Choosing a Career

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the five-step process for choosing a career, which includes aligning your personal interests and skills with appropriate fields

As your thoughts about career expand, keep in mind that over the course of your life, you will probably spend a lot of time at work—thousands of hours, in fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workday is about 8.7 hours long, and this means that if you work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 35 years, you will spend a total of 76,125 hours of your life at work. These numbers should convince you that it’s pretty important to enjoy your career!

If you do pursue a career, you’ll find yourself making many decisions about it. Is this the right job for me? you may ask. Am I feeling fulfilled and challenged? Does this job enable me to have the lifestyle I desire? It’s important to consider these questions now, whether you’re just graduating from high school or college, or you’re returning to school after working for a while.

Choosing a career—any career—is a unique process for everyone, and for many people the task is daunting. There are so many different occupations to choose from. How do you navigate this complex world of work?Powerpoint Slide: "Think about THIS!" At left, a divided image labeled "Pursuing Your Career" shows a drawing of a young woman in a graduation gown and an older woman seated in a classroom. Bullets on the right read, Is this the right job for me?, Am I feeling fulfilled and challenged?, and Does this job enable me to have the lifestyle I want?

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has identified a five-step decision process that will make your career path a little easier to find. Below are the steps:

  1. Get to know yourself
  2. Get to know your field
  3. Prioritize your “deal makers” and rule out your “deal breakers”
  4. Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action
  5. Go out and achieve your career goal

Step 1: Get to Know Yourself

PowerPoint Slide: Numbers 1-5 appear in orange circles at the top, "1" being highlighted; title on top right is "5 Step Decision Process." Text at top reads Get to know yourself and the things you're truly passionate about. Three images at the bottom: left is a drawing of a young woman studying, labeled Gather Information. Middle is a man in a thinking posture, labeled Weigh Your Skills. Right is a woman seated, wearing glasses, labeled Assess Personality.

Get to know yourself and the things you’re truly passionate about.

  • Gather information about your career-related interests and values
  • Think about what skills and abilities come naturally to you and which ones you want to develop
  • Consider your personality type and how it you want it to play out in your role at work

The following video has some good ideas for ways of matching your personality and skills with a career.

You can view the transcript for “Matching your skills to a career” here (opens in new window).

This next video looks at the connection between childhood interests and career options. Several successful entrepreneurs and employees share stories about how they turned childhood interests into careers that suited them well. Learn how listening to your inner child can help you find the right career.

You can view the transcript for “Childhood Interests Can Help You Find the Right Career” here (opens in new window).

Before moving on to step 2, you may wish to review the online surveys in the Personal Identity module, especially the Student Interest Survey for Career Clusters, which is available in both English and Spanish. Yet another survey is the Career Assessment Test. All can help you align career interests with personal qualities, traits, life values, skills, activities, and ambitions.

Ultimately, your knowledge of yourself is the root of all good decision-making and will guide you in productive directions.

Step 2: Get to Know Your Field

PowerPoint Slide: Numbers 1-5 appear in orange circles at the top, “2” being highlighted; title on top right is "5 Step Decision Process." Text at top reads Get to know your field / What level of education? A drawing of people seated in a classroom is below, and five circles at right read Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate.

Get to know your field. You’ll want to investigate the career paths available to you. One of the handiest starting points and “filters” is to decide the level of education you want to attain before starting your first or your next job. Do you want to earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate or professional degree?

Step 3: Prioritize Your Deal Makers

PowerPoint Slide: Numbers 1-5 appear in orange circles at the top, “3” being highlighted; title on top right is "5 Step Decision Process." Text at top reads Prioritize your “dealmakers” and rule out your “deal breakers.” A circle bottom left reads “Decide what you WANT,” with “what role?” just below. To the right are four simple drawings in a grid: OUTSIDE or OFFICE [image of beach], BIG or SMALL [image of bar chart with rising arrow], COUNTRY or CITY [image of path between house and city skyline], and PUBLIC or PRIVATE [image of figure wearing hat and nametag next to figure wearing a tie].

Prioritize your deal makers and rule out your deal breakers. Educational requirements aren’t the only criteria that you will want to consider. Do you want to work outside or in an office? In the country or a city? In a big or small organization? For public organization or a private company? What type of industry is interesting to you? What role do you see yourself playing in the organization?

Step 4: Make a Preliminary Career Decision

PowerPoint Slide: Numbers 1-5 appear in orange circles at the top, “4” being highlighted; title on top right is "5 Step Decision Process." Text at top reads Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action. Two website logos and addresses are in the middle: California Career Cafe, www.cacareercafe.com, and Career Zone California, www.cacareerzone.com. On the right is a drawing of a woman, titled “Use counselors.” The bottom shares a quote: “Find a career that you love and you will never work another day in your life” - Barbara Sher.

Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action. Now that you have an idea of who you are and where you might find a satisfying career, how do you start taking action to get there? Some people talk to family, friends, or instructors in their chosen disciplines. Others have mentors in their lives with whom to discuss this decision. Your college has career counselors and academic advisers who can help you with both career decision-making and the educational planning process. But be advised: You’ll get the most from sessions with your counselor if you have done some work on your own.

Get started by using the Career Café or the Career Zone. Barbara Sher, speaker, career/lifestyle coach, and best-selling author, once wrote, “Find a career that you love and you will never work another day in your life.”

Step 5: Go out and Achieve Your Career Goal

PowerPoint Slide: Numbers 1-5 appear in orange circles at the top, “5” being highlighted; title on top right is "5 Step Decision Process." Text at top reads Go out and achieve your career goal! A drawing shows a man wearing a backpack at the bottom of a set of steps, with the phrases written on each riser. From bottom to top, they read: preliminary plan, comprehensive plan, internships, part time work, volunteer work, GOAL!

Go out and achieve your career goal! Now it’s time to take concrete steps toward achieving your educational and career goals. This may be as simple as creating a preliminary educational plan for next semester or a comprehensive educational plan that maps out the degree you are currently working toward. You may also want to look for internships, part-time work, or volunteer opportunities that help you test and confirm you preliminary career choice. Your college counselor can help you with this step, as well.

Your work experiences and life circumstances will undoubtedly change throughout the course of your professional life, so you may need to go back and reassess where you are on this path in the future. But no matter if you feel like you were born knowing what you want to do professionally, or you feel totally unsure about what the future holds for you, remember that with careful consideration, resolve, and strategic thought, you can find a career that feels rewarding.

This isn’t necessarily an easy process, but you’ll find that your goals so much more tangible once you’ve set a preliminary career goal. Don’t forget: There is always support for you. Ask for any help you need!

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