Lesson 1: Discover Your Career Needs

Discover your career needs

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What do I want to do with my life? Will I make enough money to support myself? Is this the right job for me? Choosing a career path raises a lot of difficult questions. While there are no simple answers, the right outlook and approach can make exploring careers that much easier.

In this lesson, we'll talk about the importance of assessing your career needs, evaluating your skills and personality, considering your financial needs, and developing job skills as you begin to explore different careers.

Assessing your career needs

Taking the time to assess both yourself and your career needs will help you discover the right career path. It's important to understand how your skills and interests match up with potential careers, along with your personal and financial needs. Without enough planning and foresight, you might choose a profession that could leave you unhappy or even financially unstable.

Consider the scenario below to see the difference that a careful career assessment can make.

Scenario: Meral

Meral went to college to study business, and after graduation she took a job as a data analyst with a large company. Even though the salary met her financial needs, however, Meral didn't like the job very much. She wasn't working on projects she was interested in, and sitting in front of a computer all day left her longing for interaction with other people.

Taking some time to assess herself, Meral reflected on her personality and skills. She realized that she needed a career that would allow her to engage with people directly while also expressing her creativity. After more research, Meral determined that she might be better suited to a career in marketing. While she knew her salary in marketing might be lower than her current one, she calculated that it would still be enough to meet her financial needs.

Because Meral's degree in business was related to marketing, she didn't need additional education to be qualified for a job in her new field. Instead, she developed her career path by volunteering at a friend's small business in her spare time. Volunteering allowed her to learn the new skills she needed to be a competitive candidate for a job in marketing. Meral's friend also introduced her to people who worked in the field.

Meral was eventually able to use her new contacts and volunteering experience to find a permanent position in marketing at another small company. This job was a much better match for Meral, and she enjoyed coming to work every day. By carefully assessing her personal and financial needs and learning some new skills, Meral had found a career that suited her personality and interests.

Assessing yourself

As we have seen with Meral, taking the time to learn more about yourself and your needs can make a huge difference when choosing a career path. Understanding what you truly need and value will help you gain a clearer sense of purpose and direction as you pursue a career. Here are some of the most important things to consider:

  • Values: Is it important that you work with people who share similar values? Have you considered the workplace culture and environment of the careers you are interested in?
  • Interests: Consider the things you are more interested in when pursuing a career. What are you most passionate about? What pursuits give you energy? What gives you genuine satisfaction?
  • Personality: What kind of career will suit your personality? Are you introverted or extroverted? Would you prefer a low-key or fast-paced workplace? Do you prefer working alone or with others?
  • Skills and abilities: What skills and abilities do you possess? Skills may be technical, like knowing a software program or how to cook, but they may also be interpersonal, like the ability to solve problems or motivate others.
  • Education: What is your current level of education? Will you need additional training or degrees before pursuing a career?
  • Financial needs: What kind of salary will you need to meet your current and future financial needs. What about retirement or health care? Are your expectations realistic?

Self-assessment tools

Learning more about your skills and interests can help you find a career that fulfills your needs and feels right for you. Below are some free resources for assessing yourself and your possible career paths:

  • The O*Net Interest Profiler is a great tool that can help you understand how your interests align with different career options. You can even explore different career paths based on your results.
  • The Skills Profiler allows you to measure the strength of your current skills and determine possible career paths based on your skill set.
  • MySkillsMyFuture suggests possible new career options based on your current job and displays a helpful summary of transferable skills you have gained by working in your field.

These tools are a great starting point, but they can only tell you so much about yourself. Be sure to spend some time reflecting on your own values and interests as you begin exploring different careers.

Try this!

Use one of the self-assessment tools above to measure your aptitude for different career paths.

  • Do you think the results accurately reflect your personality or skills?
  • Can you imagine yourself pursuing any of the suggested careers?
  • Are the suggestions realistic?

Additional resources

  • Visit a career center. Many communities and colleges have career centers with resources that can help you determine your areas of interest and aptitude. Visit servicelocator.org to find local resources and career centers in your town.
  • Download and install one of the many O*Net Career Application Tools on your computer. These simple programs allow you to explore different aspects of personal assessment, such as finding your ideal workplace environment.
  • Review What Color is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers by Richard Nelson Bolles. This guide is updated yearly and is an industry standard for career planning. You can also visit the corresponding website, JobHuntersBible.com.
  • Review Self Matters by Dr. Phil McGraw or visit Dr. Phil's Advice - Self Matters. This may be a good resource if you are having difficulty assessing yourself and what you truly want.

Considering your financial needs

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Let's face it—a lot of us might choose not to work at all if we didn't need the money. Because we need jobs to provide a source of income, it's important to choose a career that can support our financial needs, especially as the global economy continues to recover after the 2008 recession.

Sometimes a salary figure—for example, $35,000 per year or $15 per hour—can sound like a lot of money. But without research and budget planning, you may find yourself pursuing a career that will ultimately leave you lacking.

Be sure to consider some of the following questions:

  • What kind of salary will I need to support my current budget?
  • What are my future financial goals, and what kind of salary will meet those needs?
  • Am I willing to live on less in order to follow a career path I love?

We'll talk more about exploring salaries in our Salary Basics lesson.

Gaining job skills

Some careers require a certain level of education, such as a bachelor's degree (B.S. or B.A.), while others require solid work experience or training/certification in a particular skill. Your current level of education will factor heavily into your career plan.

If you are pursing a new career path after working in one field, you may consider going back to school or enrolling in a class or certification program. You could also develop your skills by volunteering, building relationships with people in your new field, or taking a free online course. A lot will depend on the requirements of the field you're trying to enter, so do your research before
pursing a new degree or volunteer opportunity.

We'll talk more about developing job skills in our Gain Job Skills lesson.

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