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For many of us, college is the first time we are asked to make concrete decisions about a career path. This pressure to decide on a career for real can cause us to forget what’s really important to us. Getting back in touch with our personal values and long-term goals can be the key to choosing a career that is truly exciting and fulfilling on a deeper level.

The Passive Approach

Have you ever felt confused about what career to pursue? Overwhelmed by the number of options? Have you felt stuck looking only at jobs that are directly related to your degree? Or maybe you’ve felt tempted to apply to companies where your friends got hired, or to search for jobs based on things like salary or benefits?

With so many options available for jobs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost. Taking a passive approach and focusing on external factors to determine what direction to take can feel like the safest option. For the rest of this article, we’ll talk about some guiding principles that can help you choose the career path that’s right for you.

Starting with Introspection

Tuning into our joys, passions, values, and long-term goals is the key to getting back in touch with what really brings us satisfaction. From there, we can build the career we really want. Here are some questions to get started:

  • What are my long-term goals? “Where do I see myself in x years?” While the answer may change over time, it can be useful to take stock of your current thoughts and make decisions that will bring you closer to that goal. In five years, do you see yourself in a particular job role? Are you established in your field? Starting a family? Living somewhere completely different?
  • What really interests and excites me? Remember when you were a kid thinking about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Where did your imagination take you? Did you answer according to what you thought would be fun, interesting, or “cool”? Although as a child you may not have had the level of self-awareness that you do now, tapping into what innately interested you came naturally back then. Why not revisit that as you consider your real-life career?
  • What aspects of a job/career are non-negotiable for me? Make a list of what a career must have for you. Is your career the center of your life, or are other things equally important? Do you want to be working in a specific field, perhaps to help you meet your long-term goals? Is this first career move a stepping stone to something down the line? What about things like salary, location, benefits and hours?
  • Are the companies I’m looking at a good fit in terms of culture and values? As you start to look at specific places of work, asking this question can be a game-changer. I once joined a startup whose mission really spoke to me, thinking that everything else would fall into place. In fact, my personal values and the company’s were completely misaligned. Work-life balance, support from coworkers, and diversity are very important to me, while this company valued a homogeneous team working relentless hours with minimal direction. This created a lot of tension for me: although I admired the mission,  the day-to-day environment didn’t allow me to flourish and produce my best work, plus I lacked the mentorship I needed to advance my career. After trying to make the best of it and remaining unhappy, I decided to leave. Though it felt scary at the time, I still consider this one of the best life choices I have made. Looking back, this experience taught me many valuable lessons and has helped me make future career decisions that line up with what I really care about. Checking in with current employees and asking about the things you value is time well-spent.

Changing Paths

Remember, you don’t have to “get it right” on the first try; you can always make changes in your career path later. The stigma of “job-hopping” has begun to subside as Millennials join the workforce. This 2016 Gallup survey found that six out of ten Millennials are open to new job opportunities and are the generation most likely to change jobs. Many employers even expect young hires to change jobs: according to this CareerBuilder survey, 45% of employers expect newly-hired college graduates to stay with their company for two years or less. However, according to another article, older generations also switched jobs frequently when they were young, illustrating that it does take time and experience to figure out what career is right for you.

Keep an Open Mind

Finally, try to have fun exploring what’s out there! It’s surprising how many different careers exist,  including many we haven’t even heard of. Remember, this isn’t something to rush through. Continue to check in with yourself, learn from your experiences, and start from a place of introspection, and there will be no “wrong” decisions.