As a psychologist and career counselor, I have worked with thousands of people over the years who are choosing or changing careers, and who are wondering whether they would really like to be in a particular career. Based on this experience, I believe that most people who want to go into a career they think they’d like do not really explore the questions they need to in order to be sure that it’s the right career for them.
Here is a list of 20 questions to find answers to before concluding that a career you think you’d like is really right for you, followed by 9 sources of information for answering these questions:
1. In general, why do you think you’d “like” this career?
2. Why is going into this career important to you? What values, needs, and goals does it satisfy?
3. What do you actually know about this career?
4. Do you have any direct experience in this career? Have you had any jobs or volunteer experiences?
5. Have you talked to people who are in this career?
6. Have you done any reading on the career?
7. What are the opportunities? What kinds of money can you make in this field, and where are the openings?
8. What would your typical day be like in this career?
9. What are the drawbacks, disadvantages, and roadblocks of this career?
10. Do your interests match the interests of others in this career?
11. Do you have the aptitudes, skills, and abilities to be successful in this career?
12. Do you have the education or training to get into this career?
13. Do you have the personality characteristics that will make you successful in the new career?
14. Do you have the motivation and energy to follow through and do what you would need to do to get into the new career?
15. What are your “transferable” skills? That is, what skills or knowledge do you now have that you can use in the new career?
16. What skills or knowledge do you have that would not only be transferable, but that would also be a unique advantage in the new career?
17. What will it take to get into the new career? What kind of additional training, education, or experience would you need?
18. Have you developed a specific plan, including timetables and specific goals to be accomplished?
19. Do you have a network of support from family, friends, co-workers, or significant others?
20. Having answered all of the above questions, do you still “like” the career and think it’s a good idea to get into it, and why?
I think you’ll find that there are many resources you can use to help you answer the above questions. Among them:
1. Reading. This would include not only the hundreds of books and pamphlets on careers and career choice, but also publications describing careers (such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor and available on the Internet).
2. Practical experience. Not only is it possible to get a full-time or part-time job, but one can also volunteer at an organization or a company a couple of hours a week, just to get exposure to the area. Usually, any organization is glad to have this kind of help (unless they think you’re an investigative reporter from some newspaper or TV program).
3. Job search counseling. Anyone changing career directions needs a highly competitive job search strategy. This should include resume, cover letter, and job interviewing strategies that are specific to your situation. This may also include advice on researching the job market.
4. A thorough self-assessment. This is not an assessment BY yourself, but an assessment OF yourself. A good career counselor can provide this kind of assessment, which would include counseling and testing.
5. Career tests. In general, tests divide into three categories: 1) aptitude, ability, and skills tests, 2) career interest tests, and 3) personality and motivational tests that focus on characteristics related to the career world.
6. Career coaching. Guided discussions with an expert can help you to clarify your goals, strategies, and commitment.
7. Education and training. Before you launch full-time into a degree program, it is possible to take one course, or a seminar, or a workshop, or a brief certificate program in the new career.
8. Networking. There are many job clubs and career resource centers available to explore new careers. Schools, career counselors, and other professionals can usually give you information on these resources.
9. Informational interviewing. It’s usually not a good idea to go into a career if you haven’t talked to at least a few people who are already in it and can give you the lowdown. You can also talk to people in academic and training programs.
Armed with all of this information and all of these insights, you should now be in a better position to judge whether taking the next step in this new career area makes sense for you.