Choose a new career now

How to Choose a Career: Your Straight-Forward, Step-by-Step Guide

Written by Jeff Neil, Career Clarity Coach


Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in life. So many aspects of your life are impacted by your career, including your happiness, relationships, financial stability, personal and professional growth, self-confidence, and wellbeing.

With thousands of options, how will you choose a career that's right for you? For many people, gaining clarity on the best career choice often feels overwhelming. Fortunately, it doesn't need to be that way.

This page is the most comprehensive online guide available with a proven step-by-step process to choose a new career that you'll enjoy, excel in, and be proud of.

Here’s a quick overview of the 5 steps:

This may look like a lot of work - and it can be. But taking these steps now will save you a lot of career frustration and dreaded weekday mornings.

Let’s get started…

Identify What’s Important to You in Choosing a Career

If you were going to look for a new place to live, you’d probably start by making a shortlist of the things you want in your new home, such as location, size, and cost.  Having this 'wishlist' would help you to better focus your search and recognize homes that are a good match for you.

Choosing a new career begins the same way – you want to create a shortlist of the key things you want so you can better focus your search and choose the best career for you. 

Based on my one-to-one career clarity coaching experience with more than 7,000 people who wanted to choose a new career, here are the ‘wants’ I recommend identifying:

  • What are the specific skills, abilities, and knowledge you have now that you are good at and would like to use in your career?
  • What skills, abilities, and knowledge do you want to avoid in your career (perhaps you’re not good at them, or you're good at them but don’t want to use them in a job)?
  • What new skills, abilities, and knowledge would you like to develop during your career?
  • How much interaction do you want with company employees in your work? How much interaction do you want with people who aren’t employees, such as customers, business partners, and vendors? What are the traits of people you enjoy working with most?
  • What motivates you to perform your best in a job?
  • What types of challenges do you like at work? What types of challenges do you want to avoid?
  • What personality traits do you have that could impact the work you do, such as being shy or aggressive?
  • What personal values are important to you, such as work-life balance or helping others?
  • Which industries would you like to work in if you could (click here to download a comprehensive list of industries) What are your professional and personal interests, and which industries align with them?
  • What long-term personal goals do you have?
  • What long-term professional goals do you have?
  • What’s the work environment you would enjoy (e.g. startup or corporate, flexible or structured, competitive or laid back)? Would you prefer to work in or out of an office?
  • What salary and benefits do you want now, a few years from now, and down the road in your career?
  • Where do you want to work geographically? 

The most popular ways to answer these questions to build your 'wants list' for a new career are:

  • Self-reflection
  • Ask people who know you for feedback
  • Discuss the questions with someone who is a good, unbiased listener
  • Talk with a career coach, career counselor, or therapist

If you can't figure out the answer to any question, that's okay - just skip it and go to the next one.

Be sure to write down your answers because you'll use this information soon to identify and choose the best job and career for you.

Narrow Down Your Wants to Your Must-Haves

If you’re like most people, you probably have a long list of career ‘wants’.

It’s a common belief that when you have more information, you’ll be in a position to make a better decision. While that’s true to a certain point, it’s completely possible to have TOO MUCH information.  

Over the years, I’ve met many people who are stuck in their careers precisely because they want to find the ‘perfect’ job that satisfies all of their wants. 

I know this will be hard to hear for some people, but the reality is it’s very unlikely that any one job or career path will satisfy all of your wants.

The great news is that almost everybody can find a career they will enjoy, excel in, and feel proud of. While it's likely that a job won't have everything you want, it can satisfy many of the wants that are most important to you.

To identify and choose the best job and career for you, you need to adjust your wants list to show which ones matter more to you than the others.

I recommend using a simple rating system that adds a ‘weight’ to each of your wants. For example:

  • Rate 1/3 of your wants with the number 1 (meaning they are your highest priorities)
  • Rate another 1/3 of your wants with the number 2 (second-highest priority to you)
  • Rate the remaining 1/3 of your wants with the number 3 (lowest priority to you)

This weighting system will help you recognize the relationships between different wants, and it will help you manage the amount of information you'll use to identify potential job and career options for you.

