While some people are lucky enough to know their “dream job” from a young age, most students will probably have some trouble making a final decision about which career they’d like to pursue. And that makes sense — it’s a lot of pressure to choose one path to follow!
If you’re having trouble narrowing down your possible careers, follow these strategies to cut your list down to size.
Rank your list
After you’ve completed a thorough self-assessment, you hopefully have a list of potential careers already written down. Take another look at it now, and cross off the obvious “nos” you might have after doing research into the job and the labor market data.
You might still have a handful of careers to choose from — and that’s ok. You don’t need to narrow it down to just one option, but consider ranking possible careers into Plans A, B, and so on. This can help you narrow down your field of focus.
Consider what your top jobs have in common
If there are just too many careers you can see yourself in, try to identify underlying themes that connect them. For example, if you could envision yourself as a biologist, national park ranger, or horticulturist, these jobs all share a love of the natural world, time spent outside, and continued learning throughout your career.
Once you can identify your core needs that each career fulfills, you might have an easier time crossing off other jobs that don’t fit on your list.
Note the difference between a job and a hobby
You might have a ton of interests and are just finding it too hard to pick one thing to focus on. But just because your career only incorporates one or two of your passions doesn’t mean you have to drop your other interests. You might choose to focus on your career on your most marketable passion, or the one you could see yourself realistically doing every day. But also think about the flip side: What would pursuing your hobbies as a career really look like?
For example, if you love working out and being active, you might think a job as a personal trainer is right up your alley. But a position like that might involve working nontraditional hours that make it hard to socialize with your friends, your income might be unpredictable, and eventually, the work might start to feel repetitive.
While there are pros and cons to every career, take a hard look at what it would really look like to turn your hobby into a career and make sure you’re on board with that reality.
Set up informational interviews
There’s only so much research you can do online. If you’re still stuck, consider asking for help from someone in the industries you’re interested in.
Informational interviews offer a chance to ask questions to real-world professionals in the career of your choice. You can get the inside scoop of what it’s like to work in their job, what their favorite and least favorite parts of the work are, and what their path was to get there. Plus, it’s a great way to build a network and practice your interviewing skills.
LinkedIn is a good place to start your search for local professionals, but your school’s counseling office could also help connect you to someone.
Ask why you want to pursue this career
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to one or a few options, ask yourself why you want to pursue the career in question. Is it truly something you want to do, or is it what you think you should do to meet the expectations of your family, society, or someone else? Are you interested in this career solely because of the high paycheck, or do you see real value and fulfillment in the work required?
It might seem silly, but now’s the time to do a final check-in with yourself and make sure you’re choosing your career for the right reasons. After all, you’ll be following this path for years or decades, so make sure it’s something you can be content with.
You don’t have to get your career right the first time — plenty of people don’t. But deciding on a general career path now can help you focus and set your plans for future education and training programs. Once you land your first job, you might be surprised at the doors it will open and the unforeseen opportunities that come your way.