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Choosing A Career Path

When it comes to picking a career path, most of us are lost in a sea of choices. Whilst some may feel they have a special calling for a particular vocation, most of us have a harder time deciding on a career.

Unfortunately, in the modern world, it is increasingly rare for anyone to get by as a jack of all trades. Employees, like the businesses that pay them, are generally expected to specialise in what they offer.

So, narrowing down your focus is a good idea, but first you need to know which direction you should be looking in. What follows is a general approach to picking your path, but you can talk things over with an adviser at the Job Centre to help clarify your thoughts.

What Type of Person Are You?

Given the subject matter of this article, this may strike you as odd, but the truth of the matter is that your life outside of work is far more important than your career. Of course, this should be a common sense statement, but the fact that Brits work more unpaid overtime than the work force of any other European state suggests that it’s something that we habitually forget.

To get the most out of a career, you need to find a role that matches your values, desired lifestyle and goals as a person, and will allow you to fulfil them. This will dramatically increase your chances of being happy at home, and at work.

type of person

Values

Try writing down a list of your values. These could be anything from ‘compassion’ to ‘creativity’. Start by jotting down as many as you can. Commit anything that comes into your head to paper without hesitation.

Next, look through the list and begin narrowing it down into the values that you think are most essential to you, and expand on them. For example if you wrote ‘passion’, write a few lines on what this term actually means to you, being as specific as possible.

(You can also take personality tests online, such as this, to help you gain an insight into your values. This is a good idea, but don’t neglect the exercise outlined above, as they are not quite equivalents.)

Lifestyle

Now that you have expressed a clearer idea of the type of person you consider yourself to be, it’s time to think about the type of lifestyle you want for yourself. This notion is often a little less abstract and something that most of us find easier to pin down.

Ask yourself questions such as;

  • ‘What is my ideal physical environment?’
  • ‘What type of work/life balance do I want?’
  • ‘Am I happy with my finances?

In areas where your ideal does not match up to your reality it is likely to be because it does not sit well with your values. You need to think carefully about how you would better go about matching you values and lifestyle. The changes you decide you need to make will have a big impact of the goals you set yourself.

Goals

By now you will be beginning to get a picture of how you would like to change your life. For a choice (or change) of career to be a positive one, it has to be one that compliments these goals, which are intrinsic to you as a person.

However, as previously hinted at, values can be quite vague, abstract concepts. In order to achieve your goals they need to be concrete and tangible, or, in other words, SMART.

SMART is an acronym, standing for;

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timed

All good goals are SMART, as you’re only likely to achieve an end if you know what it is, how it can be done and when you want to have it completed by.

For example, you may want to have a mortgage, by the time you’re 30. This is certainly specific, measurable and timed. Whether or not it can be viewed as realistically achievable depends on your finances, which in turn will depend on the career you choose.

This is just one example, but whatever your goals, you will need the right choice of career to attain them. Even if they have nothing to do with finances, your career will have a bearing on how you go about reaching your goals. It will influence everything, from where you live, to how much time you have on your hands.

Indeed, many people think their personal goals are something they should seek to achieve in spite of their career. In fact, you should look to achieve your goals because of smart career choices.

What Type of Worker Are You?

Obviously, knowing the type of person you are outside of work will have a bearing on what you choose to do, but knowing your own traits within the work place is equally important. These can be broken down into three main areas; Skills, Strengths and Style.

Skills

Have you ever done a skills audit before? If not, it may be a really good idea to give one ago. You can quite easily find skill audit questionnaires online. Filling in such tests will help you evaluate your core skills.

However, you shouldn’t feel that only the skills mentioned in the test are relevant. If you are unhappy at work, the odds are good that you aren’t actually using many of your favourite skills.

As with the values exercise, you should now write down all of your skills, regardless of how relevant you think they are, on a piece of paper, putting down anything you are good at, from ‘instructing’ to ‘listening’. Feel free to use any particular verb that you think sums up an activity you do well.

Next, narrow these down. Not by which you are best at, but by which you most enjoy. Take these and expand on them. So, for example, if you wrote ‘resolving’, elucidate that with details, such as which types of problems or conflicts you are best at resolving. Are they logical puzzles or inter-personal issues?

Be honest and don’t forget to include skills you don’t currently get to use in the workplace, but use frequently in your own time. These are equally, if not more important.

