Last Week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released it’s monthly report, and noted there were 6.6M job openings and reported the unemployment rate in the U.S was at 3.9%, the lowest level since 2000. Despite these promising numbers, many individuals, especially young professionals are concerned about their career prospects. As a career driven individual and career coach, I spend a lot of time talking about careers with my clients and friends. In light of these statistics, a common question I get over and over again is “how do I know how to pick the right career or job?”
Many of my generation have been told to “Do what we love.” While there are plenty of people who follow this strategy there are plenty who don’t. It works for some people, but not for others. Fortunately, doing what you love is not the only right career strategy. So for people who don’t like this strategy, don’t know what they love, or are just struggling to proceed, how do you know how to choose the right job?
Just as no two people are exactly the alike, the same goes with selecting the right career strategy. Throughout my work with my clients, I’ve encountered four main career strategies that tend to lead to successful outcomes.
Strategy 1: Do something you love
A common phrase we hear in society today. If we take a job or career we love, we’ll commit ourselves fully and deeply engage with the work we do. A phrase we often hear is “find a job you love and you’ll never feel like you worked a day in your life.” And working a job that you love and getting paid to do it – Who wouldn’t want that?
Unfortunately, not everything we love is directly translatable into a job or career. Furthermore, not everything we love pays a salary/wage that enables us to live at the lifestyle we desire. Finally, not everyone has the means or opportunity to truly do what we love – creativity is evenly distributed but opportunity is not. We live in a world with constraints (financial, educational, experience etc.) and sometimes those constraints permit people from following this mantra.
Doing something you love often gets the connotation that it will be rainbows and butterflies at all times. In reality, that’s not the case. With any job or career, there will be tough times and difficult moments, but for those who are truly doing what they love those difficult moments will be worth working through because it truly is worthwhile. Finally, doing something you love means knowing what you love. While some people know this, not everyone does, especially in your mid-20’s. If this is a path that you want to take, make sure you clearly identify what it is that you want to throw yourself into. Furthermore, investing heavily into something you love can bring you a lot of joy and excitement, but it can also be emotionally taxing. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally so you can be in it for the long haul.
Strategy 2: Do something that enables you to do something that you love
The classic means to an end strategy can help people balance both work and play. Work is a big portion of your life, but does not necessarily define all of who you are. For those who follow this strategy, they may not have a job or career they love, but they recognize it provides them with something worthwhile to do for the majority of the week while also enabling them to tackle other more meaningful pursuits. Whether it’s a chance to travel the world, the opportunity to provide for your family, or the ability to spend time with friends and loved ones, the people that follow this strategy often like what they do, but often have a higher desire or purpose that they use their paycheck on.
For people who follow the means to an end strategy, it may not be fun coming to work every day. It also can get really easy to get comfortable with a particular lifestyle which sometimes locks you into a job you may not like but you need. Without a deep emotional connection to you work, it can be hard to stay engaged for long periods of time or through challenging moments. You also may get envious of those who seem to be super excited about what they do each and every day. Finally, while work and life do not have to be tied to one another, how you are in your life is impacted by what happens at work. For instance, you may take a particular job so you can support your family (what you love) but if you’re stressed or unhappy at work it’s likely it will carry over to how you are at home.
For those who want to follow this strategy, find ways to engage and focus at work as much as you can, especially during mundane or difficult periods of work. When you aren’t working, be sure to truly enjoy and make the most of whatever else you are spending your time on. Accept that fact that you might not love what you do, but that you truly love and appreciate the other areas of your life that are really special.
You may not love your job, but following this strategy can give you a well-rounded and balanced life. Some try to separate work and life, but its important to be aware that one can easily impact the other. You’ll want to be mindful of this so you can make the most out of the time you have when you’re pursuing your interests, hobbies, etc.
Strategy 3: Do something you are good at
Pursuing a job or career in something we’re good at allows us to leverage our strengths, and people who report using their strengths at work often are more engaged and happier with their careers. It helps us develop our personal brand, which leads to growth and opportunity. When you are good at something, people, and opportunities will follow. When we like what we are good at, and align a job to that strength, it can lead to fulfillment and enjoyment.
Just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean we want it to be our job or career. Furthermore, not all of our strengths are directly translatable into jobs and careers. For people looking for variety and challenge getting pigeon holed into a specific job is a real concern. However, if you happen to find a job that enables you to use your strengths it can be very rewarding, for yourself and your company.
For those who want to follow this strategy, take stock of your strengths and look to match them with a job or career that fits those strengths. Furthermore, the times are a changing, and technology is disrupting and upending each and every industry which is challenging but also presents opportunities. Prevent being pigeon-holed by continuously developing those strengths and picking up new ones.
When you find a job that enables you to use your strengths, there’s lots of potential and opportunity. This strategy favors the self-aware and self-starters who truly understand their gifts and talents. There are lots of things we are good at that don’t necessarily translate into jobs, but if you can find one that does you have a great opportunity.
Strategy 4: Do something that has a need
For this strategy, it’s about going where there is a need. When there is a shortage, there’s often opportunity – whether its in the form of a job, career, or in some cases, a job or career that comes with handsome compensation, following this strategy opens exciting new doors. Pursuing a need often means solving an unsolved problem.
Just because there is a need for something doesn’t mean that it’s something that’s a fit for you. Perhaps you don’t have the requisite skills or training to do the particular job. There’s a need for Software Devs/Engs’ but if you don’t know how to code it probably won’t serve you well to follow that path.
Before jumping into something, evaluate whether the need is fleeting or more temporary. Furthermore, you’ll also want to evaluate whether or not you have the current skillset for whatever you’re considering and what else you would need to adequately pursue a particular job or career.
Following needs presents exciting career opportunities. Taking a job that fits a really big need could enable you to make a significant and meaningful impact. Not all needs will be interesting, so if you do go down this route you’ll want to make sure its worthwhile to you.
There isn’t one strategy that is best, however, depending on who you are, your interests, and how you operate best, there is a strategy that is best fit for you. Take time to evaluate your own circumstances and identify which of these makes most sense to follow. It may be a combination of these strategies or even one that’s not listed, but with some self-reflection and soul searching you can pick a strategy that will guide you to a successful and rewarding career on your own terms.