Ask these 5 questions to help you pick a career direction

This is a guest post by Michael Davis, a career counsellor at I particularly like the first tip. It’s often overlooked and a huge factor in your career path. 

how to pick a career

Deciding on a career path is a major life decision. It will affect what you choose to study in college, it will determine your educational goals, and it will likely affect your lifetime income potential. It can also have an impact on your overall life satisfaction.

The most common advice is to do something you love, but there are a few questions you can ask that will help you decide whether that thing you love is better as a career or a hobby. Asking the following questions about a potential job will get you on the path to making a smart decision about which career to pick.

1. Are there opportunities for growth?

This relates to both the company—such as career paths and the ability to move up—and the industry. The person who starts their career in a dying or slowing industry such as newspapers will have much less opportunity than someone who starts their career in a high growth or stable industry.

Some jobs offer lots of opportunities for growth. Certain ones will even pay for the training involved in climbing the corporate ladder. Others don’t offer any room for growth. Knowing whether you can expect promotions during the course of your career can sometimes be a deciding factor when looking at various career options. Jobs that offer no opportunities for increased pay or job promotions can make awesome careers. They can also be frustrating since they don’t come with built-in raises or progressing levels of responsibility.

2. How much stress is involved?

Certain career paths involve lots of stress. If you are someone who works well under pressure, one of these jobs might be a perfect fit for you. If you are the type who can’t handle stress, you probably need to avoid jobs that come with high amounts of it. For some people, a job with high amounts of stress can negatively affect their overall quality of life. If you’re one of those people, you really don’t want to be an air traffic controller.

3. Is there lots of competition?

Competition isn’t a bad thing. It’s often what motivates people to do their best. A healthy sense of competitiveness can drive a person to reach their goals. However, a high amount of competition in a field that has a very limited number of jobs could be a good reason not to pursue a job in that field. You don’t want to become one of the thousands of unemployed history majors.

4. Do people in this field experience high levels of job satisfaction?

Certain jobs come with low rates of job satisfaction. Investment bankers, for example, tend to score low in this area. They are compensated very well, though. Having this kind of information can help you decide whether you would rather work in a field with high levels of job satisfaction for lower pay. For some people, high pay is the bottom line, and a job they hate is preferred over one that doesn’t involve making lots of money.

5. What does the median income look like?

Are you the type of person who won’t be happy unless you drive an expensive car and wear only designer clothes? If so, money may need to be your deciding factor. While you may have a passion for the arts, the life of a starving artist or even the life of an art teacher may be completely wrong for you. On the other hand, if you’re a low-maintenance individual who would be content with less if it meant doing what you love, go ahead and consider that career as an artist. Just be sure you wouldn’t mind a career in teaching if it came to that.

Looking at job comparisons for different potential careers can help make your decision easier. If you can find out how many people currently work in a field, how much competition you’ll be facing, how much stress to expect, what job satisfaction looks like, and what the median salary is for the various occupations on your list of potential options, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the career path that’s right for you.

  1. Hi there, I purchased your book a couple of days ago and I’m reading through the 14 day course.

    I have a Bachelors and Masters in modern languages from Oxford. I find many of your points apply directly to my own career progress. I was told by everybody – family, friends, teachers and professors – that upon graduation the world of work would welcome me with open arms and that I could go on to establish myself in any field. Needless to say it hasn’t worked out that way.

    I have ended up in teaching English abroad almost as a default, because I simply couldn’t find any half-meaningful work doing anything else (I graduated at the worst point of the crash in 2009). I have a natural strength in leadership (I have done ever since I was a child). I’m a gifted sportsman and will naturally lead groups of people in many situations. Even among people who are much older, more wealthy and powerful than myself – I still get a level of respect and people will follow my lead. That may sound like I’m showing off but I’m really not – it’s actually a source of frustration as I don’t know where to direct my inborn ability. I know I have a lot more to offer than simply being a teacher but I don’t know exactly where I should direct my natural skills. Do you have any specific suggestions for paths to take for somebody with natural leadership potential?

    1. Hi Joseph,

      If your skill is leadership, then I’d suggest you develop project management skills with the goal of getting into management. This would be best at a larger company such as a global brand. The industry is really up to you, based on your passion. So the first step would be to look for positions such as project coordinators, develop the skills employers want for that position, and work your way up. If you like people, you may consider sales positions at large companies…with the goal of managing a sales team eventually. In that case, you’d need to develop sales skills.

      In most cases, though, you’ll have to do a role before you get to manage and be a leader. So you’ll still need to develop skills and work your way up.

      all the best,


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