Most people spend eight hours at work five days a week. The correct choice of profession determines whether a person will go there gladly or crestfallen, live through a fulfilling day or count the minutes until they return home. In this article, we will clarify what career guidance is and how not to make mistakes when choosing your career path. Our advice is suitable both for those who are just starting to think about future employment and for those who want to change their professional path.

What is career guidance

Career guidance is the study of existing professions to choose one of them for the career. For many, this concept is associated with lessons in high school, where the teacher talks about different specialties. In reality, you can look for your true calling at any age and do it in much more interesting ways than by just taking tests at school.

Career guidance has several functions:

  • help you understand your interests, inclinations and needs;
  • give you enough information about the professions to make you consciously choose your career path;
  • reduce the likelihood of making mistakes when choosing your profession;
  • acquaint you with specialists who will share their experience and impressions of the profession.

Unfortunately, some do not pay the necessary attention to career guidance. They do not listen to themselves and blindly follow in the footsteps of their parents, or look for promising professions, but do not feel interested in them. Others remain where they had worked part-time during studies. With this approach, a person runs into the risk of wasting most of their life on work that only brings irritation and melancholy.

Who needs career guidance

Most often, the question of career guidance is relevant to high school seniors. Together with teachers and parents, they try to determine which direction will bring them both success and satisfaction. But in fact, career guidance is necessary for everyone, and depending on age, it will have different goals and methods.

Career guidance for preschoolers

For the first time, a person gets acquainted with the world of professions in kindergarten, where they learn to distinguish one job from another while playing. Already at this age, the first preferences are formed — everyone wants to become a firefighter, a teacher, a doctor, or a policeman. The child chooses toys based on early professional inclinations and imitates the specialist they want to become. Scientists have not yet figured out whether they affect the future life of children, but this practice definitely helps the child to prepare for primary school and get motivated to study.

Career guidance for school children

School career guidance begins in late secondary school. Ideally, representatives of the professions are invited to tell about their work, or the children themselves go on excursions in companies, where they are told about different jobs. But more often than not, meetings in this format are superficial — more than two specialists rarely come to school over the entire duration of a pupil’s study, and excursions are not interesting and informative enough for high school students. Usually career guidance is done by the school psychologist who talks about different professions and conducts tests.

Career guidance for students

Students learn about different jobs on Career Days at their university. Employers come there in search of new talents, talk about the company and various promising directions. Some universities have career centers, which we will talk about at the end of the article. In other cases, students undergo consulting during internships and there understand which direction is worth further pursuing academically.

Career guidance for adults

Career guidance helps adult professionals improve or even switch their qualifications. This is usually done at job counseling centers or job fairs. Many books have been written on this topic, but the most effective way is to talk in person with a career counseling specialist.

It often happens that at the university or already after employment, a person realizes that they had made a wrong choice. Career guidance is frequently based on theory, not practice, so it is natural to try something and then realize that it does not suit you. A study in 2019 showed that 2 in 5 Americans have at least thought about changing their career[1]. Such situations should not be feared — over the years, you get to know yourself and your needs better, and desire to change your life accordingly is normal. Moreover, educational platforms offer options to remotely master a new profession in less than two years, and then many of them help with finding a job.

At any age, the choice of the profession should not be taken lightly. If you hope to decide while studying at the university or after graduation, several years of unengaging studies may await you, and there will be no time or energy left to change direction.

Career guidance methods

Please note that no method will be effective on its own. To form an image that will be as close to reality as possible, try several methods of career guidance at once.

  • Tests and consultations. The traditional method of choosing a profession. In the next section, we have selected the most detailed and informative tests that you can take for free. This option helps you understand in which direction you should head, but you should not make decisions based on it alone. For any activity, it is not enough just to know the theory — you need at least a little practice. To complement the tests, watch an interview or documentary about the profession you want to master.
  • Gamification. Psychologists recommend the principle of “show, interest and hold attention.” It is easy to implement as a game. These appear not only in the form of computer simulators, but also make use of augmented and virtual reality technologies. Instead of reading about an archaeological expedition, you can become its member in a simulator. But with this approach, you have to be careful — you can fall into the trap of unrealistic expectations. If you use this method without consulting a specialist, it is likely that you will find an ordinary game that the developers made too fun in order to attract customers;
  • Career centers at the university. Career centers organize lectures by leading specialists from different industries. They often maintain social media accounts where they inform students about new vacancies and internships. Large companies like to cooperate with career centers — to organize their own fairs and conferences at the university, and in exchange to attract motivated students. Several dozen professional events are held annually with the help of career centers in universities;
  • Immersion in the profession. Many experts consider this method to be the most effective one. As part of the immersion, a pupil, student or adult works on a real project under the guidance of a specialist. This is much like an internship, only the requirements for the initial skills of the trainee are much less strict. Usually, this format is organized by career guidance centers.

