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How to Decide What Career You Want, According to Experts

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Pivoting Careers
Published
Aug 4, 2022
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Updated
Nov 27, 2022

How to Decide What Career You Want, According to Experts

Jandra Sutton

Even if you don't know what you want to do, taking time to plan can help. We talked to experts about the best ways to set yourself up for success.

It’s no secret that the last few years have seen a major shake-up in the world of work. From the rise of remote work to The Great Resignation, a lot has changed in a short period of time, and those changes can seem overwhelming. Add in economic pressure due to rising inflation, and the uncertainty you might be feeling—especially if you can’t decide what to do next—makes sense. Fortunately, you’re not alone. 

We spoke to experts across several industries to get their advice on how to plan your next career move. So whether you’re in the middle of your career planning out your future path or you’re entering (or re-entering) the job market thinking, “I don’t know what career I want,” here’s what you need to know. 

1. Think about what’s important to you

“What brings you joy? What would you do in life if you didn't have to worry about money? Is there something in a new field or different direction that you can see yourself doing? Many times we are afraid to take the path less traveled, and stay in the social "normal" thing to do even if it doesn't bring us joy,” explains Camille L. Miller, MBA, Ph.D. (ABD), Founder and Chief Visionary of The Natural Life Business Partnership and pioneer of the Soul Professional Movement.

Think about what you know you want (or don’t want) out of your workplace. What matters to you? What’s your work style? Planning your next career move is all about you, so don’t be afraid to dive deep.

Try making a list of things that are important to you on both a personal and professional level, including your need-to-haves and your nice-to-haves. Don’t forget to include the things you don’t want to deal with at work.

From there, use these values as a guide. Want the flexibility to work remotely from anywhere in the world? You probably don’t want to work for a local business that is built on face-to-face interaction. Want to feel successful on a financial level? You might want to avoid industries that are known to pay less than others. 

Resist the urge to overlook your personal values in exchange for professional ones. You might want a high-paying job that has all the perks and benefits on your list, but if it doesn’t align with your personal values, it might not be the right fit for you long-term.

2. Look at your skills and the job market

When it comes to deciding your next career move, it’s all about finding a balance between what you’re good at—exploring your talent, skills, and personal interests—and what’s in demand in the current job market. 

Far too many people plan their careers solely around their talents, which can lead them to feel unfulfilled and burned out if those talents align with industries that are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated. Instead, do some research. Look at your strengths, identify positions and/or industries that seem interesting, and pay attention to current job openings. 

“Start examining the current job market to see where you might fit in,” explains Garrett Hayes, founder of Birding Hub. “There is no doubt that you will start picking up on new trends in the job market, where there is a big demand. This is also something to consider, as new trends with high demand for a skill set mean that you have a good chance of getting a job in that field.”

Try checking out the current jobs report to get a little more information on what’s going on in different industries. While one industry might be cutting jobs, others might be expanding. Look for a combination of what you’re good at, what you’re interested in and what’s hiring, and consider using a job tracker to help keep a record of common themes. 

3. Consider taking a class or certification program

One of the best ways to embrace uncertainty is to learn. Expanding your skills is a great way to improve your confidence, and it might even help you find your next career move.

“When you don’t know which step to take next, education can ignite curiosity and provide inspiration,” suggests Matas Jakutis, a serial E-Com entrepreneur, investor, and CMO of Forcefield Digital. “Tons of programs and certifications exist online and are both affordable and convenient. Making a career move can be daunting, but investing in education and new skills is always a step in the right direction.” 

There are plenty of ways to learn new skills, especially in today’s digital world. You could explore a new certification program related to your current career, take an introductory course to learn more about a new career path or simply take an online course on something you’ve always wanted to learn. Even if it’s not something you want to do for your full-time job—like learning to code—these are things that can become amazing differentiators for you to put on your updated resume. 

4. Network, network, network

If you’re not sure what to do next, start by asking the people around you. Try talking to a trusted friend, colleague, or family member about your career trajectory—or about what jobs they think you might be good at—and start exploring different options. From there, don’t be afraid to expand your network. 

“If you’re having trouble deciding on a career move, brainstorm some positions you think would be viable for the long-term,” suggests Josh Snead, CEO of Rainwalk Pet Insurance. “Then, find individuals in relevant positions and reach out to see if they’d have time to answer some questions. Many times, as long as you’re patient and polite, professionals will be more than happy to answer questions about their work.”

5. Ditch old-school career trajectories 

Many of us were taught to consider long-term career plans and goals, but that style of planning rarely fits with today’s fast-moving society. Career pivots are becoming more and more normal, so don’t pressure yourself to find that “one thing” that you’re going to do for the rest of your life. 

“Attempting to create a 10- or 20-year action plan is great, but typically useless,” explains Josh Pelletier, Chief Marketing Officer at BarBend. “Rather, select long-term objectives you'd like to achieve in the future decades, but concentrate on action steps over the next few years. After completing these action steps, you can reevaluate and select your future moves.”

Translation? By keeping your long-term goals broad—like wanting to work flexible hours, travel more, start a family, move to a new city or be your own boss—and focusing on simple, actionable steps in the short term, you can work on creating the life that you want without getting caught up in the nitty gritty. 

Does your next job or career move matter in the long run? Absolutely. But it’s all about finding balance. Instead of viewing a specific job or career choice as your destination, try to reframe it as a stepping stone to help you build the life and career that you want. Things change all the time—layoffs happen, your partner could get relocated, a health issue might throw a wrench in your plans—and there are countless ways you might find yourself back at the drawing board when it comes to your career. 

While that might stress some people out, try to view it as a good thing instead. This isn’t a make-or-break decision, and it’s always better to be nimble. The faster you are able to learn and move, the faster you’ll be at recovering if any obstacles arise in the future. Keep your long-term goals in mind and don’t be afraid to treat this like an experiment. You’re finding what works for you and the best way to do that is through research, planning, and—most importantly—action.

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Jandra Sutton

Jandra Sutton is a writer, entrepreneur, and speaker based in Nashville, TN. She's the host of The Wildest Podcast, a weekly personal development podcast in 10 minutes or less. Her work has appeared in countless publications including The Guardian, Fast Company, SUCCESS Magazine, Business Insider, and more.

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