There’s a good chance at some point, you’ve been asked the following - “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This question may have been fun to think about as a child, but now that you’re an adult and the pressure is on, it can be stressful and confusing.
Whether you’re just entering (or re-entering) the workforce or you have been employed but are looking to take your career in a different direction, the first step to securing a job that you can thrive in is to determine your goals.
Even if you’re only planning for a minor career shift, or simply want to work at a different company, reevaluating your priorities and motivations can help you to go into your next job search with some clarity.
If defining your career goals seems intimidating, you are not alone. The stakes seem so incredibly high. How can you possibly take yourself, your interests, experiences, and dreams, and decide on the one thing you are meant to do?
We’re here to help get you started on that reflection and make it a bit less intimidating. Keep reading for some very simple and fun exercises to help you realize your career goals.
Don’t worry about the “perfect fit”
The idea that your perfect career awaits you and you just need to find it, has been fed to many of us. The pressure to find the ”perfect fit” can lead to having expectations that are unhealthy and unrealistic.
Take some of the pressure off. Don’t worry about finding the perfect fit, and just focus on coming up with some options that are a good fit.
Also, remember that choosing what you want to do does not mean that you’ll be locked into that career path forever. It’s actually quite common for people to make career shifts. In fact, a recent poll found that over half of middle-income workers are considering changing jobs right now.
Drop the “shoulds” from your life
In life, there are so many things that you are told you should do, in order to live your best life. Some of these are well-supported by evidence, like getting enough sleep most nights. But others, like the idea that you must receive a certain level of education to have a fulfilling career or that your path will be clear and straightforward, are not true.
All of these “shoulds” can cloud your judgment, and make it hard to get in touch with your true values and goals.
Before you go through the following self-reflection exercise, take all of your “shoulds” out of the equation. This might be tricky at first because so many of these thoughts are automatic but stick to it. The “shoulds” are probably not serving you as well as you think they may be.
Career assessments and personality tests
While career assessments and personality tests are not the end-all-be-all for defining your career goals, they are a helpful starting point. Many personality and career tests are not based on scientific method and haven’t performed well on tests of reliability and validity. But this does not mean that they can’t still be useful tools for you to use.
They can help you learn about yourself, your interests, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
Regardless of how accurate you find your results, taking the tests and interpreting them will encourage further introspection. If you find some careers that look promising, it might be a good idea to research those positions. If you find a description of your strengths that really resonates with you, it might be helpful to investigate careers that will require you to harness and apply those skills.
Here we’ve listed just a few free and popular career and personality tests (but there are many more available through a quick online search) :
The MAPP career test is comprised of about 70 questions in which you are asked to sort your likes and dislikes. It’s supposed to take about 22 minutes. It aims to help you discover careers that would suit your interests and fit with your motivations.
The MAPP test has held up to reliability and validity studies and has been used by many institutions and career counselors.
The Work Importance Profiler is aimed to assess what’s important to you, and then show you careers that are compatible with your values.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the most widely used personality tests available. It takes about 20 minutes, and then upon completion, you are given a personality profile.
There are 16 possible personality types, that are presented in the format of four letters. The personality types are determined by whether you’re introverted or extroverted (I vs E), intuitive or sensory (N vs S), thinking or feeling (T vs F), and judging or perceiving (J vs P).
The test will give you a brief description of your personality type, along with a list of strengths and weaknesses. It will also provide you with careers that others of your suggested type are excelling at.
The Big Five personality test will give you a score on five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
This test should help you understand some of your tendencies and skills. Providing you with important factors to keep in mind whilst in your career search.
Questions to ask yourself
These questions are all aimed to help you learn more about your specific skills and interests, and how you can match those with careers.
The more detailed and true you are with your answers, the more helpful these tools will be.
What criteria do you have for your life?
To define your career goals, a good place to start is to consider what criteria you have for your life, both in and outside of work. This can include positive and negative criteria: positive things that you would like more of in life, and negative things that you would prefer to avoid.
For example, a positive criterion could be that you want to work in an industry that allows for promotions and career advancement, or you want a lifestyle where you can spend frequent time with family.
Whilst, a negative criterion could be you don’t want to work in a highly stressful environment, or that you don’t want a role that requires you to work during your personal time.
What are your interests?
This seems like an easy question, one you’ve likely answered many times but this time you will need to dig deep. When you were younger, what did you enjoy learning about? What do you go out of your way to learn more about now? It’s helpful to understand what your interests are to gain insights into what you’d like to have in your life.
What are you passionate about?
The best and most fulfilling work often comes when you follow your passions. What is truly important to you? What are your values? Is there a topic that you could talk about for ages, or listen to others talk about without becoming bored?
What do you excel at?
Everyone has certain skills that just seem to come more naturally to them. This could be a specific technical skill such as coding, or it could be a soft skill, like empathy.
If you’re struggling to come up with answers to this one at first, it can be helpful to reach out to a close friend or someone who knows you well for insight. Taking the career and personality assessments will also give you a solid foundation to answer this question.
Who do you admire?
This question can really get you thinking about the qualities you value in others and can help you to direct your aspirations. It may lead you to think of people you admire for their job-related accomplishments, or simply for who they are as people.
Once you’ve determined the qualities you admire in others, you can begin to institute them in your own life.
How much additional effort are you able to put in to achieve your career goals?
There might be a certain job that you’re interested in, but it requires another degree or certificate, and going back to school is just not practical for you at this point in your life. That’s perfectly understandable, going back to school is a huge commitment of time and money. It just means that you may need to get creative.
Depending on what it is you’d like to do, you may be able to find free courses that you can fit into your spare time. Self-directed learning has become more available and accepted.
Look for entry-level positions for the job you’d like. You may qualify for the position with the skills you have and then are able to gain skills and knowledge on the job.
There are many ways to get to where you’d like to be, they don’t all have to be conventional.
Find people on social media who are in your dream position and follow them. You will learn a ton about the industry, what it takes to make it, as well as potentially make valuable connections that can help you to achieve your goal.
If none of these are available to you, begin to pay attention to the aspects of your current position that you really enjoy. Focus on those. Does your current company have a position like the one you want? Seek cross-training opportunities to learn more and gain skills, after some time you will be able to apply those to the position that you are really interested in.
Ultimately, if you are not currently where you’d like to be, there are many roads you can take to get where you’d like to go. It’s most important that you just take the first step – regardless of how small that step may feel.
You are a wonderful collection of unique skills, experiences, and perceptions and you are at your best when you are interested and invested in what you are doing. If you have it, take the time to truly get to know yourself. It will be the best thing you ever do. Future you will thank you!