How to find a career path: your complete guide

From a very young age we are often questioned and nurtured by our parents and teachers on what we’d like to be when we grow up. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple, and settling on one particular career goal before we’ve even embarked on the journey is impossible.

Choosing a career path is one of the most difficult things to do during education, and no matter how many people tell us that we need to focus upon something, it’s a lot easier said than done. Rarely does anyone in the 21st century choose a career fresh out of education and stick with it for the rest of their life. But is this a bad thing?

Here’s how to find your career path and make that journey a little easier.

Consider what excites you

One of the most important things that is often forgotten when considering a career is the enjoyment factor. Money, status, reputation, prestige, are all potentially important choices to consider. But have you actually thought about what you would enjoy doing?

The debate of ‘money vs. job satisfaction’ will continue to be discussed for many years to come, but nobody will get closer to an answer. This is because it comes down to the individual. However, we would say that having one over the other will usually not work out. The balance between the two is the more popular choice, and whilst choosing a career because it pays well seems like a sensible option, you could come to regret it in 10 years time when you are not getting your fill of job satisfaction.

Put your enjoyment first when considering what you want to do in the early stages. Then look into what would be required, how much you can earn, promotional prospects, job satisfaction, and so on. But try to be realistic and don’t choose something which you are clearly not good at. We’d all like to play for a famous football club and earn thousands of pounds a week, or drive fast cars for an F1 team and jet around the world – but is that truly something you have a shot at doing?

Figure out what you are good at

Having a focused career path isn’t easy, but you can narrow the search down a little by figuring out what you are good at. You don’t have to get specific at this stage and things like communication, problem solving, presenting, selling, teaching, sports, etc – can help to put things into perspective.

If you are naturally a great public speaker then you could consider careers in teaching, presenting, TV, radio, journalism, acting, and so on. Or are you a very caring person and are always looking to help others? Maybe a career in nursing or social work is right for you.

Playing to your strengths is the only way you’ll ensure your career has a smoother journey. But you have to be realistic about what you want to do and what you can do, as these are two separate things.

We are not trying to quash your dreams, but ensure you don’t take a path which is unrealistic. How many people have you seen go onto X-Factor to sing their hearts out only to break a few windows with their high pitch shrieking? All it needed was for someone they trust to say, ‘this isn’t for you’. They could then stop wasting their time and focus on a career which they would actually be good at, and leave the singing as a hobby.

Ask those you trust

Your perception of what you’re good at and what you’re actually good at could be miles apart. This can cause a lot of problems for people as they struggle to hold down a job, and hop from one employer to the next ruining any chance of ever having a focused career path. So how do you find out?

The obvious signs are the grades you are achieving in education, along with the feedback you get from tutors and lecturers. Receiving awards and accolades from accredited sources is also another great sign that you excel at something. But are those around me actually telling me the truth?

Be cautious when listening to feedback from friends and especially family members. The truth can often be hidden behind politeness and love. Good intentions from those close to you could actually damage your career when the truth is far more beneficial.

Think about the people that you have around you, and consider who will give you the truth. We’ve all heard the saying ‘the truth hurts’, but we’d like to change it to ‘the truth creates opportunity’. Constructive feedback can be acted upon and doesn’t have to be the end of something. If you are happy that feedback from a reliable source is likely to be accurate, then consider your options. What other opportunities could this present? Am I just lacking in a few skills that I could easily learn?

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and you can find lots of successful people that were discouraged by their teachers, friends or parents but ignored that advice and achieved exceptional things. So where does that leave you?

Finding out if you are truly good at something can be difficult in some areas, and trying to figure out whom is telling the truth, who knows what they are talking about, and who has all the answers can feel impossible. A more assured way of finding out is to speak to the professionals.

Speak with the professionals

If you want to find out more about a specific career and to see what it takes – speak to the professionals. These are the people that have gone through the entire journey and have experienced all the highs and lows that are commonly faced. With a few battle scars picked up along the way, their experience and knowledge will be invaluable.

No matter what stage you’re at in your career or education, you will always find someone who is happy and willing to take the time out to share some insider knowledge. Contact an employer and arrange a meeting with a manager or even the CEO of the industry that most excites you. Prepare a list of great questions in advance that specifically target your own potential journey. Questions like:

  • What qualifications, skills and experience do you need?
  • What was your first job?
  • How did you get into this career?
  • What are the most difficult aspects of your job?
  • Did you ever feel like quitting?
  • What are the most important traits to have in this career?
  • What advice would you give me on starting this journey?

Finding out if you are capable of achieving the same goals and choosing a career path could be a lot easier once you’ve heard from those that have a proven track record. But what about your own abilities?

Try an apprenticeship or internship

Upon leaving education you will likely still be unsure of your career path. That’s because no matter how much you read and research, you never truly know if it’s something you’ll enjoy and be successful at until you try it.

This is why apprenticeships and internships are a great way to sample what it’s like to be a part of a working environment. Nothing can really prepare you for work until you actually step foot into the employers business, and if the career you’ve chosen or are considering offer such a scheme, then give it some serious consideration.

Not only could you be paid for your efforts, but you’ll learn directly from the professionals and even gain a new qualification. The idea behind an apprenticeship or internship is to allow students immediate access to a working environment and the ability to learn and gain experience in the field. This is the only way to really find out what it’s like and if it’s something you’ll enjoy.

The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t enjoy your time and you decide to do something else when it comes to an end. That’s absolutely fine, and you haven’t wasted your time. You’ve still gained a lot of skills and experience for your CV which can always be used to continue your search.

Make a career plan

If you’re at the stage where you’ve done lots of research, spoken with the professionals, and even experienced first hand the working environment – you should now consider making a career plan. All the effort you’ve put in so far to narrow your search will go to waste if you don’t make a plan of action.

The best way to ensure you stick to your goals is to create them, make a list, follow and track them. Even just a simple diary could be enough to help you push and continue down the path you’ve chosen. Without a plan you are likely to deviate and completely forget about what you wanted to do in the first place. This is where most people go wrong, and although you could get off to a great start you will usually go where the money is or take the easier routes if you don’t have that constant reminder helping you to stay focuses.

Of course, you can adjust this plan along the way too. Rarely does anyone ever continue in the same career they started out in, and if you want to make some amendments to your plans – then go ahead. But try not to do this too often and make a habit of it. You should change your plans if you know it’s the right decision, and not just because you can’t be bothered to follow it.

Don’t let other people or circumstances change your plans if this isn’t what you want. Only change them to suit your own needs and goals.

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