4 Ways to Identify Alternate Jobs & Careers that Fit You

In this section, I’m going to discuss four proven strategies you can use to generate potential job and career ideas, which you'll research in more detail in the final step.

I recommend reading through all of the strategies and then picking the one or two options that would work best for you.

Option 1: Career Test / Career Assessment

Pros: Easy, fast, and inexpensive

Cons: Surprisingly few assessments give solid job and career recommendations

Most of the popular career assessments are actually personality assessments that help us understand how we relate to people, but they do a poor job of identifying appealing job and career ideas that match our most important wants.

Having worked with many thousands of clients, I believe personality isn't nearly as important as most people think it is when choosing a new career. Personality primarily impacts how we do our job, not what we do.

I'll give you a simple example. If you've ever watched the popular television show Shark Tank, you know that all of the shark investors are great at building and running businesses, but their personalities are very different. In other words, for each of these incredibly successful people, their career choice is NOT based primarily on personality.

Another problem with career tests and assessments is that they don't provide enough information about each career idea they recommend. In fact, many only provide a list of career possibilities with no information about them, leaving you with a lot of work to do to research them.

That's why my two favorite career assessments are The TypeFinder for Career Planning and CareerClarifier.

While taking The TypeFinder for Career Planning is free, it does cost $19 to receive your full report with job ideas. The full report includes:

  • Approximately 20 potential job idea recommendations (based on my work with clients, I've found the recommendations to be solid ones)
  • Brief job summaries (about 1/3 of a page long) for each recommended career that include a 2 line summary of the job, approximately 10 bulleted responsibilities, average earnings, and projected growth.

The CareerClarifier is a brand new assessment and career change system that I am currently developing and will be launched in October 2021. The cost will be $29, but you can sign up now for special introductory pricing on our crowdfunding page. The full report will include:

  • 25 potential job idea recommendations.
  • Comprehensive job summaries including a 2+ page overview of each job entry-level of senior-level salary ranges, the relative availability of the job, recommended types of education, links to sample job advertisements, and one-of-a-kind search phrases to help you research the job ideas.
  • Comprehensive resources on how to research and choose the right carer for you.
  • Comprehensive information on how to prepare a resume for the careers you decide to target, including a downloadable resume template that is ATS friendly.
  • Comprehensive information on how to search for a job to win more job interviews faster.

Option 2: Online Searches Using Job Want Phrases

Pros: This strategy will definitely generate job and career ideas, including ones you didn't know about or would not have thought of. You can use this strategy whenever you have free time.

CONS:  It requires patience to sort through options to identify ones that appeal to you.

The strategy you are about to learn combines the power of knowing your high-priority skills, abilities, and knowledge with the power of being able to instantly match them to thousands of real job and career opportunities in fields that appeal to you.

Think for a minute about how you search for information on the Internet. You probably start an online search by going to your favorite search engine and typing a few relevant words (which is called a “search phrase”).

For example, if you want to search for things to do in New York City, you might go to Google and type in the search box: Best Activities in NYC. If you have children, you might include the words 'children' or 'family' in your searches.

Essentially, you’re simply typing your wants into a search box and making adjustments until you find the information you’re looking for.

To discover potential job and career options, you can conduct online searches using strategically created phrases.

Here’s the 2 step strategy:

Step 1: Create Your “Job Search Phrases”

Your first step is to create strings of words that combine your best or favorite skills, abilities, or knowledge (I'll abbreviate it below as SAK) with the career fields or industries that appeal to you. I call these “Job Search Phrases”.

Examples of skills, abilities, knowledge, and industries include writing, research, networking, programming, "data analysis", history, psychology, "human resources", and finance.

The formula for a Job Search Phrase is this:

“One SAK” “Another SAK” “Another SAK” “name of an appealing field”

For example, a Job Search Phrase that I personally might use to look for new career ideas would be:

coaching training interviewing psychology

To help you easily create your own Job Search Phrases, I have created an automatic Job Search Phrase Generator in Microsoft Excel. You can download it here.

