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How To Choose A Career: 5 Key Criteria

Updated By Shelby on March 26, 2020

Do you think you know what industry you want to be a part of, or what career you want to pursue? Perhaps you want to enter the healthcare field—but how many healthcare careers are available? Will your career fund the kind of lifestyle you want to live? Are you willing to work the kind of schedule required? Finding a job you can be comfortable with is a lot more complex than you might think. This brief guide will help you determine what industry to pursue in five simple steps:

  1. Choose something you enjoy
  2. Find a career with positive outlooks and prospects
  3. Consider income potential
  4. Consider if the career fits your lifestyle
  5. Consider barriers to entry

Choose Something You Enjoy

First and foremost, you need to pick something you can actually tolerate. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you pursue an occupation that irritates you, or causes you undue stress. You’ll be happier, and likely more successful, if you choose something you find pleasant instead. If you’re not sure whether a given job will be something you can endure in the long run, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you good at it?
  • Does the industry interest or fascinate you?
  • Does a good day’s work in this field make you feel accomplished?
  • Does the work challenge you in appropriate ways?
  • Do you find yourself always checking the clock at work?

Questions like these will help you identify a position that you can sustain long-term. If you’re looking to make that determination before you start moving into the job, you have a couple of options. You can talk to people who hold those positions, and ask them what the work is like. You can take classes in that field to see if the subject matter interests you. Depending on the job, you may even be able to job shadow and try your hand at the work, to see if you excel at it. However you go about it, always be on the lookout for, and be working toward, a job you would be willing to keep for a decade or more.

Find a Career with Positive Outlooks and Prospects

Knowing in general what you want to do is a good first step in choosing a career, but career and industry research is essential when considering what kind of job is your ultimate goal—and you might even turn up a whole new position you didn’t realize existed. You’ll move beyond assumptions you’ve developed about a field when you gather concrete information. And those objective sources will help you, not only to make better decisions about your education, but also to land you a job once you’ve graduated. For instance, beyond the doctors and nurses that come to mind when you say “health career,” there’s a whole constellation of opportunities in the healthcare field. And each one has a specific path and specific educational requirements. Not only that, but as technology and knowledge expand, new careers are rapidly being created. It is important to know about different occupations in an industry because not all industries are growing, and neither are all jobs within an industry. You’ll want to do your research and aim for a job with a good hire rate and with upward mobility, preferably in a growing industry. This helps ensure that you’ll have job security and room to grow once you enter the field. Most of all, try to avoid positions that are tied to technologies, techniques, or practices that are being outmode. (such as a VCR repairman), as your employment opportunities are likely to shrink dramatically as time goes on.

Consider Income Potential

The problem with picking a job you love, usually, is that it’s often hard to make a living from the things we love doing. For instance, you’re not likely to find a job taste-testing cookies or watching Netflix. That’s not to say that there isn’t money to be made as a famous pop star or major-league gamer. Quite the opposite. But those aren’t exactly growing fields, so you’ll have a hard time getting the job. Most of those who do get those jobs achieve it by way of significant sacrifices on their part. So once you’ve settled on something with a more acceptable entry fee (so to speak), you’ll want to consider what people in that field are actually making. Then you need to compare the average incomes of that profession against the kind of life you’d like to be living. For example, you may find a great deal of satisfaction working in maintenance or as a custodian, but it’s usually difficult to afford a Lamborghini on that income. Higher paying jobs, on the other hand, have their own drawbacks, which we will discuss below. The point is, not every job is intended to feed a family of twelve, or pay off an $800,000 home. Know what to expect compensation-wise before you go in for the interview.

Consider If the Career Fits Your Lifestyle

There’s more to consider than just interest and pay. Some jobs demand a lot more from the employee than others. E.R. doctors, for instance, are usually paid very well. The shifts they work, however, are very long, and it can be emotionally draining work. In a similar sense, some jobs (like ship crews, truck drivers, and military personnel) require extended periods away from home, which can strain family relationships. Do some digging on the positions you have in mind and find out what the workload is like. How long are the workdays? The work weeks? Is there a lot of travel? How much time off do you get? Does it require you to get up early, or stay up late? Does it keep you secluded, or do you work with other people? An important detail to keep in mind is that, in many instances, the better-paying positions require more effort than do less profitable occupations. They tend to take up a larger portion of your life, and leave less time for other things (family, hobbies, vacations, etc.). It may sound great to be paid $2 million a year as a CEO of a major company, but the time required to do the job effectively can make it an unattractive option for many. Be honest with yourself about what you need to maintain proper work/life balance, and look for a job that can offer you that.

Consider Barriers to Entry

At some point, we all have to face it: some jobs are easier to get than others. Finding a position as a grocery clerk is easier than trying to start a coffee shop, and becoming a famous actor is a lot harder than joining a construction labor crew. Different jobs have different barriers to entry. Some will require capital, like starting a retail business. Some will require a large time investment, like starting a real estate brokerage. Some require lots of education, like becoming a physician or a professor. Take a look at the requirements for the job you want and decide whether you’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to jump those hurdles. If you are, start making the proper preparations. If not, look for a job in the field with a lower bar to clear. No matter what field you choose, it’s vital to understand industry trends, earning potential, upward mobility, and more. Research will tell you which colleges have the best degree programs and best job placement rates. Research about job outlook and salary ranges is what will help you decide if you want to pursue a medical assisting degree or check out bachelor’s degrees in technology. So do your research before you decide to enter a career field and you’re more likely to end up in a job you can enjoy. If you’re ready to learn which career makes the most sense for you, take our free career assessment today!