6 Steps to Choosing the Right Career

Knowing how to choose a career that will keep a smile on your face (at least on most workdays) can be the foundation for a truly happy life. First, give yourself the right to love what you do and do what you love. Then learn the simple steps to finding out who you are; Knowing yourself is most of the battle.

1. Who are you? What career makes sense?

What are your values, your skills, your strengths and challenges? Psychologist and Sociology Professor John Holland developed a theory of career choice, The Holland Codes, that identifies 6 personality types and the way these types define how success and job and educational satisfaction are connected to personality. The 6 are: Conventional, Social, Enterprising, Realistic, Investigative and Artistic.

2. Asking the right questions

Are you insightful, intuitive, outgoing, idealistic or curious? Can you mediate disputes, teach others or lead a team? Do you like to read fiction, keep detailed records or meet important game-changers? These are just some of the questions posed on the short Holland Code quiz offered at many sites online. After completing the simple quiz, you get a score and ID for your personality type, which can help when choosing the right career. Here are a few descriptions for each personality type:

  • Realistic: robust, rugged, stable, persistent
  • Enterprising: good verbal skills, strong leader
  • Investigative: scientific and introspective
  • Conventional: conscientious, identify with power
  • Social: like to work in groups, idealist
  • Artistic: love the arts, impulsive and non-conforming

3. Choose the workplace that’s right for you

We bet you’ve been in work or school situations where you felt ostracized and different from the surrounding crew. There’s nothing wrong with you; You just don’t speak the same language. Working with similar personality types with the same priorities and goals will define success, comfort and longevity. Artistic? How about writing communications for a theater group? Enterprising? Silicon Valley awaits – or your regional new tech sector. Social? Start checking those nonprofit job boards or, if budget allows, offer to start out as a volunteer. Workplace environment is key in choosing a career.

4. Education and networking

Try to start early or go back to a school that also matches your true self. MIT might be the place if science and investigation is your motivation. If you started as an actor at a performing arts high school, be willing to share a sofa and study with the best while waiting tables. Good enough for De Niro, good enough for you. Check out the right professional associations and plan to show up at their local monthly meetings. These are invaluable in establishing your career path and also great for making like-minded friends where you will be comfortable and stay energized.

5. Work very hard, sacrifice, and ignore the naysayers

Hold on to your passion and believe in yourself no matter what that frustrated friend or neighbor needs to express. Their negativity is just fear and frustration. Notice the absence of a smile, let alone a healthy, straighter smile they invested in because they matter. Plan to be the one who never checks the time on his iPhone and doesn’t realize it’s 10 p.m. and a little break might be in order. In the first few years, live with the clunky car, become a vintage clothing aficionado and learn to cook – feed the professional friends and share your daily accomplishments. Support, encourage, believe.

6. Never ever give up

No one ever got a gold medal by sitting on the sidelines and leaving practice early. If you’re not sure, find a different job and move on to one that might be a better fit. If money is tight, do the 9-5 and exercise to keep up the energy for an additional temp job at what you love. Your career may take a few twists and unexpected turns, but re-writing a resume to max your experience and personal story is better than a lifetime of misery. Daniel Gilbert, Harvard’s Happiness Lab Leader (yes, you read that right – talk about folks who did exactly what they felt like doing), says to try everything to see what makes you happy. Make your career count.


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