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Which career is right for you? 6 ways to choose a career

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By Dr. Patrick C. Horton

At a glance

  • Choosing the right career path can help you develop skills, earn a quality salary and find fulfillment.
  • Consider such factors as globalization and area of study when making a career choice, as well as your personality and priorities.
  • Military veterans can leverage skills they gained during their service to find a complementary career path in the civilian world.
  • Get more career advice when you subscribe to the University of Phoenix Career With Confidence™ newsletter on LinkedIn®!

How to choose a career

Portrait of Dr. Patrick C. Horton smiling.

As the writer Annie Dillard observed, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Whether that’s good news or bad depends on what you’re doing most days; hence the age-old question, “Which career is right for me?”

When selecting a career, it’s important to think strategically and identify the goals you want to accomplish over your 20-to-50-year career. Typically, the sooner you choose a functional career path, the more opportunities you’ll have to develop skills, build wealth and find career fulfillment.

Choosing the right career fit is an inherently personal choice that often depends on who you are and where you are in life. Maybe, for example, you are a recent college graduate looking to maximize your salary and income potential as well as your impact in your community. Or perhaps you’re looking to transition from the military into the private sector. Or maybe you’re halfway through your career and are looking to either move into executive management or change careers altogether.

Wherever you may find yourself, read on. We’ll explore a wide range of motivations, topics and tips to help you narrow down your options, take advantage of opportunities and make the best career choice possible.

Choose a career with globalization in mind

The world that once operated according to city or state or even country is now global. When you enter the workforce today, you aren't competing for a position with just the people in your city. You are competing with top-notch candidates from every region in the United States and sometimes around the world. According to an Economic Policy Institute study, globalization has lowered wages for American workers. At the same time, globalization has increased demand in the United States for professionals, skilled labor and capital, all of which increase income for college-educated workers while widening the gap between rich and poor.

In addition, entry-level jobs are increasingly being automated and outsourced to overseas workers for cost savings. This is one reason why, if at all possible, it’s a good idea to build a skill set that will enable you to pursue career longevity. You can do that through education or experience. (Or both!)

If you are able, select a core career path that’s employable globally and that offers growth opportunities. In this way, you can optimize your ability to increase your salary and minimize the risk of your career field becoming obsolete.

If career longevity is your priority, then it's important to select a core career path that's enjoyable globally and that offers advancement opportunities.

Some bedrock career fields in this area are:

  • Project management
  • Cybersecurity
  • Finance
  • Information technology
  • Business operations
  • Engineering
  • Contracts management
  • Human resources
  • Software engineering
  • Manufacturing engineering
  • Product quality engineering
  • Supply-chain management

Choose a career based on your college degree program

If you graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, what type of career would you look for? What skills have you learned during your college career that will help you get your foot in the door? In other words, to get the best return on the investment of your college education, you should choose a career option in your field of study.

So, if you have a degree in information technology, you have probably acquired specific skills and experience in such areas as PC Help Desk, Microsoft Systems, Cisco Networking and Information Assurance. It makes sense, then, that you would seek a role like that of an IT manager. Your bachelor’s degree, along with one to two years of PC Help Desk knowledge and maybe a certification or two, can help you stand out to hiring managers as a quality candidate with the right skills and experience for the job.

Choose a career based on who you are as a person

Aligning your career interests to your personality type and what you enjoy is the first step in identifying a career path. Do you enjoy video games and all things tech? Then maybe you decide to become a software engineer. Can you “talk a cat off a fish cart”? Then maybe a good option is to become a business development manager or entrepreneur.

Are you a philanthropist? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Or are you more intellectual? Maybe you can do many things but ultimately want to be a digital nomad and work from anywhere in the world. If you can identify who you are as a person, you can understand how you would like to spend your career. In an ideal world, that career path would match your personality and inspire you to get out of bed every day while also affording you opportunities to grow intellectually and experientially

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Choose a career based on what you want and need out of life

My grandmother only made it to the third grade because she had to prioritize her family’s survival and work full time. Two generations later, that choice lived on in my own prioritization to earn multiple graduate degrees, work my way up the corporate ladder and start my own business. I also prioritized survival and security, but I had more options because of the choices my grandmother and mother made.

That’s not to say I didn’t make sacrifices along the way. I did. But my story illustrates how many of us, especially if we come from disadvantaged backgrounds, feel compelled to prioritize economic security. To achieve that, we might choose a career field with higher earning and growth potential.

Life isn’t all about money, of course, but pursuing a career in a higher-paying field can create the experiences in life that lead to happiness.

There is a new saying that goes, “Travel is cheaper than therapy!” While it’s not meant literally, it hints at a universal truth: Being able to do what you love, whether that’s traveling or volunteering or creating or something else entirely, creates personal happiness. A big part of that boils down to having the right financial resources for the things you’re passionate about.

Contributing author Patrick Horton walking with suitcase.

Choose a career based on your military experience

A lot of people enter the military in search of self-discipline and a skill set. For those service members looking to transition into a civilian career, military experience can serve as a helpful starting point for determining where to go.

If you’re coming out of a military occupational specialty, such as cybersecurity analyst, satellite systems specialist or supply-chain clerk, you can consider leveraging those skills in your civilian job search. That military experience, when translated to the job skills a civilian employer understands, can help you find a position where you’re poised to grow. In addition to transitional services provided by the military, consider contacting a career advisor at your school or independently or a dedicated mentorship program such as American Corporate Partners for guidance.

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Choose a career after working in management

If you’re in a managerial position and looking to move up the corporate ladder to the executive ranks, you’ll need to assess your functional career path.

First, you need to determine which functional career path you are working in. Do you have experience in business operations, project management, customer service, engineering, finance, contracts or human resources?   

Next, you need to determine the functional career path you’d like to pursue at the executive level and whether you have the relevant experience. Consider again your area of expertise. Whether it’s engineering, finance, contracts, project management or a combination, you likely have skill sets as a manager that can translate into executive career opportunities.

Determine what experience you have, decide which executive path you want to pursue and, if it doesn’t already, ensure your management-level experience aligns with your executive potential and career timeline.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Portrait of Dr. Patrick C. Horton smiling.

Dr. Patrick C. Horton, MBA, DM/IST, is the vice president of program management for Tampa Microwave, an adjunct college professor and a veteran U.S. Army sergeant. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, his Master of Business Administration and his Doctor of Management with a specialization in Information Systems at University of Phoenix. He launched his business, Professional Career Transformations, in 2021 as a way to guide and encourage others to higher levels of professional success. He is a member of Vistage Executive Coaching Group and a recipient of the Purple Heart in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he lives in sunny Florida. Learn more about Dr. Horton and his commitment to helping others achieve their highest level of success by visiting his website.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the advice of University of Phoenix.

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