How to Choose a Career

Choosing a lasting and fulfilling career is a big decision, but getting to that point involves a lot of smaller considerations.

If you think of your career journey as fluid, you can explore and try different things to craft the career you ultimately want.

That’s according to job search and career advisor Biron Clark, founder of “Aim to build valuable skills, join industries and roles that excite you, and build your network as you go,” Clark said in an email. “If you do this, then your career is on the right track.”

Here’s how to decide which career is right for you, especially if you’re unsure of where to start.

[See: The Best Jobs in America in 2024]

What Is an Ideal Career Path?

A career path is a series of jobs that lead you closer to your career goals and vision for life. For some, this could mean building a career that focuses on helping others. Or it could mean climbing the career ladder and maximizing earning potential. The ideal career path varies from person to person, and you’ll have to decide what it looks like for you.

Let’s say your goal is to become a published fantasy fiction author. In this case, the ideal career path should be one that leads you toward this goal. You may start by getting a bachelor’s degree in journalism or English composition. Next, you could pursue internships or entry-level positions at publications that allow you to gain practical writing experience and learn about the publishing industry. As you continue to refine your skills, you may consider seeking representation from a literary agent to help you navigate the publishing process.

8 Steps to Choosing a Career

Here are some steps to get you started on determining your best career fit.

1. Reflect. Consider what’s most important to you in a career. If you are seeking a career change, decide if you want to work in a new field or if you just want a change in work environment, says Bob McIntosh, career advisor and webinar facilitator at the MassHire Lowell Career Center in Lowell, Massachusetts. “Reflection would be the first way to change a career,” he says.

2. Consider previous jobs. Think about jobs you have held over the years. “Make a comprehensive list of each job, along with the aspects you most enjoyed about them,” said Kyle Elliott, career coach and founder of, in an email. “While these may be the job duties themselves, they may also be something more broad like the company culture,” he said. Take notes of any themes that arise, which can help guide your search.

3. Talk to family members and friends. Ask for feedback from people who are close to you, Elliott suggested. “Consider also completing a ‘mini 360’ with those around you. Ask friends, family members and other people you trust what roles they could envision you doing for a living. You can also inquire as to the companies they could see you working at,” he said.

4. Determine your transferrable skills. Figure out which skills you have that could be useful in a different field. “For example, if someone were in project management, they already have a lot of great transferrable skills that would make the transition to, let’s say, corporate training,” McIntosh says.

5. Consult professionals in various fields. Clark recommends connecting on LinkedIn with professionals in fields that interest you. Start by saying you’re considering a career similar to theirs, and ask a single question to start. McIntosh says in-person networking can also be very helpful. “It makes a difference being able to see people’s faces as they’re talking to better gauge their own sincerity,” he says.

6. Consider your personality and preferences. McIntosh recommends taking a personality assessment, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness profile. “If someone is more introverted and they’ve been in an environment that is very outgoing and exposes them to a lot of people, that may be a reason why they need to change their career. They want to find an environment where there’s more solitude, where they can work alone or with one other person,” he says.

7. Look at fast-growing industries. Careers in fast-growing industries may offer more opportunities. Clark recommends exploring the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast for the industries expected to grow the fastest as well as the industries seeing the fastest wage and salary growth to help you brainstorm.

8. Try a focused Google and YouTube search. If you know what field interests you but are not sure what jobs are available, Clark recommends making a short list of a few broad fields such as health care, sales, software or cybersecurity, for instance. Then, your search query, “top health care careers” or “fast-growing health care careers” should yield results that get you closer to the career you want.

How to Narrow Your List of Career Options

Elliott suggests comparing your short list of opportunities to your short- and long-term life goals. “If you want to spend more time with your children, for instance, ask yourself which option would move you closer to this goal,” he said.

Salary is another consideration that can help you refine your list of career options. “Don’t choose a career only based on salary, but use it as a good tie-breaker or added piece of data to help in narrowing your choices,” Clark said.

[READ: Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance.]

What to Do When You Can’t Decide on a Career

With so many career paths to choose from, it’s easy to get stuck in career paralysis. When deciding on a career feels too complex and overwhelming, many people might find it easier to postpone the decision. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. Here are a few things to do when you can’t decide on a career.

Narrow your focus. Instead of trying to evaluate every potential career path, start by identifying your core interests, values and skills, then limit your focus to a few career options that align closely with these criteria. This simplifies the decision-making process and allows you to dive deeper into the pros and cons of each option.

Set a deadline. If you’re struggling with career paralysis, it may be helpful to give yourself a deadline to make your decision. This time frame should be realistic so you have enough time to research and reflect, but short enough to prevent endless procrastination.

Use data. Incorporating data into your career decision can help when you’re feeling stuck. For example, if your priority is to work in a field that offers high pay and growth opportunities, you’ll want to research salary statistics, job market trends and projected industry growth to help you evaluate different career options.

Other Career Considerations: Stress Level, Work-Life Balance and Equity

When choosing a career, it’s worth considering other factors that will make a difference in your work life.

Stress level and work-life balance. Some rewarding careers come with high stress levels, while others are low stress or offer great work-life balance. Elliott emphasizes the importance of gaining clarity about what you want, and do not want, in your next job. “Make a list of what you absolutely need in your next role, as well as anything that would be a deal-breaker,” Elliott said.

Equity and diversity. If choosing a career or workplace that supports diversity, equity and inclusion is important to you, Elliott encourages taking a close look beyond a company’s curated image. “As a job seeker, it’s your responsibility to take a peek behind the curtain and learn what the company is really like. With this in mind, reach out to current and former employees to see what people enjoyed, as well as what they disliked, about working at the organization,” he said.

How to Choose a Career: Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes people make when choosing a career.

Caving into parental or peer pressure. Be open to advice from those around you, but don’t let them decide your career path. Appeasing your loved ones might work in the short term, but you may end up regretting your decision.

Prioritizing salary above all else. Money is important, but it’s not everything. If you choose a career path solely for the lucrative pay, you can end up feeling empty and unsatisfied if you don’t enjoy your work.

Assuming your career is linear. Life rarely follows a straight line, and neither does your career. The career you choose now may not be the same one you’ll be in 10 years in the future. Be open to new opportunities and career pivots down the line.

Ignoring your intuition. Your intuition can be a powerful guide, so don’t ignore it when you’re making a career decision. If an industry or job just doesn’t feel right, explore other options.

Overcome Your Fear of Choosing the Wrong Career

Instead of trying to make the perfect choice, accept that making a decision — even an imperfect one — is better than making no decision at all. Once you’ve made a career choice, focus on making it work. Even if you decide that this career path is not for you, you can always pivot. It’s important to approach your journey with a flexible mindset and adapt when the time comes.

More from U.S. News

25 Jobs That Pay $80K or More

3 Steps to Change Your Career at Any Age

How to Use LinkedIn to Find a Job

How to Choose a Career originally appeared on

Update 06/21/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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