Whether you're new to the workforce or considering making a career change, it's important to have a clear career path in mind.
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Unfortunately, that isn't always easy. Especially during the earliest stages of our careers, we tend to make decisions based on what influencers like our family and friends tell us or by gut feeling. Perhaps this is why the average college student changes their major three times during their college career.
To avoid future confusion and frustration, you may want to consider the following six things when defining your ideal career path:
1. Define Your Passion
Understanding what motivates you is the first step in defining your ideal career path. Your passion does not necessarily have to be a specific job or industry. Your motivation can be something like "helping others" or "feeling good about yourself," and you can explore many paths to fulfill these desires. If you follow a career path that satisfies you, you will be a more competent professional who delivers better outcomes.
2. Experience Is the Best Teacher
When you're starting your first career or jumping into a new one, it can be difficult to identify your natural skills, especially those on which you can capitalize. You'll need to give yourself some time to explore your skills and understand your potential. After gaining some experience, you will be in a better position to identify your strengths and leverage your talent for success.
3. Think in Terms of Career Opportunities Instead of Particular Jobs
It is a common mistake to make decisions based on what is happening in the moment. What you need right now may not be aligned with what you want in the long term. For instance, quickly accepting a promotion because of the higher compensation may not be the best option if the new role doesn't lead to the career track you want to follow. Having very clear career goals will turn your daily decisions into small steps towards your ideal career path.
That being said, you should approach opportunities in terms of where you want to be in the next five or eight years. You do not need to commit forever.
4. Culture Matters
When defining your ideal career, be sure to consider the company culture. The work environment, your coworkers, and the company leadership can all contribute to how much or how little you enjoy a job. No matter how well a role seems to align with your career goals, it may not be smart to take the role if the culture isn't right for you.
For instance, big corporations and small startups operate in very different ways. Some people thrive more in one than the other.
5. Money Can't Be Everything
At the end of the day, we all have to pay the bills. However, money should not always be the primary factor in determining your next career step. Making decisions based on money alone can be a big mistake. According to Forbes contributor Rick Smith, "no matter how much money we have, we always wish we had at least 20 percent more."
Instead of focusing on money, think about what genuinely matters to you. Do you value flexible hours? A more enjoyable lifestyle? If no amount of money will ever be enough, then it's much smarter to make choices based on wishes you can fulfill.
6. Look to the Future
Finally, be sure to consider the future of the profession to which you may be drawn. In our age of rapid technological advances, the world of work is changing constantly. Will your dream job change soon — or even worse, will it be eliminated?
To identify a profession with potential, look at current trends in the industry. If possible, talk to people operating in the field. They may be able to tell you how your chosen career is likely to change in the future.
Maria Onzain is a digital marketing expert who writes about careers, education, ed. tech, and life hacks.