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How to figure out what you want to do for a career

Whether you’re switching careers or starting your first one, you may feel uncertain about what exactly you want to do professionally. Choosing a career can be a daunting decision, so it’s easier when broken down into manageable steps. This article provides a roadmap for that process of exploration, and will surely bring greater clarity as you discover what line of work you want to pursue.

How to figure out what you want to do for a career

Interests and must-haves

You might not have figured out what you want to do for a career yet, but you may know that you want to be in a profession that helps people. Or perhaps you are good at IT and want to use your computer science degree. Maybe you have a clear idea of what field you want to work in, such as health care or education, but you still don’t know exactly what type of job is a good fit for you. 

In addition to your field of choice, other must-haves may include a certain salary expectation, job location, specific job format such as a desk job or a position working in the field, and so on.

Clarifying your interests can help you narrow down potential career choices while you’re going through the process. 

Goals

Next, write out your short- and long-term goals and identify what you want to accomplish as a first step. Do you need a job right away? Are you still looking at academic programs to prepare for a career? Do you need to choose a major in school? Land your first job? Lay the groundwork to start your professional career in a year or two? Take the first step to transition to a different career?

Once you have a better understanding of what you want to accomplish in the near future and within a few years, it will be easier to decide on the next steps and work towards those goals. 

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Network

Networking is one of the most important things you can do while laying the groundwork for a new career. It’s never too early to start talking to people and taking notes from the conversations. Interactions can be informal and spontaneous, such as in social gatherings, at work, or in school, or can be planned formal interviews. 

Always be on the lookout for professionals to talk to, or people your connections may know. Don’t be shy about asking questions and showing interest in their careers and backgrounds. Most people are more than happy to talk about their experiences and share suggestions. 

Such conversations can uncover jobs you didn’t know about, alternate career paths, professions to avoid, and resources to prepare, and sometimes even lead to referrals for jobs. You might walk away feeling more excited about a particular line of work or gather new ideas for avenues to pursue.

Useful networking opportunities may arise with experienced experts who have worked for many years in a field, with more junior people who have been working for a few years, or with students who are preparing to enter the job market.

Research

Once you have a general idea of the field or types of jobs that interest you and seem realistic to pursue, start researching positions and qualifications more deeply. Review current job postings to see what they require in terms of academic preparation, certifications, and overall experience. 

See what kind of jobs are popping up, where they are located, and what organizations are hiring. Browse online career centers and preparatory coursework on academic department pages. Write down what qualifications may be required if you were to apply for a particular type of job and proceed with a particular career path. 

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Skills gaps

With this information in hand, it’s time to identify any skills or education gaps you may need to address before launching a particular career. Some more years of school may be required, or an internship to gain exposure to a particular industry. Or you may need a certain amount of experience in an entry-level job before you reach the first professional milestone of your chosen career. 

Strategize a plan

Now that you have a general idea of the steps to take to pursue your chosen career, strategize specific steps and achievable milestones to get there, with measurable progress and rough deadlines. 

Determine how you will address any skills gaps. Volunteer opportunities, part-time jobs, or internships are useful paths to gaining valuable experience. A variety of online courses and certifications are available and may be pursued while you’re working another job. 

Give yourself rough deadlines for completing each step, and refer back to your plan every so often to make adjustments and check off what you’ve done. 

Since you’ve now figured out what you want to do for a career, continue to review your progress over the months and years as you work your way through each stage. 

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