How Will You Determine Your Career Direction?

By Dan Vale

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Whether you are a young person just starting your career or a more mature worker who is making a career shift, you probably are or will be motivated by one or more of the influences described in this article. You also probably are using one or more of the career decision making methods described in this article. Finally, this article discusses which career change methods are the most productive methods and which methods are riskier.

One inferior method is to just “go with the flow.” That is, if undecided about the best career direction, just take the path of least resistance. While getting training and education, for example, choose the easiest courses. When in the job market, settle for the job that is the easiest to obtain. This method can be especially tempting for those who are unemployed and without a six-month cash reserve for living expenses.  Those who use these methods of determining their career direction, however, probably will try out many jobs before maybe finding a job that is the right job for them.

Using this method has many possible disadvantages, including:


  1. Wasting time, effort, and money on education and training that will not be of much value because this easy education and training might not qualify job seekers to enter the types of jobs they want..
  2. Getting a liberal arts education that probably will not be as useful as will be education or training that is more targeted toward specific career fields.
  3. Having bad experiences in jobs that are not right for them.
  4. Getting bad recommendations from past employers.
  5. Becoming job hoppers. 
  6. Having more and more problems getting their next jobs.
  7. Being stuck at the career entry-level.
  8. Being stuck in low-level jobs in which they are underemployed.


Another method of choosing jobs is to target those jobs that are in the most demand and to get education or training for them. Although supply and demand is one important consideration in choosing a job, it should not be your only consideration because:


  1. Jobs with many openings today might have far fewer openings eventually after many applicants flock to the plentiful job openings.
  2. Some jobs that exist today will decline in numbers or vanish, and some jobs that do not exist now will be created in the future.
  3. Even if the job is easy to get, has job security, and has good promotion potential, you still can be miserable if the job does not match your interests, aptitudes, personality, and values. 


The best method of choosing a job is to better understand your interests, aptitudes, personality, and values and to find jobs that are good matches for you.  You can do so by using different tests and career-related books. For example, the Self-Directed Search test will help you to better understand your interests.

Career aptitude tests will help you to determine your aptitudes and whether or not you have the ability to succeed in particular jobs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will help you to better understand your personality. Through values exercises in books such as, “What Color is Your Parachute,” you can better understand your values as they relate to various jobs.

Interests and values can change over a lifetime. Some of the results of interests and values tests that are taken when starting a career might no longer be valid decades later. Older workers who are contemplating a career change would do well to take these tests again.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook describes hundreds of the most common jobs and will help you to determine which ones are good matches for your interests, aptitudes, personality, and values. This handbook also describes the expected increase or decrease in job opportunities for different occupations.

It is a good practice to supplement the information you get from the Occupational Outlook Handbook with information you can gather from networking with people who are working in the occupations you are evaluating. That information from your networking contacts is probably even more specific and more recent than the information you can get from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Even if you find a career that is right for you, you might need to change your career sometime during your lifetime. There are many reasons why such a change might become necessary. Understanding and expecting the possibility of career changes can help you to make better adjustments to such changes.

You might be happy with your career, but economic reasons might require you to change to a higher paying career, especially if promotions are not likely in your current career. High inflation, for example, might make your current salary insufficient. As another example, when couples divorce, they might need more money, because they have one salary instead of two for living expenses. Also, when children are born, family expenses will increase.

Some technical professionals such as engineers are in career fields that have required knowledge that changes quickly. Professionals in these technical fields must keep up with these changes. If they do not keep up with this quickly changing knowledge, they might try to become supervisors or sales representatives in their technical fields

Some workers might want to transition from full time, 9 to 5 jobs to flextime or part-time jobs. This need might come about because of child-rearing, retirement, or caretaking responsibilities.

Another reason for career change might be your desire for a career with more personal meaning or social impact. After decades in your current field, you might be nearing retirement, and you might want to undertake an encore career, even if the pay and fringe benefits are not as attractive as those in your current career.

An additional type of change is an involuntary career change. Such change can occur, for example, because some spouses, while accompanying their military or corporate spouses during frequent geographical moves, might not find their chosen careers at new military posts or cities. Factors such as these should be considered early in personal relationships.

Military veterans eventually will transition to the civilian workforce. Such veterans might have spent only one enlistment in the armed services, or they might have spent an entire career there before retiring and transitioning to the civilian workforce. Such a transition probably will be more favorable if their military career jobs have civilian counterparts.

An added type of involuntary change occurs when a serious injury or illness requires a worker to go through vocational rehabilitation and to transition to a different career.

Perhaps the most common involuntary career changes might be the loss of jobs because of downsizing, outsourcing, offshoring, or automation. Those who have lost jobs for these reasons might not be able to resume the careers that they had before the layoff. This could be especially true for older workers who might experience age discrimination during their search for a new job.

According to the Millennial Generation Research Review, by the year 2020, approximately half of all jobs will be in the form of short-term contracts, freelance employment, and temporary assignments. This means that more of those who are in the workforce will be searching for new jobs much more often than they do today

Career decisions have serious consequences. That is why you should devote much time and effort in making and implementing your career decisions. This requires an attitude of lifelong learning.

High school, college, and state-employed career counselors can be helpful. Private practice career counselors also will help with a career change. Invest in yourself and commit the time, energy, and money needed to make the best career decisions. 


About the Author

Dan Vale has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education. He has worked for over 30 years in university and government settings. He has been a career counselor, a director of a career counseling center, a graduate school instructor, and a career consultant. As the Career Examiner for the Examiner Online Newspaper, he published 270 career-related articles over a seven-year period. He had multiple endorsements and subscribers, and in April 2016 alone, he had over 19,000 page reads. His book, “Prepare Now for a Challenging Job Market in the Future,” is available on his Amazon Author Page.

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