Or, if you prefer, you can create Job Wants Phrases yourself. Simply make a list of five of your best skills/abilities and one appealing career field, and then use this format:

(SAK 1) (SAK 2) (SAK 3) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 1) (SAK 3) (SAK 4) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 1) (SAK 4) (SAK 5) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 2) (SAK 3) (SAK 4) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 2) (SAK 4) (SAK 5) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 3) (SAK 4) (SKB 5) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 1) (SAK 2) (SAK 4) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 1) (SAK 2) (SAK 5) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

(SAK 2) (SAK 3) (SAK 5) ("name of an appealing field / industry")

Whether you use my free phrase generator or create your own, here are a few additional tips:

  • If your Skill, Ability, Knowledge, or appealing field / industry includes more than one word, put quotation marks around it. For example: "human resources"
  • If there aren't any specific fields or industries at appeal to you - or you don't like the results you get - you don't need to include the "name of an appealing field / industry"
  • If you have more than one appealing field or industry, you can make a copy of your completed Job Search Phrase chart and change the name of the appealing field.

Step 2: Conduct Your Online Search to Discover Potential Job & Career Ideas

After creating your Job Want Phrases, you are ready to discover potential job and career options. Here's how:

1. Go to www.indeed.com, a job search aggregator site that finds job advertisements posted on hundreds of job boards. I highly recommend using Indeed because it is very responsive to Job Search Phrases.

2. Type one of your Job Search Phrases into the “What” box on Indeed, as shown below. (It's okay if your search phrase runs longer than the 'What' box).

3. Click on the Find Jobs button to see job advertisements that match your Job Search Phrase.

4. I recommend skimming through 75+ job postings for each Job Wants Search Phrase to see if you can find ideas that feel interesting to you. Make a note of interesting job titles and print interesting job advertisements (you’ll want this information when you do more comprehensive research later).

Here are four important tips to keep in mind when you look through the job advertisements:

  • Indeed has a salary filter, but it’s only an ‘estimate’ and I recommend NOT using it because it might mistakenly eliminate appealing career choices. (You’ll do more accurate salary research in the next step.)
  • Don’t rule out an interesting career option because you don’t meet all of the qualifications included in an advertisement. MANY people land new careers and positions without having some or many of the skills, experience and/or education sought in an advertisement. Be assured that if you use the right resume and job search strategies, you can often land an exciting job without meeting all of the position’s advertised “requirements”.
  • If a job idea doesn’t appeal to you or would require you to use a skill you’re terrible at, eliminate that idea now. But don’t rule out ideas based on gut hunches alone - wait until you do more detailed research to determine if it's an appealing option. (I've had countless clients who initially thought a career idea wasn't interesting but fell in love with the idea later when they learned more about it.)

To build a full list of appealing job ideas that fit you, repeat this process for all of the Job Want Search Phrases you created in Step 1 above.

Option 3: Informational Interviews

Pros: This strategy can give you valuable job and career information while building your network.

CONS: You will likely have to reach out to people you don’t know. Because it relies on other people, it's likely to be a slower process.

An informational interview is a conversation with people to gather insightful career advice. Informational interviews are appropriate for everyone, regardless of your age and where you are in your career now. You can conduct informational interviews with people you know, as well as people you don’t know.

Unlike a job interview where a company employee asks the questions and the conversation is about the employer’s needs, in an informational interview, YOU get to ask the questions and the focus of the conversation is about YOUR career needs.

The goal of this strategy is to get helpful career advice from people who know about different types of jobs that could be a good match for you. To be clear, you don’t need to be interested in learning about the job of the person you are talking to.

For example, if you have strong people and math skills and are interested in the technology field, you could meet with a software programmer (even if you know programming isn’t right for you) because it’s highly likely they will know about other types of jobs in the technology field that could be a good fit for you.

