If you’re reading this piece, it’s likely that, at some point in your life, you have asked yourself the age-old question, ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ or ‘how do I find the right job for me?’.
Many articles will walk you through a tidy list of steps to follow that will help you arrive at one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. This usually looks something like:
While some parts of this approach make sense, a lot of it is based on asking “what am I good at doing” which limits your options to your current set of skills, passions, and interests. The confusion that made you click on this article comes from the fact that you’re already thinking about what you could do today, and none of those opportunities set your soul on fire.
A better way to find the right job for you is to look to the future and ask, “what could I become good at?” To answer this question, we recommend trying out a few interesting options and seeing what you can learn from the experience. Since you can’t try everything, it’s helpful to do some planning ahead of time if you’re choosing between several options.
In the rest of this article, we will describe a practical process that begins with making a list of job options that suit your personal fit. After trimming your list to a manageable set of choices, your goal would be to try work each job and then have your work evaluated by someone experienced. This will help you rapidly ‘test’ which job options you might be or become good at.
When choosing between career paths, a lot of the advice we get is “go with your gut” or “follow your heart”.
These approaches assume you can work out what you’ll be good at in advance. The sad truth is your gut is not very good at predicting how good you will be at doing something. It is more useful at figuring out whether someone is lying to you or if a dog is about to bite you.
You can train your gut to make good predictions, much like how a goalkeeper can get better at guessing which corner of the goal the kicker might shoot for. However, in this same example, your football gut won’t be as useful at forecasting your talent as a sculptor.
The lesson to take away here is that is that your untrained instinct makes a lot of mistakes and, in these situations, it is hard to train it to do better. This is true when:
It is certainly true with career choices. We only make a handful of career decisions in our lives; it can take years to figure out whether the job is a good fit for you, and the job market is continuously changing.
This all means your gut can give you clues about the right career path. It can tell you things like “I think I would work well under this person” or “this company has a good culture”. It can’t, however, predict whether you’ll be happy or successful at a job in the future.
Despite what all your teachers taught you, we don’t recommend you follow your passions when deciding on a career path. Satisfaction with your career is more closely aligned with personal fit than it is with passion.
It doesn’t matter how good a job is if you’re not going to be happy doing it. Your goal should be to find the right job which aligns with who you are at your best as well as with your lifestyle.
When you think about a job opportunity, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:
These questions show why personal fit is a key factor to look for in the right job. We think of “personal fit” as your chances of excelling at a job, if you work at it.
Your first step is to teleport yourself into the future and write a comprehensive list of jobs that are an easy fit for you. If you can’t find the remote to your time-travel machine, then try a few of the steps below.
Write out your first list based on your own thinking sessions, conversations with family and friends, and any insights you may have taken from your job history. Then force yourself to come up with more. To help with this, think about the following questions:
We often struggle to see the forest from the trees. By reviewing your career history, you may find a pattern that will point you in an interesting direction. Some great options come from combining new ideas with past work experience.
Use your previous experience to inform the choices on your list. What did you enjoy doing in earlier jobs? What did you vow never to do again? Being aware of your preferences can help you decide which options do and don’t make it on your list.
If you are relatively inexperienced, or perhaps early in your career, searching for patterns in your career history won’t get you far. A more helpful approach for you would be to have conversations with people who know you best and to get their advice from people who know them best.
By asking just a handful of your closest friends and family what they think you excel at, you can gather valuable insights that can get you started in the right direction. This is one of the strongest ways to get ideas on the right jobs that might suit you in future.
A great way to find inspiration on career paths is to look at what others have done. Think about people whose work or career you admire. Research their career journeys and, if attractive, decide whether a similar path may be possible for you. You can also search through social networks like Umwuga and discover other people’s work and experience for inspiration.
The next big step will be to try the right jobs out, so before you explore, we need to cut your list down to the most workable options. Since following your gut is unreliable, we have some helpful steps you can follow to narrow down your list.