You will most likely find that, when your core skills are grouped together, a theme starts to emerge that may already be pointing you towards a particular career.

Strengths

In conjunction with this activity, you also want to figure out your strengths. Strengths differ from skills, in that they consist of our natural character traits, rather than things we have practised or developed.

Martin Sleigman has developed a test for establishing character strengths that you can take for free.

You also want to think about your weaknesses as a person so you can avoid them. Many people are able to have successful careers using only their skills, which they have carefully honed, and not their natural strengths. Indeed, they may actually be forced into developing skills, to make up for the fact they don’t get to use their strengths in their job!

Being out of your comfort zone once in a while will undoubtedly help you grow as a person, however, this involves a lot of role playing (which I suppose you could argue is another example of the person’s skills) and can be exhausting.

Your work will always seem less exacting if you are able to combine skills you enjoy and do well, with natural strengths.

Style

You also need to think about your style of working. Do you benefit from a lot of feedback, or do you prefer to be left alone within a laissez faire set up? Do you like to communicate with people face to face, or do you feel more comfortable working through a plan on paper?

Knowing your style is very important when thinking about the path you want your career to take. Many people seem to automatically assume that they should be heading up the ladder of responsibility in an organisation, which, if it does not fit your natural working style, will necessitate compromise on your behalf.

However, if you are aware of this from the outset you can measure progress by your own terms. For example, if your style is suited to having creative freedom, you should look for a path which will grant you more license to think for yourself as you move on.

career Venn diagram

Interests

Now that you know what you are like, both as a person and as a professional, you can start to think about what your ideal role might be like. One thing is for certain. It should be in a field that interests you.

No matter what the job, even if it were one you weren’t 100% satisfied with, you are always likely to be happier working in surroundings that interest you.

For example, even if you were the lowest down in the team of runners on a film set, and were only trusted to make tea and coffee, if you’re a film buff, you’re going to find that much more exciting than making the same drinks in a café!

Ask yourself what things inspire you. What do you go out of your way to learn about, talk about and experience? One good question to ask is “if I were to write a book, what would my chosen subject matter be? What issues would I address?” Whatever the answer, there will be a related industry.

Your Perfect Role

We’ve covered a lot of ground and now it’s time to start trying to imagine the specifics on your ideal job.

Start by going back to your skills and deciding which of them you would be using and how long you’d spend employing them each day. Make sure these tally with your personal strengths.

Next, look at what you wrote when exploring your style. This should inform how you use these skills. Try and think of tasks that would actually marry these two lists.

Now refer to your interests list and add in what your surroundings would be, what the people working with you would be like and what the atmosphere of the overall environment would be like.

Finally, put this into the context of your values and your ideal lifestyle. Does the job allow you to live where you want to live? Are the hours flexible enough to allow you to fulfil other commitments? Is this career contributing to the attainment of your SMART goals from the earlier exercise?

Equipped with this mentality you will be able to search for jobs in the right way. You will look at a job and be able to ask “how well does this job description fit my perfect role?” rather than asking merely if you think you could do it.

Your Perfect Industry

Now you know what type of role would best suit you, it’s time to think what industry you are likely to find such a role in.

As mentioned before, you are more likely to be interested in your work, whatever it is, if you are part of an industry that interest you anyway. On top of this, there are likely to be many related perks.

To go back to our earlier example of the lowly film studio runner, even though they essentially do the work of a waiter a large part of the time, they will still get to go to the odd advanced screening and occasionally brush shoulders with stars at rap up parties.

Whatever industry you think might work for you, it will likely have the same broad lay out as most others, which are split into;

  • Policy/Regulatory organisations
  • Producers/Providers
  • Supporting businesses

Do some research into an industry you find interesting and see if any of the roles involved at any level of any of these different sectors has a decent amount of cross over with your ideal job.

(Thorough knowledge of the industry will also make a great impression at job interviews. As well as the modern go-to research tool of the internet search engine, you’d also be well advised to get your hands on some editions of the relevant trade press publications.)

You will probably be surprised at the number or roles associated with any one industry. Take something as general as football, for instance. Yes, it is unlikely you will be a player or a manager but, depending on your skills, you might be anything from a PR officer, to a hospitality co-ordinator, an accountant, to a security guard. The possibilities are almost endless…

Armed with this knowledge you should be able, not only to find a great job, but also obtain it.

Next article: Tips on how to effectively search for jobs.