What To Do If You Don't Know What Career Path To Choose
4 things you can do to figure out which job is right for you.
Every major can prepare you for a career after college, but some majors have more structured career paths. If you majored in civil engineering or agriculture, for example, there’s a good chance you’re going to enter one of those fields. But if your major gave you the freedom to explore different career paths – maybe you majored in business management, english, or general studies – you might be left feeling unsure exactly where you fit and what you want to do after graduation.
It’s OK if you aren’t sure yet what you want to do or where you want to go. Here are some ways to narrow down the kinds of jobs that might be a good fit.
Before deciding which position to apply for, make a list of all your skills and strengths, as well as previous experiences you enjoyed.
Try an exercise in self-reflection. Before you apply for any specific jobs, be sure you know what you excel at, what you think you could be happy doing, and what areas you’re interested in learning more.
First, make a list of past jobs, projects, or experiences you’ve enjoyed working on, as well as a list of projects or jobs you absolutely hated. For example – did you love being a club president and running meetings, but weren't a fan of your data-entry internship with little human interaction? Write down the main responsibilities of each experience, as well as what you liked about each role. From that list, you should get an idea of the kinds of tasks you would prefer to do in a job and which ones you want to avoid.
Next, make a list of your skills and strengths, and not just the technical ones. An example list might end up looking like this:
- Great at leading others
- Great at building new relationships
- Public Speaking
- Strong writing skills
- Quick learner
- Excellent at multitasking
- Proficient at Excel
Someone with a similar list of skills and experiences as described above might realize they could be a great fit for a people-focused role like account management or teaching. Many companies, like Teach For America, evaluate candidates on their interpersonal skills, leadership, and potential to have a larger impact rather than specific majors, so don't worry if you aren't sure how your liberal arts major applies to a role.
Separating your career path from your academics and identifying your key skills and positive past experiences will help you when exploring companies and reading through job descriptions. You might find yourself considering a role you didn’t even realize you were qualified for!
You can also check out our articles that cover career ideas for different majors and specializations:
Take an online career-aptitude test.
In addition to your own self-reflection, it might be valuable to take a few of the quizzes created to help people discover their ideal job.
Here are some free quizzes you can take to help figure out the direction to take your career:
Just keep in mind that these quizzes should be treated as a continuation of the research and discovery phase of your job search, not as the concrete career path you should go after.
Look through various job descriptions and see which match your skills.
After you’ve identified your strengths, look through a number of entry-level positions and see if any of the skills you listed out are present in the role description. You should treat this as research, so don’t feel discouraged if you come across several jobs that wouldn’t be a great fit. Most companies are hiring entry-level candidates for their potential – they’re more likely looking for certain attributes like “fast learner and detail-oriented” rather than expecting you to be an expert in something already.
Make note of the kind of person they’re describing, and refer to your list of skills you created to see if there’s a match. If there’s any indication of the kind of work you would do in this role, you can use your list of experiences as a benchmark of whether or not you could be interested.
Talk to people in your industry of interest.
Once you have an idea of the industry you’re interested in, or even a potential role, reach out to someone in that position and see if they’ll chat with you about what their job is like. Be sure you come prepared with questions, but take the time to find out about their day-to-day responsibilities, the potential career trajectory, and what kind of person they feel succeeds in their kind of role. While this is just one person’s experience, talking with someone in-person can give you some more context outside of your own personal reflection and internet research. If you can, try reaching out to multiple people to sit down and talk with them about the key characteristics of their careers.
The job search is already tough – if you don’t know what you want to do, it can feel even more overwhelming. By researching what you’re interested in before jumping into applications, you can make sure you feel comfortable with the role and find something that best aligns with your skills.