Start by making a first guess of how they rank. If you have more time, then score your choices from one to five, based on:
Make sure you focus on the most important factors and then try to reduce your shortlist. Remove the options that are terrible at one factor, dominate another, or are worse than the other factors.
If the results seem strange, try to understand why; adjust your rankings and ask yourself why you might be wrong. This is a useful way to remove your bias and really question why it might be wrong for you.
This is an important step of planning for your future. New forms of work are created every day, and, in many cases, they replace a job that was popular just a few years ago. To make sure the jobs on your list have a promising future, research the forecasted growth or decline of their industries.
A helpful resource to do this research is the Online Occupational Handbook. For each possibility on your list, read about the projected growth and whether they expect the field to grow, remain flat, or decline over the next 10 years. This is crucial information to help you decide whether it makes sense for you to pursue this career choice going forward.
If money is your top priority, focus on sought-after jobs and industries that pay well and have attractive career paths. If you want to help people, look for the right jobs that have a clear social impact on things you care about. You will be happier if you decide what kind of career you enjoy, considering the prospects for work, salary, benefits and more.
If you are not sure what you enjoy, ask people you know if you can shadow them for a day at their job. Find out what they like and dislike about their job. Ask them about their boss, their stress levels, and how they are treated at work. Ask them what they think the right job is for them, and why. If you can, also ask them about the pay and opportunities for promotion.
Think about your work style and whether you prefer to work in teams or on your own. Are you more comfortable in the workshop or on the shop floor? If you’re searching for a long-term career path, think about the next roles you would take on as you advance.
If at this point you have managed to trim your list down to a single winner, then you can skip the rest of this article and focus on finding a job in your chosen industry. Most people, however, end up with a few alternatives that look good. If this is you, then it is time to explore. But how best to do that?
A few of your listed options will be obvious misfits as soon as you try them. To get them out of the way, think about what “cheap test” will help you learn as much as possible with the least effort.
The aim is to get as close as possible to the actual work in the shortest time and with as few hours of training as possible. Again, one of the easiest ways to get a feel for the right job is to talk to people who have worked the job. Use your network to find relevant people, such as friends, family, colleagues, and mentors. Ask questions and see if each alternative matches the things you value and want in your career.
If you can afford to work for lower-to-no pay, an internship may be a good way to try out an industry. Through an internship, you can get direct experience in the field and useful feedback on your performance and aptitude. Even if the internship teaches you that the job is wrong for you, it can help you build a network of friends and mentors in a new industry.
If you’re already in a job, think of ways to try out an alternative on the side. Could you do a short but relevant project in your spare time, or in your existing job? At the very least, speak to lots of people in the job. If you’re a student, try to do as many internships and summer projects as possible. Your university breaks are a great opportunity to try new things.
Again, if your circumstances allow, you could consider volunteering for with a company or a cause. You could even try working through a gig platform after hours. For more examples on this topic, read our article on 14 Side Jobs to Help you Make Extra Income.
The important thing is to get as close as you can to actually doing the work. For example, if you’re considering doing carpentry, try to build something and see how well you do, rather than just watching educational videos on YouTube.
Picking the right job for you is one of the most important decisions that affect the quality of your life. The good news is that, if you make a bad choice, you can later change direction and try again. However, life is short and the cost is high so it’s worth putting some thought and work into finding the right job that is the perfect fit for you.
We all like to imagine that can figure out what is good for us by having a think and then following our gut. But that’s not how it works. If you’re not sure right now what the right job is for you, you must not be happy with your options. That means, you’re not excited by the idea of working in some of the jobs you are good at. Because of this, finding the right job will need some thinking of what you might be good at in the future.
Using the approach we outlined in this article, you can quickly discover job options that might fit you with some effort and tenacity. Your job is then to explore these options in the quickest and cheapest way that will help you learn if they are right for you.
Umwuga is a social network for people like you who are looking to improve their careers. With Umwuga, you can easily find and connect with people who can help you:
This network will be crucial when take the leap of finding the right job in your bright new future.