specific. For example, if you like writing and you’ve written ‘journalism’ as a career field, narrow down your options even more. What area of journalism are you interested in?


Get first-hand advice from workers in that industry

Once you’ve got a few ideas of specific roles and sectors that you think you might like to pursue a career in, do some outreach and try to find people currently in those occupations who can give you some first-hand information about what it’s actually like.

It can be easy to develop a rose-tinted view of what things in your chosen role or industry might be like. Getting real feedback from people in the specific industry is a good way to puncture those illusions and get the truth about particular aspects of an industry.


Try to get work experience

If you’re still sold on your ideas after getting feedback from current workers, it can be useful to go one step further and try to arrange work experience in that specific role and industry. You learn most by doing something, after all.

Work experience, where you basically perform a job role for a couple of days is a great way to discover if the career is right for you. You’ll usually be able to experience the typical duties, demands and routine of your chosen career, and question current employees in the same role.

Bear in mind that work experience is usually unpaid though, so you’ll need to have the means to support yourself whilst you’re volunteering in the role.


Choose your career

This is probably the trickiest step: deciding the career that you want to pursue. Take your time and don’t get overwhelmed.

Think carefully about your talents, skills and motivations, and which particular industries you would love, and would hate, to work in. Making pros and cons of your top choices can be a great way to narrow your top choices down to your final one. 

Only you can really decide what you want to spend most of your life doing. Regardless of what your friends or family might say you should do, pick what feels right for you. If you go with a choice that you aren’t 100% interested in, you’ll probably end up getting quite demoralized, quite quickly. 


Think about your long-term goals

Congratulations. You’ve carefully manoeuvred through a tricky set of obstacles and you’ve arrived at a career choice that’s really in tune with your values, interests and skills. That’s not the end of the process of choosing a career though.

If you really want to develop your career, you’ll have to start thinking about your long-term goals at work.

A useful way to do this is to think about where you see yourself in a certain number of years. Start with the next two years, then move to the next five years and further. This should help you to examine the areas that you’re drawn to.

Of course, sometimes plans don’t turn out exactly how you expect them to but it can still be practical to think about your ambitions for the future and at least develop a rough idea of what career development you would like to see.

That’s it. We hope you’ve found this guide to choosing a career useful! Good luck!


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