Choosing your career is arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life. Although people do sometimes ‘fall into’ what turns out to be the right career path, you’ll have a much greater chance of making the right career choice, and finding a job that fits in with your long-term goals, if you take some time to consider the options.
In this guide, we’ll propose a number of steps you can follow to help you make the best career choice. Regardless of whether you’re just leaving school or college, returning to work after a break, or ready to change career to achieve a long-standing ambition, we hope they’ll help lead you towards the rewarding career you deserve.
Step 1: Self-Analysis
Before looking in detail at which career may be suitable, and how to approach finding the right one, it’s a good idea to take time for a little self-reflection, and explore what’s important to you in life when it comes to making a career choice.
Here are some questions to get you started. Take as much time as you need, and be sure to make notes of your answers, as they will be useful later.
No need to over-think things as usually the first answer that comes into your mind will be the most accurate and give the greatest insight.
- What are three words that you’d use to describe your personality?
- How would other people in your life, such as friends, family and colleagues, who know you well, describe you? (Ask them if you need to).
- What are your interests in life? When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
- What are the 3 things you value most in your life?
- What has been your proudest moment in life?
- If you could do any job in the world, what would you choose and why?
- What are 3 things you are good at?
- What ‘people skills’ do you have?
- What qualifications do you have?
Clearly, there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. However, they may have helped you gain some insights into what’s important to you, these will be useful later when you are ready to choose a career.
Step 2: What do you need?
Rather than starting by looking at a particular field or industry where you might want to make a career, it can be helpful to look at what you are going to require, in a number of different areas.
Of course, we all work to earn money, and we look for enough to satisfy our needs. However, if you’re just starting out on your career, it may not be the most important factor: to reach your long term goals, opportunities for professional development may be more significant. Of course, when you have a growing family to support, salary is likely to be an important factor.
Also, consider whether you would require a steady salary, or would freelance work / self-employment be an option instead of a long term career choice?
What benefits or perks would you expect? Medical insurance for your family may be a priority, or even discounts on company products could all be an attractive part of a package and influence your choice. Generous holiday entitlements (for example, for teachers), can be important if you have childcare considerations, or even if you just love to focus on other interests.
Would you be prepared to commute for your work, and if so, for how many hours per day? Would you be prepared to travel between company locations? Would you consider relocating for the opportunity to pursue your perfect career path?
Place of work
Do you have any ‘must-haves’ for your working environment? You’d want an ultra-modern office? An informal atmosphere and a team that feels like family? You can’t without daylight? Easy parking is essential? Or would you prefer to work remotely?
Is 9 to 5 your ideal, or would you be prepared for shift work to achieve your long term goals? Would you want to be allowed to flex your hours? Work from home some days, or every day? Or simply to have the freedom to choose your hours, depending on the work required?
Job title and the job level can be vital for some, unimportant to others. However, if it’s important for you to hold a specific title that denotes your seniority and status, such as Dr, or Director of….., this can be a major influence on your career options and may make the possibility of a career change more difficult.
What you wouldn’t want to do
For example, you may enjoy putting together proposals, but you don’t want to negotiate with clients. You may enjoy preparing food orders, but want no contact with customers. You may dread the idea of only seeing the same people, day in, day out. Just take an extra moment to consider…what would you hate the thought of doing every day?
Step 3: Start exploring possibilities
Armed with the insights from your self-analysis, and an understanding of what you’d really be looking for in terms of your career path, it’s time to start narrowing down the possibilities.
Which profession or industry?
It may well be that at this stage, although you haven’t identified a specific career that you want, you are drawn to a particular industry. For example, giving your love of fashion and drawing, clothes design could be an obvious choice. Or the fact that you love explaining things to kids, the teaching profession may be a good fit. Or given that you believe you can change the world, a career in politics may be something to consider.
Whatever the case, it will be good to explore the possibilities to choose a career, keeping in mind your list of what you want.
Do your preliminary research before making a career choice
- Find out more, online. Check out official industry sites and those run by professional bodies.
- Also, it’s easy to check our reports and blogs written by industry insiders. What is the reality of working in the industry?
- It’s important to know if your chosen industry can match your salary expectations. Up to date salary information is readily available on the big job boards and on government employment sites.