There are many ways to use informational interviews to help you choose your new career (as well as win a job offer). Click here for a comprehensive guide on informational interviews that teaches you everything you need to know, including:

  • How to use informational interviews to your advantage
  • How to find the right people
  • How to get their contact information
  • Sample request letters
  • Questions to ask during an informational interview
  • Preparation tips
  • Sample thank you notes

Option 4: Career Coaching

Pros: Fast way to generate high-quality job and career options. A great strategy for people who don't have the time require for options 2 and 3.

CONS: You have to pay for the advice.

Some people choose to hire a career coach or career counselor who has the expertise to identify alternate job and career ideas that fit them.

Using this strategy can save a lot of time and will very likely identify job and career ideas you would not have discovered on your own.  The downside of this option is that you will have to pay for the advice of an experienced professional.

Fees for career coaching vary greatly. As a benchmark for you, I charge $380 for my one-to-one career clarity coaching, which includes a proprietary assessment, two 50-minute coaching sessions, and supplemental resources to support my clients’ success.

While many career coaches do a bit of everything (like your General Practitioner doctor or local lawyer), some career coaches specialize and develop deep knowledge in a particular area (just like many doctors and lawyers specialize). 

If you decide to use a career coach, I strongly recommend hiring one who specializes in career clarity or career changes.

To help you hire the right career coach, I recommend reading their website, checking out their online reviews, and scheduling a complimentary consultation.

In the consultation, you should explain your situation and questions like these:

  • What's the process you use to identify job and career ideas for your clients?
  • Do you (the coach) do research and recommend potential job & career ideas - or does the client need to do the research to identify alternate career choices?
  • Have you worked with people like me / in my situation in the past?
  • How many coaching sessions will it take to gain career clarity?
  • What are your fees?
  • Is there a client contract, and, if so, what are clients legally obligated to do and pay?

Investigate Your Alternate Job & Career Ideas

After you create an initial list of potential job and career ideas, it’s time to evaluate each of them against your list of ‘must haves’ (and, secondarily, your other job wants) so you can determine which job and career options are best for you.

There’s no need to use every research strategy below for every job idea you’re evaluating. If at any point during your research you discover a particular career idea isn't a good match for you, simply cross that idea off your list and move on to the next idea.

At the end of this research, I recommend narrowing your options to the 2 or 3 best career choices that you will target.

Many people make the mistake of choosing just one type of job to target. That’s a fine strategy if you pick a job idea that has lots of openings that you’re very qualified for.

However, if you choose to target jobs with fewer openings or that you are less qualified for, it’s better to have two or three job targets to give you the best chances for success.

Before I discuss these evaluation strategies, here’s another important tip from an experienced guide:

Don’t rule out an appealing job idea just because you’re not ‘perfectly qualified’.

I mentioned this warning earlier, and I want you to understand it better now that you are doing more research to narrow down your career choices.

Hiring managers want four things in a new employee:

A Majority of the Skills, Abilities & Knowledge: Hiring managers want to hire a candidate who can successfully complete a majority of the major job responsibilities and who can learn what they don’t know.  Few hiring managers think they are going to find a candidate who has every skill listed in the job advertisement.

High Motivation:  Most hiring managers prefer to hire a candidate with fewer skills and higher levels of motivation over a candidate with more skills and less motivation.

Manageability: Hiring managers try not to hire highly skilled and motivated people who they suspect will be hard to supervise.

Likeability: Hiring managers want to enjoy going to work too, and they will hire a likable candidate with fewer skills over a more skilled candidate who they don't think they'll enjoy working with.

If you take one thing away from this guide, let it be this…

…Candidates who are the best combination of skills, motivation, manageability, and likability win job offers over people who have more skills.

Having worked with thousands of clients, my experience is that if you can do 70% of the major responsibilities of the job, it’s likely you’ll be able to position yourself as a competitive candidate... if you can also prove that you're motivated, manageable, and likable.

Now that you have the right mindset about 'qualifications', here’s how you can research each job idea to narrow down your list to the best ones for you.

