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How to choose a new career

Here are some key questions you can ask yourself to help choose the career path that’s right for you

by Psychologies

Some people are lucky; they know the career they want to pursue from day one. For others, it’s not that easy. Maybe a few professions appeal to you and you aren’t sure which one to pick, or perhaps you have no ideas at all. For some, the career we’re in isn’t working any more, but we’re unsure about our next step. Making a decision about the career path you want to follow is especially important in today’s competitive environment, where many companies require you to work for free for weeks, months, and even years before offering that elusive job. Here are some key questions you can ask yourself to help choose the career path that’s right for you.  

1. What do I love to learn about? ‘Ask yourself what it is you enjoy reading about, what gets you excited,’ says John Lees, careers expert and author of How To Get A Job You'll Love (McGraw-Hill). Once you’ve figured that out, you should be able to define some broad topics, such as caring, media or the mind, that you can match to sectors of work. Then, choosing a maximum of five, research those ideas – there are so many jobs out there that you might not even be aware of. ‘Look at the big themes,’ says Lees. ‘For example, if you can’t get a job in the film industry, ask yourself what it is about film that really interests you? Visuals, design, story telling, media, communication? Then look at opportunities in these areas.’ You will have more energy and enthusiasm pursuing something you’re passionate about, which makes researching and dealing with the knock-backs easier.  

2. What do I want from my job? Is it prestige, money or working with a great team that drives you? Maybe it’s having the chance to be creative or to help others. ‘People who make the senior positions aged 40 are those who started in interesting roles early on,’ says Lees. ‘If that’s what drives you, applying for a junior role or a graduation scheme in a large company is a good place to start.’ But making that top position isn’t what drives everyone. ‘At the start of your career you should be more relaxed about accepting imperfect jobs,’ says Lees. ‘Few first jobs are going to be your dream position, it's an experimental period. Just make sure you are learning and adding to your CV.’  

3. Which of my friends’ and family’s jobs do I find interesting? Perhaps it’s your cousin’s architecture company or your uncle’s career in banking that you’ve always been intrigued by. Maybe your friend spent time working in recruitment or your grandfather volunteers at an environmental charity. Think of the friends and family that you tend to discuss careers with. ‘Make a list of the jobs that friends and family are doing and name ones you find interesting,’ says Lees.  

4. Who would give me an objective opinion? We often turn to our parents for advice at the start of our career, but that might not be the best idea. ‘Parents don't make good career advisors because they know too much about you,’ says Lees. ‘You need to talk to someone who will give you a cold read, who will ask you what exactly it is you’ve done to this point and what you’ve got to say for yourself. You need someone who will give you a proper reality check.’ Go back to people who have seen you in a working environment. If you can’t talk to past colleagues, someone you studied with could also help. Ask them what you were good at. Knowing this helps you to work out which skills you might be able to use in the future.  

5. What kind of lifestyle do I want? Many people think they want a highly creative job, but later realise that the low pay a lot of these jobs offer doesn’t support the lifestyle they had in mind. Others find that the most important thing is to have a fulfilling job and that having a large home and grand holidays isn’t their priority. Perhaps you think that you want to work for the most prestigious company in the business, when in reality working for a smaller company that pays more attention to your needs and is less demanding allows you to spend the time you need with your friends and family. ‘It is important to think about lifestyle,’ says Lees. ‘But remember this shouldn’t be the emphasis at the start of your career.’ Once you’ve asked yourselves these questions, don’t expect that a job will just land in your lap. ‘The most important thing to do is think about how you can put these ideas into action,’ says Lees. ‘Talking to someone who works in that industry is a good place to start.’  

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