How to choose a profession

This is an algorithm of actions that will help you find your calling. None of the steps should be neglected, even if it seems that the answer is obvious. Often, the superficially easy questions need the most time to be well understood.

Step 1. Self-analysis

At this stage, it is important to put down the answers in written form. Without it, your head will be a mess, and the later exercises will not be as useful as they could potentially be.

What are you good at?

What subjects at school or university did you do best in? Which of them did you enjoy attending and do your homework responsibly? Now ask yourself why this happened. You probably just liked the teacher, but if the subject itself was your thing, make a note.

Now choose the most interesting of the four — numbers, words, visuals, or physical work. Imagine that you are now in this area professionally. Who do you see yourself as? Can you benefit people or companies by doing what you love?

What skills do you already have?

Think of at least five soft and hard skills[2] you already have. What do you do better — communication, self-organization, teamwork or problem-solving? Perhaps you already know a programming language, type super fast, can draw, or support people well.

In a career, one way or another, all the skills will come in handy, but some skills will be needed to a greater extent. If you can't remember anything, ask people you talk to often. Sometimes it is difficult for us to assess ourselves on our own, but those who are close to us can help a lot.

What gives you opportunities and what slows you down?

SWOT Analysis is often done to answer this question. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is what it looks like. You divide a sheet of paper into four parts: in the first, you write everything that you can do quickly and efficiently. The second is your weaknesses. The third is how you can use strengths to your advantage. In the fourth, you list all the things that can complicate the achievement of your goals. For example, in the "opportunities" section you wrote that with your ability to work hard, it is not difficult for you to master a course even in an alien field — programming. And in “potential threats” you state the loss of interest and unexpected family circumstances that can interfere with studies. Analyze the likelihood of these events occurring and evaluate their importance. If everything works out, how will your life change? And what if your fears come true? A SWOT analysis will help you weigh the pros and cons before you start learning. The main rule is to be honest with yourself.

What would you like to do if you had all the money in the world?

Most likely, you have already heard about this question. Henry Ford also noticed that the best job is a high-paying hobby.

You should not chase prestigious specialties if the only thing that interests you in them is money. You will get four years of studies at an unloved university, and then (if you are lucky enough to get a job in a good company) you will come to work with a heavy heart. And remember that in any industry, people who truly love their profession will compete with you. It will be difficult to outperform such specialists.

Check the demand in the labor market, but do it consciously. The profession that is relevant now may disappear in ten years. Therefore, it is important to understand your inclinations and how you can use them. For example, you love to draw, but you’re afraid of not finding a job. In this case, you can learn to be a web designer.

Step 2. Career guidance tests

The easiest way to help you navigate in the infinite number of directions is through career guidance tests. There are many of them on the Internet, but not all of them are detailed enough and of high quality. We've researched this issue and invite you to check out the top three platforms.

Career Explorer — test by Sokanu Inc.

Career Explorer is one of the best-known career guidance tests in the world. It is run by a company specifically aimed at providing such services. It suggests an appropriate profession from a pool of more than 1000, which is constantly being updated and expanded. The test itself consists of a neural network-assisted quiz that asks you questions, slowly narrowing down their focus depending on the answers. It takes about 30 minutes, after which you are shown all the appropriate occupations, along with your psychological portrait.

The test is paid but has a free version that only shows a couple of dozen jobs that suit you. Still, the questionnaire is very advanced and comprehensive, so what it offers is likely to suit you. An extra benefit is that you might discover jobs that you haven’t even heard of before.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Not exactly a separate test, but rather a system used at least as the foundation for most of them. It categorizes people into 16 distinct types along 4 axes — World, Information, Decision, and Structure. It suggests that there are general ways in which each person can interact with the world. Depending on your preferred mode of action in these 4 aspects of human activities, you can be associated with a certain type of personality. Each of those implies a typical modus operandi and therefore is best suited for particular occupations.

You are supposed to discover your position on the axes by undergoing a long assessment by a qualified specialist. However, if you are good with self-reflection, you might as well just assume what is true about you according to your judgment, and thus approximate your personality. Then just look up the jobs that suit your type best.

Career attitude tests

The final option we suggest is this series of tests. The site contains surveys on career, logical thinking, personality tests and even measuring IQ levels. All the tests are relatively brief and together can give you a better-encompassing picture of your personality than just taking one of them separately.

For those who have already decided on the field of work
Here we have collected highly specialized tests for those who already know what industry they want to work in.
  • If you want to work in IT. The website Doolwind makes tests, describes the skills necessary for a professional in these fields, and lists the specificities of different lines of programmers’ work.
  • If you want to become a doctor. The test consists of 82 questions. It will help you choose one of 38 medical areas — from the anesthesiologist to the psychiatrist.
  • If you want a profession in business and management. The test from Herzing University, which allows you to decide between project management, accounting, business management, marketing, and HR.
  • If you want to get a secondary vocational education. If you know you want to get a major in college or technical school, then this survey is for you. 42 questions and a detailed explanation of the result await you.