Use your network to make a better decision
However, it’s not only about online research. Start to identify people who can guide and assist you with the decision-making process:
- Approach a local employer in your chosen sector and request an informational interview so you can find our more details which will help you make an informed decision. However, be aware that the person who is generous enough to meet you may have a somewhat subjective viewpoint and only want to discuss the upsides of their industry with an outsider.
- If you want an objective one to one discussion about your potential career options, a meeting with a professional career counselor can be a wise investment. He or she will really be able to assist you with the decision making process. Will your chosen career path provide the career development you’ll need to reach your long-term goals?
- Do you have friends already working in the industry or profession you have your eye on? Ask them for advice. Maybe they can help introduce you to other insiders.
Start to identify potential jobs
If your preliminary research has confirmed that you are making the right career choice, it’s time to start looking at potential employers and specific jobs.
Begin by making a list of jobs you could, potentially, apply for. Choose these based on your level of experience and qualifications.
Then start to search for job advertisements. Not with the aim of applying for the first position, you come across, but to learn more about what potential employers are looking for in a candidate.
How to find postings:
- Job boards
- Recruitment agency websites
- Newspaper and industry magazine ads
- Government employment sites
- Company websites
What to look for
Scan as many ads as you can, searching for the specific requirements of the position you’re interested in to choose a career. These will typically include soft skills (aka People Skills) as well as hard skills (the qualifications and experience needed to do the job).
Approach this diligently and make notes. You may see the same requirements listed again and again. Would you fill these?
Target specific employers
If you already have in mind that you’d like to work for a specific company, or type of company (multinational, start-up, blue-chip, local, etc.), start researching specific adverts, and again, note what they are looking for.
Do their values align with your values? Many employers now place values above experience when it comes to selecting new recruits. You may have all the work experience and qualifications required, but if the things that are important to them, aren’t important to you, there’s little chance that you’ll integrate successfully into their working culture. On the other hand, if you demonstrate that you share their values, you can gain the skills you need over time.
Does their ideal candidate have the same qualities you possess?
How often do they advertise positions?
Do they target young talent, graduates, or experienced professionals?
The ‘Careers’ section of an employer’s site can be a useful source of background information.
How committed are they to developing talent?
What sort of professional development programmes do they offer?
Be realistic about the bigger picture
When thinking to choose a career, it’s not only about how suitable you are. It’s vital to inform yourself about the bigger picture in order to understand how realistic your plans might be.
- What is the demand for your target role? Is there an over-supply or an under-supply of people wanting to enter the sector or profession?
- How is your target industry or professional performing in the current economy?
- What is the job outlook?
- Are opportunities likely to increase or decrease?
- How likely is your target career likely to be taken over by AI, so that the demand for humans is reduced?
- What will be your chances of finding a job?
Step 4: What training will you need?
By this stage, you should have a pretty good idea of what your chosen career is, what role you could look for, and which employers you might want to target.
Your research should also have highlighted any gaps in your qualifications or work experience that could prevent you from gaining your target role.
Some employers are ready to provide on the job training, whereas others look for those who already possess the requirements of the position.
If you’ll need to fill skills gaps or gain additional qualifications, consider whether you are ready to undertake additional studies. These can require a significant amount, not only of money, but also of time, motivation, and determination to achieve a qualification.
If your chosen career requires soft skills, such as teamwork, and you aren’t able to demonstrate strength in that area, consider ways to practice, even in activities unrelated to work. For example, if the role requires great communication and team-working skills, get involved in a sport or community project which allows you to work closely and cooperatively with others.
Step 5: Create the perfect application
Today’s job market is highly competitive, and employers are typically flooded with applications for each position. That’s why, once you’ve identified your ideal career path, and are confident that you have the basics in place to approach employers, it’s vital to tailor each application.
There will be two parts:
- A cover letter
- Your CV
It’s natural to ask: is this tailoring really required? Why not list everything about me and let the recruiter decide what’s relevant?
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that will happen. Recruiters need to see only the information that will tell them whether you’re the right candidate for the position they’re trying to fill. So it’s essential that you catch their eye immediately with relevant details.
Your Cover Letter
Although a cover letter is not considered essential, when you’re looking to start a new career, it can help you to stand out and give you an edge over other candidates for a role.
