Choosing Your Next Career

windyroadCareer advice is easy to get — maybe too easy because there is too much information and too many people who think they know what’s best for you.  So, how do you wade through it all? My straight-forward advice is to pace yourself and complete a thorough process such as these five steps:

  1. Understand yourself
  2. Be practical (and budget minded)
  3. Explore your options
  4. Be inspired
  5. Be brave and take a leap

Whether you do this over 5 days or 5 months is really up to you (and your bank account). Set a deadline for each step so you don’t get lost in the internet or, as my father-in-law always said, so you don’t spend “too much time navel gazing.”

1. UNDERSTAND YOURSELF. Know what you like and what you’re good at.

Make lists for each of the following:

  • What you like to do
  • What you do NOT like to do
  • What you are good at
  • What you are terrible at
  • What matters the most to you.

Some resources and videos to help you through this phase:

Watch this TedX talk where Scott Dinsmore encourages viewers to pursue their passions by becoming a self-experts and learning their own “hierarchy for making decisions,” ranking people, family, health, achievement and success in a personally relevant order.

For a different point of view, watch this short video clip of Professor Scott Galloway explaining that doing what you love is a lousy idea because it won’t pay the bills. Instead, he thinks you should figure out what you’re good at, then do something that uses those talents. If you can get close to doing what you love or at least doing activities you enjoy, that’s great.  In summary, do what you’re good at and you’ll earn more, then you can spend those earnings pursuing your passions.

If this is your first time doing self-evaluation, there are many tools to help you understand yourself.  One of them is an online assessment called the RIASEC inventory offered by Holland Codes. It only takes 10-15 minutes to complete and from my small test group, it’s pretty accurate.  It groups the participant’s interests into six categories and connects the dominant categories to suitable careers.  The links might change but at the time of writing, there were several free assessment sites available.

If you’re more of a book person, the iconic 70s book, “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles, has been updated.  You can buy the book or explore the Eparachute website.

2. BE PRACTICAL.  Make a budget & know what you need to earn.

It doesn’t matter whether you keep track of your money using an app, on a spreadsheet, or in jars on the counter, but making a budget and keeping track of what you spend will help you decide how much you really need to earn.   If you have records of your spending, making a budget will be a little easier, but don’t let lack of historical data stop you from budgeting. To start, consider your fixed expenses (what you can’t immediately change such as rent and loan payments) and your flexible expenses (such as entertainment and clothing).

Then be harsh — what is the bare minimum you can get by on and how long do you think you are willing to do that? Would you be willing to move to a different city, neighborhood or apartment if it saved you money?  Would you take on a roommate or give up eating out?  How about walking to work and giving up the gym membership? What you think of as “fixed” such as rent, might really be flexible or at least adjustable, if you’re willing to make changes.

Budgeting is very personal. Take buying gifts for example: you might think that a birthday gift for a friend is optional, but someone else would consider that gift essential.  If you’re in the latter camp yet wanting to save money,  be creative e.g.  an inexpensive activity that you do together or even have a conversation with your friend about your dilemma; if he or she is a true friend, your suggestions for alternate gifts will likely be well received. Bottom line, find ways to stop spending in all categories, which will give you more flexibility with your job hunt.

Some budgeting resources that might help you:

  • Quicken (the granddaddy of them all),
  • Mint
  • Nerd Wallet.
  • Read the current reviews and see which tool suits you best.

3. EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS.  Check out career paths and what it takes to get there.

There are millions of options so this is a tough one to express in this short blog post. My suggestion:  set a time limit for this random searching; just knowing that you have a limited time period will motivate you to cut your losses and skip a video or article that’s not in your strike zone.  Once you have a time limit, start your search by focusing on two things:

  1. what you love
  2. what you’re good at

For example, if you’re good with financial analysis, and you love to travel, do some searches related to those.  The top four search results  for “jobs requiring numbers” were “Careers for numbers people” at, “Good with numbers? Jobs to suit you” at, a Business Insider article titled “Best Jobs for People Who Love Math”, and “10 Best Jobs for People Who Love Math” on AOL Finance. These are all great starting points if you love to work with numbers.   Searches for accounting and financial analysis resulted in equally helpful lists.

Top search results for  “jobs with travel” include:  “10 good paying Travel Jobs You Could Get Today” by the Huffington Post, “23 Awesome Travel Jobs and How to Get Them” from the Matador Network, and a link to the “Travel Jobs” category at

My point: focus your search on what you love and what you love to do.  There are likely more options than you imagined. And don’t limit your search to just talking to people around you.

At this point, you will know:

  • what you love to do
  • what you are good at
  • what you need to earn and,
  • some job opportunities related to your skills and passions.

Now it’s time for inspiration.

4. BE INSPIRED. Find role models to help you rise to the occasion.

First, look to your network friends, family, alumni classmates and community for introductions. Everyone’s circle of contacts are invaluable leads for informational interviews and even job interviews. So start reaching out to those around you in your networks (I’m assuming you have a great LinkedIn profile — put that to work and start looking at the connections of your connections).

And look for people who model a lifestyle that fits your value system.  If finishing work in time to be with your friends or family is a priority, then find someone who does that and learn from him or her.  Find out what choices he made along the way to ensure his lifestyle. You can find out about people in person, but also by reading biographies and online articles.  Find a way to learn about those who emulate what you want to be.

If you’re shooting for the moon, there are countless success stories of people who came from humble backgrounds:

  • In media, Oprah Winfrey came from a poor family in Mississippi.
  • In retail, Ralph Lauren was a sales clerk at Brooks Brothers, and Do Won Chang (the co-founder of Forever 21) immigrated to the United States and had to work 3 jobs to make ends meet.
  • In technology, Oracle’s founder Larry Ellison dropped out of college when his aunt died and worked odd jobs for eight years
  • In publishing, JK Rowling was a single mom struggling to make ends meet.

You can read more about these success stories and others in these Business Insider articles: What 21 highly successful people were doing at age 25 and (with some overlap)  15 Billionaires Who Were Once Dirt Poor.

So, now it’s time to …


University of Waterloo Economic professor, Larry Smith in his TedX talk says that most of us will fail to have a great career because we aren’t brave enough to take the leap. He surmises that we will fail because we will make excuses and ultimately, because we are afraid:

You’re afraid to pursue your passion. You’re afraid to look ridiculous. You’re afraid to try. You’re afraid you may fail … And that’s why you’re not going to have a great career.

But his parting note is a hopeful one:   “Unless … unless…” So, the choice to be brave and take a leap is yours to make.

More resources: a few TED talks for inspiration:

Dan ArielyWhat makes us feel good about our work?

Kare AndersonBe an opportunity maker

Sarah Lewis:  Embrace the near win

Good luck and let me know how it works out.  I’d love to hear about your career search.

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