Investigation Strategy 1: Online Article Research

The goal of this research is to better understand each type of job, as well as get a sense of you would enjoy this type of work and find it interesting.  

For each job idea, simply do online searches like these:

  • What does a “name of job title” do?
  • What is the career path for “name of job title”?
  • Job outlook for “name of job title”

For job ideas that feel potentially interesting after reading articles, the next step is to study relevant job advertisements.

Investigation Strategy 2: Study Job Advertisements

The goal of this research is to learn more about each type of job, including:

  • The purpose of the work
  • The skills, abilities, and knowledge you would use and develop
  • The range of responsibilities typically assigned to this type of job
  • The soft skills and personality traits employers typically seek
  • The education, courses, and certificates that could be helpful for this type of role

To begin your research, simply type this phrase into the ‘What’ box on Indeed:

Title: “name of job title” and then click on “Find Jobs”

For example, if you want to research a job with the title "prospect research", you would type this phrase into the 'What' box on Indeed:

Search for Career Change to Prospect Research

The first thing you'll want to check out is how many job openings Indeed found (the number is located in the bottom center of the screenshot below). Keep in mind that about 20% of all job openings are advertised, so it's likely there about 5 times as many openings as Indeed is showing.

To get a more accurate read on the potential number of job openings, I recommend researching variations of the same title and totaling the number of openings for all of them. For example, Talent Acquisition, Talent Recruiter, HR Recruiter, Corporate Recruiter, and Talent Recruiting are different titles for the same type of job.

Because companies can assign different responsibilities to the same job title, I recommend reading and analyzing 25 or more job advertisements for each type of job to get a good understanding of the role.

Here are the key parts of a job advertisement to analyze;

Job Summary: Not every job advertisement includes this section, but even if they don’t, look for information about the purpose of the work. This information is often near the top of the job posting. Does the purpose of the job feel interesting to you?

Qualifications: Sometimes called "Requirements" or "Experience," this section of a job advertisement describes skills, abilities, and knowledge you would be using. 

Be on the lookout for repetition. Do the majority of job advertisements reference certain skills? That's a clue that those skills and abilities are the ones most commonly needed. Do they match the skills you like to use or would like to develop?

If some skills don't sound familiar, you’ll need to do some online research about those skills to see if you’ve done anything similar or if they appeal to you.

Remember, it's not a deal-breaker if you do not have all of the qualifications listed, but, ideally, you'll have 70% or more of the most important ones, as well as the ability to learn what you don’t know.

Education: What types of degrees are typically sought?  Don’t rule yourself out for appealing job ideas because you don’t have the specific degrees mentioned, but use the desired education as a clue to what type of skills, abilities, and knowledge it takes to do the job. For example, jobs seeking Finance or Economics degrees probably require good quantitative and math skills. Jobs seeking Public Relations degrees are probably looking for writing, communication, and people skills.

Now is also a good time to identify and make note of the certifications that employers value. You can research what the certifications are about, how long it would take to earn one of them, and how much each cost. Depending on your situation, having one of those certifications might be helpful.

Soft Skills: Often near the bottom of a job advertisement, you'll find the soft skills (e.g. ‘personal traits’) sought in the ideal candidate. While this information can be useful, I recommend not taking it too seriously because different companies often seek very different soft skills for the same type of job. That said, if you look at 25 job advertisements and the majority of them are seeking someone with a certain trait, that’s a good clue to the type of personality that could do well in that type of work.

Job Titles: While you’re looking at job advertisements, be sure to take note of the job title variations. The titles give clues about the level of the position, and you’ll want to take note of the level that would be a good target for you based on your skills, experience, and education.

Investigation Strategy 3: Salary Research

The goal of this strategy is to understand the potential income for each type of job, both now and down the road in your career.

For most sites, you’ll simply type the name of a job title to see the results. You can specify a specific location (e.g. San Francisco) and a general location (United States).

If you’re looking for a long-term career path, it’s important to know if there is an opportunity to grow your salary.  The easiest way to learn about compensation for more senior roles is to add the word Senior, Director, or Vice President to the job title you’re investing.

