Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. More than likely, this choice will determine your status in life, your level of health, and your overall happiness. And since most people spend more time working than they do performing any other activity, including sleeping, you’ll probably make your best friends and your worst enemies at work. You may also meet your significant other -- or your future ex – in the office.
If you choose the wrong career, you could spend irreplaceable years of your life languishing in a mediocre job that pays a paltry salary. And since the average college student doesn’t attend school on a scholarship, you may also waste thousands of dollars. This is especially true if you have a student loan, since you’re paying the money back with interest.
With so much at stake, it’s important to conduct research into potential career choices and carefully weigh the pros and cons of each possible career path. There are several factors that should be taken into account when researching careers.
One popular school of thought maintains that students should choose careers based solely on salary. However, physicians and surgeons are the highest paid professionals in the United States, but a recent Medscape Physician Compensation Survey indicates that money may not guarantee happiness. In fact, 46 percent of physicians responded that they would not enter the medical profession if they were given another chance to choose a career.
So salary is certainly one of the major factors that should be considered when choosing a career. But it should not be the only determinant. There are at least four requirements that should be met when selecting a career.
4 How It Matches Your Interests And Abilities
A career should be based on your interests, talents, and skills. And these have to be balanced equally. For example, you may have a desire to be a surgeon, but if you have shaky hands, slicing a patient open with a scalpel may not be the best job for you. Also, if you faint at the sight of blood, that’s another hint that perhaps you shouldn’t be in the operating room – regardless of how much money you could make in this profession.
Maybe you love to sing, and you do it often and loudly. But if dogs begin to howl whenever you reach for those high notes, these canines may be trying to tell you -- in dogspeak -- that your voice is not as pleasant as you might think.
On the other hand, perhaps your mother forced you to learn how to cook when you were a child, and you actually prepared all of the family meals until you were old enough to move out of the house. You may be an excellent cook, but you hate the thought of cooking anything. If this is the case, regardless of how talented you are in the kitchen, perhaps you shouldn’t pursue a culinary career just because you have the skillset to perform that type of work.
One of the best ways to figure out how to merge your strengths and interests is to take a free self-assessment test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Strong Interest Inventory. Doing a Internet search for “career assessment test” will also provide you with other types of free tests that can help you discover the best types of jobs for your personality and aptitude.
3 The Work Environment
Work environment is another important factor that you should consider when choosing a career. Once you create a list of possible career choices, try to find someone in that field who can provide answers about the job. For example, you may have both the skills and the desire to be a jazz singer. However, if you have small children or if you’re the type of person who likes to go to sleep early, how will this affect you? Most jazz singers don’t perform during the day; they generally work late at night. If you’re not a nocturnal person, or if you want to be at home with the kids at night, this environment may not be a good fit.
Or perhaps you’re an excellent salesperson with the desire to be a sales manager. You’re persuasive, you can motivate the sales team, and you have a lot of great ideas. But you hate to travel, and depending on which company you work for, you may have to routinely travel to local, regional, national, and international offices. You may also have to travel to meet with distributors.
Or, you may have the skills, physical presence, and voice to be a news reporter. But, they’re also subject to travel demands, and many of them have to routinely change their schedules so they can report breaking news whenever it happens. So, it’s important to understand the work environment before you choose a career.
2 The Salary
Along with determining your interests, abilities, and acceptable work environments, you need to evaluate the salary of potential careers to be sure that you will earn enough money to meet your needs and reasonably satisfy your wants. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage is $34,750, and the mean annual wage is $45,790.
Some of the lowest paying jobs in the country include food preparers and servers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers, lifeguards, and personal care aides, with salaries at or below $10 an hour.
At the other end of the spectrum are physicians and surgeons, who make anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 a year. Nuclear and petroleum engineers, as well as managers in natural science, advertising, promotions, marketing, architecture, finance, sales, human resources, and computer and information science, earn between $100,000 and $147,000 annually. While you may not command such a lucrative salary, you don’t want to choose a career that requires you to work an additional part-time job just to make ends meet.
1 The Job Stability
The final criterion for selecting a career is the stability of the industry in general, and also the growth rate for your specific job. Even if you find a career that you love and are qualified to perform, and even if it has great working conditions and pays a lucrative salary, none of this matter if the job will be extinct within the next few years – or sooner. While no one has a crystal ball, the Department of Labor does a reasonable job of projecting job growth rates several years in advance.
At the end of 2013, the DOL projected the average U.S. job will grow by 10.8 percent through 2022. However, some careers are growing at two or three times the national average. For example, demand for industrial-organizational psychologists will increase by 53 percent, while interpreters and translators will see a 46 percent increase in demand for their services.
In addition, demand for such careers as physical therapist assistants, information security analysts, and market research analysts will increase by 41 percent, 36 percent, and 31 percent respectively. On the other hand, some careers will experience negative job growth. For example, postal service clerks and mail carriers, word processors and typists, meter readers, and semiconductor processors will experience growth rates ranging from -19 percent to -31 percent.