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  • Dr Gary Townsend

How should I choose a career? It's your decision to make.

Updated: May 24, 2021

If you’re like everyone else, you more than likely have been prodded and poked into various career directions as early as kindergarten. Everyone has an opinion. And, everyone means well. Your parents, teachers, family, and friends.

However, and as you’ve probably come to realise over time, it’s really your decision to make – no one else’s.

That being said, figuring out what to do can still be a daunting task. Especially given the ever-present barrage of information that’s being pushed in your direction.

Least of all, from the usual suspects, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Slack, LinkedIn, among others, with their ever-consoling commitment to “…help you land your dream job — so long as you know how to leverage your contacts and extended networks on them”.

So, despite the overwhelming volume of information out there, I’m sure nothing feels like a “perfect” fit for you. Everything may seem weirdly uninteresting now that you’re finally thinking about it. Even approaching a career counsellor somehow feels like it will not get you any closer to the answers you need.

You may have a passion for protecting the environment and thinking about creative ways of doing things but, due to no reason of your own, you just could never make sense of chemistry, maths, and the life sciences. What does that mean for you? Do you now write off what feels like the most natural career path because you’re no Einstein?

It has to start with you

The truth is that no-one “out there” gets you the way you get you. So, that makes you a great place to start. Making any career choice is so much more than one or two data points. You’re complex, which means your decisions may have to be based on a few more facts than simply gut-feel.

For example, you may know that working with Nature makes you feel fulfilled and happy but, do you know how you’ll feel confined to a laboratory screening and logging DNA profiles from animal and plant samples 24/7? It’s this level of distinction that we need to consider before making important career choices. It’s not rocket science, but it is science nonetheless.

This is where a good interest inventory, coupled with a validated personality assessment, will set you on the proper course (pun intended). An opportunity to figure out objectively, what type of work makes you smile when you think about it, and why you smile when you think about it. In essence, what interests you and why you as an individual find specific things interesting.

So how does knowing this help you find that illusive career. Well, it doesn’t. What it does though, is help you make the most educated guess as to what to focus on. That step beyond simply knowing what’s instinctively right for you.

Know what you don't know

Knowing where your interests and personality preferences fit into your decisions will help you set the groundwork to shift gears to the more difficult discussion. Difficult because it focusses your attention on the things that could complicate your success. The process of understanding your natural ability, also called aptitude, in a way that helps you figure out whether you’re academically equipped to study and succeed at the career of your choice.

For example, it is one thing showing a clear interest in being a brain surgeon and having a Personality profile with high levels of Constancy (the behaviours that most successful surgeons display i.e., being naturally calm, even-tempered, and resilient) while not having the aptitude for maths, physics, and biology. This has to be factored into your decision-making process as well. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Not doing so will set you up for failure or, at the very least, make your studies a living nightmare.

However, this in no way precludes you from following, for example, your natural interest in the Health Sciences. Rather, it enables a more informed decision-making approach. One that factors in your personal preferences as well as ability to be successful and happy in whatever alternative Health Science field you may choose to pursue.

As mentioned earlier, any good strategy will always factor in what interests you, what makes you happy and fulfilled, and most importantly, what you naturally can achieve.

Now let’s consider the last piece of this puzzle.

Know where others have been

As you’re aware, there are folks that have similar interests, personality profiles, and aptitude as you do. People that have already made the journey you’re thinking of. Taking the time to consider their journeys will help you understand what yours may look like. The odds that your experience will be the same as people that are “wired” like you, are statistically very high.

There are many theories that explain how similar personality profiles suit specific job roles. One of the more popular theories is Holland's Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) that suggests that when choosing a career, people prefer jobs where they can be around others who are like them. Holland's theory further suggests that the choice of a career or a university major is an expression of personality and that most people can be classified as one of six primary personality groupings (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional). For example, there are the Realistic ‘Doers’; the carpenters, electricians and engineers, and the Investigative ‘Thinkers’ who are the biologists, mathematicians and computer programmers of the world.

So, keep this in mind as you bring these four elements together to make what most likely will be one of your biggest decisions in the “real world”. Remember, the more factual data-points you include when making your career choice, the less margin you leave for mistakes and unhappiness.

Yes, we can always regroup and reset our reality if we end up making a mistake but, my bet is that it will always come with unnecessary cost and related emotional pain. In other words, you need to stack the odds in your favour from the onset by using accurate career and personal information.

It has to end with you

While this will always be a daunting manual exercise, you’ll be glad to know, there are a handful of integrated career assessment solutions that intelligently help you assess your interests, personality, and aptitude as well as, through state-of-the-art algorithms, match your unique profile to hundreds of relevant careers. And then, almost like magic, suggest to you the highest matching career options relative to your measured profile. Now that’s one way of taking all of the hard work out of finding the best career path for you.

So, whether through some hard, thoughtful consideration and research of these four elements, or through these modern, integrated career profiling systems – trust your judgement. But, always through the lens of research, fact, and reality.

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