For example, if you’re researching the job title “UX Designer”, you can learn about compensation for people with more experience by searching for salary information for Senior UX Designer, Director UX Design, or Vice President UX Design.

Because salaries vary greatly by company and location, and because most companies don’t reveal compensation in job advertisements, I recommend using these sites to conduct salary research:

  • Glassdoor.com - This is my favorite place to research salaries by job title anThis site’s data is based on information entered directly by people who have that job title now.
  • Linkedin.com/salary/ - See a detailed breakdown of salaries by job title and location. Explore how salaries vary by industry, years of experience, company size, and education level.
  • https://www.levels.fyi - If you're interested in technology roles (such as Product Manager or Software Engineer), here's a terrific overview of actual salaries at the most successful tech companies.
  • Payscale.com - The site sells a premium report that helps you understand what factors influence pay for you - and it gives you a very professional-looking report that you can present during negotiations.  
  • The Companies That Pay MBAs The Most - If you're considering earning an MBA, here's a good article on companies that will give you a high ROI (return on investment).
  • The U.S. Companies That Pay Interns The Most - Here are the 20 highest paying internships in America.

Investigation Strategy 4: Industry & Interests Research

It’s great to work in an industry that appeals to you. 

Back in Step 1, Identify What's Important to You, you might have named specific industries or fields you’d like to work in. If so, now’s the time to see if the types of jobs you’re researching exist in the industries & fields that appeal to you.

The simplest way to do that is to do a search on www.Indeed.com using this exact search phrase:

Title: “name of job title you are researching” AND “name of appealing industry/field”

For example, here's a search to see if Operations jobs exist in the “real estate” field:

Indeed will instantly search hundreds of job boards and show you current job openings that match your search phrase.

Investigation Strategy 5: Conduct Informational Interviews

After completing your online research, it’s possible you’ll still have questions that you can’t get answered online, such as does the career fit your lifestyle and how easy would it be for you to break into the field. If so, conducting informational interviews now is the perfect way to get answers to the questions you have.

If you’re a college student or graduate, it’s usually pretty easy to use LinkedIn to arrange conversations with other alumni who work in the types of jobs you are researching. Many alumni are happy to provide firsthand knowledge about the jobs and careers you are researching.

You can click here for a comprehensive guide on informational interviews that teaches you everything you need to know, including:

  • How to use informational interviews to your advantage
  • How to find the right people
  • How to get their contact information
  • Sample request letters
  • Questions to ask during an informational interview
  • Preparation tips
  • Sample thank you notes

Final Thoughts on How to Choose a Career

Congratulations, you did it!  You developed and prioritized a list of wants. You built a list of potential job ideas.  You comprehensively researched those ideas and narrowed them down to the best career choices for you.

If you’re like many people, you probably have a shortlist with one, two, or three job ideas that you’re excited to target.

If you haven’t identified one or more interesting job ideas, don’t give up. When making an important decision like choosing a new job, you should take the time you need so you don't make a career choice that you regret.

Here are some potential strategies to enhance your results:

  • Did you rule out a job idea that you should reconsider?
  • Should you re-evaluate and modify your ‘must haves’?
  • Are you being realistic about your expectations?
  • Can you make some compromises?
  • Do you need to take more risks or accept uncertainty?
  • Can you use a different strategy from Step 3, Identify Alternate Jobs & Careers That Fit You, to discover additional job ideas?

As a career coach who has worked with thousands of people to choose a career, I know that having a satisfying and rewarding career is a combination of persistence, compromises and perpetually moving forward.

Sometimes we can't attain the ideal job today, but we can choose to compromise in the short term to get on the right career path. The average person changes jobs more than 11 times, giving them plenty of opportunities to continually progress, improve their current position, and achieve the career success, satisfaction, and happiness they want.

To Your Success,

Jeff Neil

Career Coach & Career Counselor Jeff Neil

Career Clarity & Career Change Coach

www.CareerCoachNewYorkCity.com