The golden rule is to keep it short and to the point, so no more than four paragraphs, and half a page at the most.
- The first paragraph is just to introduce yourself, and explain why you’re applying for the role. Be enthusiastic about your new choice of career.
- Next, mention the strengths that you’ll bring to the role. If you don’t have relevant experience, talk about your qualities and attributes which are relevant to the role.
- Then, explain how you will help them and add value to the company.
- Finally, close the letter by thanking the reader for considering you and confirming that you’ll be available for an interview.
Tailor your CV
The key to designing a CV that will be meaningful to the recruiter is to do your research. What are they looking for?
- Look at the job advert again. What qualities, skills or experience does the ideal applicant possess?
- Identify keywords in the posting or the job description. If these relate to you, ensure you sprinkle them throughout your CV.
- When an ad states that something is essential, take it seriously. If they need an Arabic speaker, and you don’t speak Arabic, it is probable that your CV will be rejected by an AMS (Applicant Management System) and no human being will read your CV.
When you start to edit your CV, use these guidelines to create it in a way that will make the maximum impact on your potential employer.
- If you’re adding a personal statement at the top of your CV (and you should), keep it to 3 or 4 sentences. Explain why you’re applying for the role, what achievements or qualities will make you a success, and what you want to achieve in terms of your overall career development.
- If you have extensive work experience, with multiple employers, mention each one on your CV, but only include details of those which are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
- Include examples of your achievements, in detail. Include hard data, if possible
- ‘Completed project 6 weeks ahead of target’,
- ‘Designed on-boarding procedure now used in 5 locations’
- Emphasize your strengths which are closely linked to those mentioned in the job posting.
- A common mistake that job seekers make is to simply cut and paste their job description onto their CV. This doesn’t say anything about your achievements, and it shows that you haven’t made much effort to provide relevant information.
Every time you send your CV to a potential employer, you should do it with the intention of being invited to an interview and eventually being offered the desired position. It is true that it takes some time and effort to edit it each time you apply, but it will increase your chances of success significantly.
Recruiters can easily tell the difference between a CV which has been sent to 100 potential employers and one which has been addressed directly to them. They will always be more impressed by a candidate who is genuinely motivated to join their organization, and is professional in their approach, than by others who have just pressed ‘send’ and hoped for the best. It means you have to be a little more creative than others and must think out of the box to draw the attention of the recruiter to your CV.
Step 6: Impress at Interview Stage
Although with such a crowded job market, it may take some time, sooner or later you’ll be invited to an interview.
Now is the moment when you may really be on your way to starting your chosen career.
Here again, a professional approach and thorough preparation will be the keys to success.
- It almost goes without saying, but arriving a little before the scheduled time of your interview is vital to create a good impression.
- If you haven’t been to the interview location before, make a trial run, at the time of day when your interview will take place, to assess how much time you’ll need to ensure you’ll be punctual.
- The recruiters will most likely base their interview questions on your CV, so ensure you’re ready to back up all the points you made, with good, detailed examples.
- It will be especially useful to emphasize why you are interested in your chosen career and to mention your long-term goals.
- At some point, the interviewer is likely to ask: ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ Make sure you have some interview questions ready to ask, even written down if that helps. These should relate to the business in general or the requirements of the role, rather than salary or benefits, which will be discussed at a later stage.
- When the interview is concluding, make sure you ask about the next steps. Other candidates may need to be seen, so decision making can take time. Having a rough idea of when you’ll know the outcome can be reassuring.
- See each interview as an opportunity to learn and improve your skills for next time.
No matter how well the interview went, or how much you hope that you’ll receive an offer, the golden rule of job-hunting is: until that job offer has been received and signed, keep on applying and never lose the hope of finding your dream job.
Step 7: Welcome to your new career!
Once you choose a career, it takes some time to get prepared and finally achieve your set goals. But one can assure that those who are consistent and work smart, sooner or later they reach their goals for sure.
So, the day finally arrives and you’re ready to start your new career. All your soul-searching, research, CV tailoring, applying and interviewing have finally paid off.
Hopefully, you will now be in a position that you not only enjoy but where you can continue your professional development and achieve your long-term goals.