How to Pick A Career

At my Grandma Rie’s Money Camp this year, we started exploring the different careers that are out there. The Grandkids are 9 and 12 now with lots of time before they have to start supporting themselves somehow.

I wanted them to get a better understanding of just how multitudinous the career choices are out there (and will be in the future with new jobs surfacing all the time).

When I was a young adult, I hadn’t a clue how to go about deciding what I wanted to do ‘when I grow up’. I picked a college major solely on what I enjoyed studying – without any thought or investigation as to how it might (or might not) lead to a job some day. It didn’t. I ended up as a retail management trainee – just to get some kind of paycheck.

After 10 years raising kids, I decided to re-enter the workforce. At the time we were substantially poor. I did some research to see what kinds of jobs I could get that paid the most with the least amount of additional training and became a computer programmer. Luckily, I found that I enjoyed the field and had some talent. It eventually led to a lucrative and challenging management position.

Many of you may have followed a similar unplanned path to your job or career. Dr. John Krumboltz, Professor of Educational Psychology at Standford University studies how people choose careers. He agrees with me, saying:

“Many young people never make a career decision, …, they simply follow a path of least resistance. Summer jobs become permanent ones; family or friends pressure young people toward options that avoid temporary unemployment. “

In no particular order, here are some of the ways I have witnessed careers being chosen. Even if you do research, study and plan your life’s path, it is going to change – probably many times – over the course of your life. At various points you might be depending on one or a combination of the below means of picking your next job or career.

Pick based on how interesting it looks to you.

This is what I did the first time around. This can be a good way to pick, as long as you ascertain that there are enough jobs in the field for you to successfully land one with the amount of education you have and that the jobs pay enough to meet your lifestyle needs.

I majored in Psychology (liberal arts), graduating in the early 70’s. I didn’t even realize that most jobs required a doctorate in Psychology to really use the knowledge in a career. I didn’t explore jobs that I might eventually be able to work into or even ones that I might enter immediately. Years later, I asked my Mom why she hadn’t suggested another path for me, since there were no jobs. She told me she thought I would become a school counselor – a job I would really have hated.

Pick based on pay.

This is what I did the second time around. This can be a good way to pick if you want to achieve a certain lifestyle financially and if you also remember to pick a high paying job that you feel you will enjoy.

I loved going to work each day, making that computer do what I told it to do. It felt like an important position and I found I had talents that extended to managing people and projects as well.

Pick based on hours worked/lifestyle.

Perhaps you want (or need) to be home with family or have time for friends a certain number of hours or for certain parts of the day or year. You could choose a job based on that. Some choose fields that allow 12 hour shifts 3 days a week (such as nurses). Others choose fields that typically don’t require working a full 12 months a year (such as teachers) or maybe you simply want a typical 9 – 5 5 day a week job.

Another criteria used for this pick might be the length of the commute or the frequency of travel.

My career as a Software Development Manager (which my computer programming job led to) provided just the right amount of travel opportunity. Not too much and not too many days away at a time.

Pick based on the number of job openings in the field.

Although there are many interesting jobs in the world, some of them may be limited in terms of demand. An extreme example would be President of the United States. Perhaps you are looking for a career that has many current and potential future openings.

Pick based on your innate ability.

Although some research is contesting the existence of innate ability or talent, it does seem that some people are just born with the propensity to do certain things. Are you a talented singer; a gifted musician, a fast swimmer, or an agile dancer? Perhaps you easily solve puzzles, grasp math concepts quickly or have the ability to sway the opinions of others. If you discover such talents in yourself, you might use that talent to help decide what job or career you want to support yourself.

Pick based on personality traits (outgoing, intelligent, shy, indoors/outdoors, etc).

Personality tests abound to try to help you discover the ‘perfect’ career for you. In my opinion, care must be taken in relying on these types of tests. The theory of the tests is to help you find out what makes you comfortable. Sometimes the things that make you most uncomfortable can be the things that give you the most joy.

I was terribly shy as a child and young adult, coming into my own only after I became a Mom. I discovered that I loved getting up in front of a crowd to explain or teach a group about something I knew more about than they did. Think about your passions and what makes you happy, as well. For example, if you love spending time with kids, then maybe a degree such as one in early childhood education from this school would set you up for a career you enjoy.

Pick based on who you know/what you are familiar with.

Generations of wage earners have chosen their life long pursuits based on what they saw going on around them, in their family or in their community. Sons followed in the footsteps of their father’s, even to the extreme of becoming known by name of the family occupation (Smith – for blacksmith, Taylor for clothing maker, etc).

Using this as the sole means to pick your future life can be very limiting. That is why I started helping my Grandchildren explore the many careers that currently exist – so they see that there are other opportunities than what they have immediately around them.

Pick based on the amount of prestige the job offers.

In today’s world, some jobs seem to be highly reputable. Parent’s are proud to say; My Son the Doctor or My Daughter the Astronaut. Grandparents proudly proclaim that their cherished descendants are engineers, dentists, veterinarians, scientists or computer engineers.

While many of these careers are high paying and provide valuable services to society, they also typically require extended schooling, long hours and are high stress.

So, you’ve probably noticed by now that I didn’t give you a nice quick and easy way to pick a career. I don’t think there is one. Your choice depends on your prior choices, the stage of life you are in, the need you have for money and your personal desires at the time (and these do change over time).

How did you end up in your current career?


How to Pick A Career — 3 Comments

  1. Great overview of ways to pick jobs … I will say that making money the sole determinant is the path to misery. Many people have taken jobs with lower pay but thrived because they actually dug what they were doing!

  2. Great tips on how to pick jobs can get a clear idea in how to pick a job for your path thanks for mentioning these points

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