When I was in college, I believed that the biggest factor to choosing a career was whether or not the topic was interesting or not. As time went on, I actually found that just using this one criteria as a primary career consideration wasn’t the brightest idea and I eventually had to go in a completely different direction than where I started out (my initial dream was to be a park ranger).
Instead, I’d encourage anyone looking at career options to answer these questions in the following order, with the early ones having more importance. I find this list to be even more important to anyone experiencing a quarterlife or midlife crisis, or is simply considering a major career change.
Does it make you genuinely happy? If you find a job that brings you genuine joy, it is the job that you should be doing, period. Don’t let a lack of money or anything else stand in your way – if it’s something that brings true joy into your life and you wake up in the morning completely invigorated and excited about what you do, you’ll draw success to you and enjoy it all the way. Spend some time soul searching and make sure that this considered career path truly brings you happiness.
Does it force you to work only in certain areas? For some people, this will seem like a very surprising criteria, but the truth is that if you lock yourself in a career that requires you to live in a specific area, your lifestyle choices and potential career options are somewhat hindered. For instance, when I was younger, nothing sounded more appealing than living in a large city. Then, when I got married and had a family, nothing seemed more appealing than rural life. I have one close friend who is in a very narrow academic field – he has to live in a college town to work – but he’s a staunch conservative and the liberal environments make him really uncomfortable on a daily basis. If your career choice makes you live in a place where you don’t want to live, it is going to sour your entire life. The solution? Look for job openings in that field all over the United States, particularly in places different than where you live.
Will you have to do things that contradict your personal values? Some people find that area that makes them truly happy, but when they begin to do the job, they find out that there’s political agendas involved or the majority of their time is spent doing paperwork. Ask some people already working in the field what their daily job flow is, or what aspects of their work surprised them compared to their preconceptions.
Does it pay enough for you to make it financially? This doesn’t mean a high salary. It merely means a survivable salary at first. Can you make it on that salary for a while? Consider all of the other options, too; maybe there’s someone in the area of your starter job that you can live with or share an apartment with, for example.
Do the extra personal requirements (travel, physical effort, etc.) excite you or stress you? Several years ago, I took a job that felt extremely exciting to me. I was under the impression that it would have travel twice a year, an amount that I was ahppy with. However, less than six months after starting, the person who did most of the traveling quit and his traveling responsibilities fell to me. I found myself going on trips twice a month, something that I personally didn’t like and something that began souring me on a job that I loved. It turned out not to be a permanent situation, but I began to see how added personal requirements could make a great job a lot less great. Know what’s acceptable for you in terms of extra requirements like these and find a job to match.
Is there room for advancement? Does the job give you the opportunity to move up in responsibility and earn more wages if you want to? This is a key question to ask in any interview, because the actual level of freedom and responsibility that people typically dream of when entering a job isn’t the level they start out with. Make sure you can get there and that there aren’t any hidden obstacles, like education level or experience.
Is there room for personal growth? To me, this is an incredibly important factor – I want to be able to learn something from the job as well as provide my own expertise. If a job does not add to your skill set, the job isn’t really fulfilling you in every possible way. Look for jobs that have opportunities for more education and a diversity of experiences. If you don’t know, ask
In a nutshell, during any interview – or even a casual talk with someone about that career path – ask lots of questions. Find out about every aspect of the job that they can divulge. Also, be sure to really know what you want from that path. If you don’t like workplace politics or feel strongly about your beliefs, that may eliminate some avenues immediately. Most of all, never overlook freedom – the freedom to work as many places as possible, the freedom to learn and grow while you work, and the freedom to advance in your career path.