Defining Your Career Goals Part 1

Defining Your Career Goals Part 1

Marlborough, MA, May 15, 2008

Part I: Know Thyself - Know Thy Future

What makes you happy? Knowing that you're on the right path heading towards success? Getting lost in creating a story or design? Building something from the ground up? Knowing that you're making a difference? Performing on stage? Being left alone to program all day long? Leading a business to fortune and fame? Or, perhaps, just a nice chunk of money in the bank is enough for you.

To set the right trajectory for your professional future, you need to know where you are before you can target where you're headed. And an easy way to start plotting your current position is to evaluate what makes you happy.

Happiness is Getting Lost

Think for a moment about the one activity that most captivates you. Is there something that you love to do so much it causes you to forget the world around you? You sit down at the computer or pick up a racquet or enter a room of people and the next thing you know it's three hours later and you've forgotten to eat? What so completely captures your focus that the "real you" takes over and leaves all the superficial wants and needs behind?

If you immediately thought of something and are sitting there with a far-off look in your eyes and a big smile on your face, then you've accomplished the first big step in choosing the right career. You've found your passion! For you, the next step is to figure out how to make good money doing what you love. Proceed to Part II of this series.

If, however, you're one of many who can't think of anything truly appealing to them, OR you came up with a long list of things you could do for the rest of your life and be happy, you might want to follow the steps below to help figure out your best choices for a career.

Testing the Waters

Following these next steps will help you make the most of what's out there in the field of self-discovery.

Step One: Taking Stock

Just like when you're getting ready to cook something for dinner, it's important to start by taking stock of what you have to work with.

    • Dig Around for Ingredients You Already Have

      What do you know already about your interests, abilities and aptitudes? What are you good at? What do your friends, family, teachers, boss or fellow employees think you're good at? Does your family have a traditional occupation that you're not sure you're interested in or would succeed in? What awards could you win? If you could make money doing ANYTHING for a living, what would it be? Or, perhaps you don't care what you do, as long as it pays well and you can succeed at it. In that case, click here to read about the "Top 50 Best Jobs" in Part II of this series.

    • Rely on Proven Recipes

      Results from assessment tests such as personality tests, intelligence tests, aptitude tests or career tests that you may have taken can be useful in narrowing down your choices. Whether you took them at school, work, at a conference, as part of counseling or just because you were curious, consider what these tests have to say about your current situation.

      For students in high school or recently graduated, taking a closer look at your test results from standardized tests you may have taken, such as the high school PSAT, can lend insight into your areas of aptitude. Taking the test is not just about proving how much you've learned so you can get into a good college - it measures your strengths in particular areas, and provides an excellent inventory of what you currently know that applies to college programs or mainstream careers. The College Board, founders of the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT, offers a free interactive program on its website called My College QuickStart, a personalized college and career planning kit based on your PSAT/NMSQT test results.

      To better understand your results, consider that in 2006, the average score for eleventh graders was about 48 in Critical Reading, 49 in Mathematics, and 46 in Writing Skills. The average score for tenth graders was about 43 in Critical Reading, 44 in Mathematics, and 41 in Writing Skills. As you compare your scores to these national scores, you are likely to discover areas where you know you excel, and areas that will take some study and focus to develop fully. Be sure to also consider the percentiles show on your results report, which allow you to compare your scores with other students in your grade level who have taken the PSAT/NMSQT. An easy way to understand percentiles (suggested by the College Board on its website) is to imagine 100 students lined up from the lowest (or 1st) percentile at the end of the line to the highest (or 99th) percentile at the front of the line. If you are at the 55th percentile, you would be the 56th person in line, ahead of 55 people in the line and behind 44.

    • Expand Your Menu

Make a list of all possible occupations that you can think of that might apply to your unique situation. Then check your list against a much longer list. There are a lot of professions out there that most of us haven't heard of, and one or more of them might strike you as having promise. ( is one source for a lengthy List of Occupations to help you come up with ideas.)

Step Two: Research Your Self

Researching topics is a primary daily activity in secondary education, so if you rolled your eyes when you read the title of Step Two, you might want to take some time to seriously consider if college is right for you. However, if you've read this far in this article and want more, it shows that you're curious and willing, which are two of any researcher's best assets.

Conducting research on your self may seem strange, but it is a proven method for making better career choices. Here are a couple different ways to research your strengths, weaknesses, interests and natural abilities:

  • Do-It-Yourself Assessments: Free tests on the Web can be beneficial if they use proper research techniques and provide an interpretation of your results that you find useful. However, the guidance they provide should be grouped and reviewed with other kinds of research. In other words, don't take their word for it. offers an Online Career Assessment Tools Review, which is helpful in comparing tests, and the US Department of Labor offers a Career Compass on its website that will match your interests to the kinds of jobs employers are trying to fill the most.

  • Professional Assessments: Most universities and colleges have a "testing center" where anyone can request to be evaluated using the best career assessment tools. Although they're called "tests", there's no right or wrong answer because they're all about you, so they can be fun to take.

    Some of the top-rated personality tests are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicatorά the Strong Interest Inventoryά and the ANSIRή You will probably have to pay for these tests, but they will be worth the investment. To find a testing center near you, visit the Consortium of College Testing Centers website provided by the National College Testing Association. Also, many high schools offer them to their students at no or low cost - just ask your guidance counselor for more information on what your school has available.

  • Literary Guidance: Books such as "What Color Is Your Parachute? 2008: A Practical Manual for Job-hunters and Career-Changers" by Richard Nelson Bolles, and "I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It" by Barbara Sher are excellent resources for in-depth personal research.

Step Three: Review & Strategize

Write a 1-2 page summary of what you've learned about yourself, your interests and your abilities from your inventory and research. As you write, include any easy conclusions, any patterns that caught your attention, and what your instincts tell you. Keep in mind that test results are only as good as the interpretation - and the best interpreter of your results is you.

Based on the summary you've written, choose three of your newly-identified assets that stand out as having career-making potential. And for each of these, write down three clear steps you can take to learn more about specific careers that value these skills and interests. For example, if your summary included the following three assets:

  • I am good at and enjoy working with people
  • I feel good about my work when I know I am making a difference in the world
  • The career tests I took say that healthcare would be a career path to consider

Then your steps might be:

  1. Call mom's friend Janice to learn more about what it's like to be a nurse. Maybe she'll let me shadow her at work one day.
  2. Read books and watch documentaries about doctors and nurses to see what their work is like.
  3. Check out alternative and integrated medicine as well as traditional medicine.

- Career Planning Begins with Assessment, NCWD/Youth and NCSET, 2005

Once you have a good sense of what interests you, read Part II of this series, "Crafting a Career" to see how to make your interests work for you.

Scholastic Smorgasbord

It's important that you know you're not alone. There is a whole industry developed around helping people like you find a career that will carry your interest AND for which you have natural ability or skill.

In fact, secondary education is a lot like one giant career fair. It's an organized buffet of fields of study, industries and technologies. The requirements for majors and minors you choose to pursue in college are designed to expose you to a broad range of topics that society holds in great value, as well as guide you on a path to make sure you get essential knowledge and skills to succeed in your future career. And, majors are designed to be flexible - easy to change as you narrow down what interests you.

So it's not necessary to make up your mind about what you want to do before you go to school. However, the more you know about yourself going in, the sooner you'll graduate and start making money, and the more you'll get out of the courses that you take.