How to Choose a Career

Suggestions for finding a job field that’s a good fit for you

Are you trying to decide what kind of work you’d like to do? If you’re getting ready to graduate from high school, this is probably a decision that’s weighing on your mind. Or you might be a mom who wants to get back into the workforce, now that your kids are a bit older. But even if you’re just someone who’d like to have a job that aligns better with your interests and skills, the process of choosing a career can seem overwhelming. This article breaks it down into some concrete steps, to help you feel positive about getting started making a professional change that will suit you.

As with so many tasks in life, the key to finding a career path is tapping into good resources. Here we point you to some useful websites and online tools, and encourage you to engage people you already know who might be able to provide information and advice. Before long, you’ll find you’re making headway towards a choice that feels right.

Here are some steps to lead you in the right direction:

1. Take a survey of your career interests

Don’t worry—these is not a test. The questions aren’t hard and there are no right answers. Using these tools is a way to connect who you are with what you might be good at and enjoy doing.

  • Education Planner is a nonprofit that helps students find their way professionally. One activity they offer for free online is called “Career Clusters.” (In this context, clusters are groups of careers the require similar skills and share certain themes.) This is a series of questions you can answer to generate tailored feedback and recommendations. It asks you to check off those qualities you feel apply to you, activities you enjoy, things you’re good at, your best subjects in school, etc. Then it presents your top five results, in clusters of careers you can read more about. The site suggests you explore the top two or three pathways in detail, and each one lists a number of different occupations you can research. It’s a great place to start. To do a shorter version of this same activity, you can find out Which Careers Match Your Skills.
  • CareerOneStop also offers self-assessments online. You can choose an assessment that focuses on your interests (30 questions, 5 minutes) or your skills (about 20 minutes for a skills profile).
  • Virginia Education Wizard offers on online survey that assesses your work values. (You don’t need to be in Virginia to benefit from the career feedback the site generates.)

Use the feedback you get from these tools to narrow down your careers of focus. This will make the following steps easier and more targeted.

2. Research career options and training

Now that you’ve identified some possible areas you’re interested in, look into particular jobs within those categories. For each one, get a sense of:

  • the kind of training required
  • the work hours and lifestyle the job demands
  • the work environment and work conditions
  • the job prospects in the coming years for that occupation

An excellent resource for this kind of research is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. This comprehensive site groups jobs by category, but you can also look at the profiles for individual occupations and learn about the minimum education needed, median salary, work environments, and job outlook.

If you like learning by watching videos, CareerOneStop features an entire library of career videos. They are organized by industry as well as skills and ability. It also provides predictions for “hot” careers that are likely to be growing in your area.

3. Think about the long term as well as the short term

Your career goals should take into account not only what you’d like to be doing in the next couple of years, but also over the next ten years or more. Does the idea of a lot of travel appeal to you right now? Could that change in the years to come? If you’d like to earn a certain salary by the time you’re ready to start a family, that’s something to take into consideration. This is especially important if the field you’re looking at requires several years of entry-level work experience, or a certain advanced degree, before you’d be qualified for higher-paying jobs. These are issues to keep in mind as you research and evaluate each of the potential careers.

Setting goals is another task you can tackle with online support. Check out CareerOneStop’s goal-setting tool for help on this aspect of the process, so you can identify your goals and then get on track making them a reality.

4. Reach out to your network

Chances are you already know someone (or someone who knows someone) that works in the field you are interested in. It doesn’t take much time to make a phone call or send an email to a friend, family member, or acquaintance, asking politely if the person would be willing to spend a few minutes answering questions about their profession. Most people are eager to share their experience and willing to help, if you are courteous and respectful of their time.

If the people you can think of don’t have the first-hand experience in the area you’re looking into, then ask them if they know anyone. If you get a name of someone you’ve met, do your homework. Look the person up on LinkedIn and see if they have a profile there; if so, you can probably see where they went to school, what jobs they’ve held, where, and for how long. Then you’ll be informed and can ask targeted questions about their experience. If someone does take the time to speak with you, be sure to send them a note of thanks to express your appreciation. That’s part of good networking.

If you’re a high school student, then you already have a built-in resource available to you: your guidance counselor. These professionals are specially trained in helping students like you navigate your way among the many career choices available. They can help you use information you already have, like what your favorite classes are, what extracurriculars you’re involved in, and what your study skills and social interests say about you. Make an appointment to meet with your school’s counselor in the next month or so—don’t wait until the weeks leading up to graduation, when they (and you) are likely to be swamped. Schedule time for several conversations, so you can work together to find options that would be a good fit.

5. Plan for the schooling

Once you narrow down a job you’re interested in, you’ll likely need to attend a college, university, or career training school to gain the appropriate knowledge and skills. The application process can require multiple steps, so give yourself time to learn about the requirements for each institution.


  • How long the program takes to complete (Professional training schools can often be much shorter in this way.)
  • Where the school is located (Can you commute from where you currently live, or would you need to relocate or live on/near campus?)
  • Prerequisites (What classes would you need to have already taken before applying or enrolling?)
  • What financial aid is available (given that the expense of the program is probably a significant factor in whether you can afford to attend)

Use the Education Planner to find schools that could possibly match what you are looking for. It also offers resources to help you understand the basics of student aid.

Once you’ve walked yourself through these five steps, you’ll be well on your way to a sound decision about your professional future. Taking into account what will suit you and then taking the time to do adequate planning and research is the best way to find a career that will satisfy you in the long run. We wish you the best of luck during this exciting time!

This post is part of the weekly blog of the Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health, located in Manchester, NH. We’re dedicated to helping all our students pursue their career goals. Visit us online to learn more, or reach out to schedule a campus tour by calling (603) 622-8400.