Step 3. Make a list of interesting professions

After self-reflection and testing, write down at least 15 professions that attract you. Now you can delve deeper into each and compare them with each other. But don’t exhale with relief just yet — there is still important work ahead. The next steps will help you cross out some of the specialties, and after a while, there will be no more than five of them on your list.

Step 4. Study as much information about the profession as possible

When you roughly understand in what area you want to develop, it is time to study the topic in-depth. Never draw conclusions about the profession from one film, TV series, or book. You may have chosen the specialty precisely because of its romanticized representation in popular culture. Remember, reality can be very different.

In order not to be mistaken, watch reports, read books and notes from representatives of this specialty. You can also use YouTube — videos of people from different professions answering questions are gaining popularity there these days. On this channel, you can watch how professionals talk about their work in a funny and easy manner, destroy myths and even give advice to those who want to try themselves in the same field.

Important! The more different sources you study, the less likely you are to make a mistake when choosing a specialty. It is important to turn to both serious research and more informal sources — podcasts, videos, and articles.

Step 5. Identify Your Basic Needs

Not everyone wants to be a top manager in a large company. Someone dreams of becoming an expert in their field and helping people. For others, it is important to constantly develop and discover something new in their favorite industry. And some get tired of doing the same thing for a long time, and every few years they want to radically change their career.

Do not assume that only those who are strictly oriented towards career and recognition become financially secure. After reading our article on the highest paid professions, you will be likely convinced of the opposite. So feel free to admit your career needs to yourself. Realizing the true state of affairs will help you choose an activity you like.

There are four types of career needs:

  • Power. For these employees, the most important thing in their work is status, competition, and career advancement. They are motivated to be at the top of the hierarchy, and other features of the profession do not ignite them as much. Therefore, if the company does not have a noticeable difference between positions and clear criteria for success, then these employees quickly lose interest in the business. Usually, they become good managers, are not afraid to take responsibility for themselves, and are even ready to sometimes sacrifice their personal life and leisure for the sake of success;
  • Expertise. Such people seek recognition in their work. They sincerely love their profession and want to understand it to the smallest detail. Experts are ready for long-term training: master's or doctoral degree programs, advanced training courses, and additional literature. Managerial positions turn them off because such work interferes with doing what they love;
  • Self-realization. The movement along the horizontal ladder is a distinctive feature of those who wish to fully realize themselves in their careers. These workers master the main profession, and then try themselves in related industries, without changing the main specialty. They often work in project teams, different departments of the same company, and participate in internal development programs. The most important thing for them is to communicate with different people and try unusual tasks. At the same time, those who choose self-realization often end up in managerial positions;
  • Diversity. Trying your hand at everything and getting a variety of impressions is the main thing that people of this kind expect from work. Such employees easily master new directions, but after two or three years they begin to get bored and eventually change their profession. They do not like to stay in one place of work, so they are unlikely to want to move up the career ladder in one company. Those who value diversity should try their hand at startups and project management.

Step 6. Assess your possibilities

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to change or get a profession for free. This can hit the budget especially hard if you are choosing a specialty for which you need to study for several years. Calculate your income and expenses and estimate the approximate amount that you are willing to spend on education. Do not forget that you will have to spend part of the day studying — it will be difficult to combine it with serious work.

But do not rush to give up the profession of your dreams. There are several ways to get an education, even if you think you are not ready to pay for it.

  • Government programs and scholarships. In many countries, vocational and higher education can be obtained for free. But even if there is no such option, there is still a chance to win a scholarship that covers a part of or all of the tuition costs;
  • Online platforms. Distance learning platforms like Coursera or edX offer courses in some areas for free. To receive an official certificate, which can be attached to a resume, it is enough to pay no more than 35 USD. You can read more about this in our article;
  • Distance learning. Online higher education is a convenient way to combine work and study. Distance learning costs on average half as much as traditional programs, so if you wish, you can get it at a foreign university.

It is worth remembering that if you decide to study abroad, you will have to master at least one foreign language and take many standardized international exams, prepare documents and a portfolio. Take practice tests in advance (they can be easily found in the public domain) and assess your level of preparation. Ideally, you can fully prepare for admission in one and a half or two years.

Important! It's worth calculating your budget and checking your academic ability even if you're applying to a local university or college. This will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and make the admission less stressful.

Step 7. Study the forecasts of labor market experts

Most likely, by this stage, you are deciding between three to five directions. Research from reputable organizations such as the World Economic Forum will help you greatly. Every few years, they release forecasts of what skills and professions will be in demand in the coming years. Often experts are wrong, but we advise you to at least check the current situation on the market — where jobs are on the decline, and where the demand for labor begins to exceed supply. We analyze the topic in more detail in this article.

Mistakes when choosing a profession

Understanding yourself superficially

Some people are sure that they know themselves well enough, and therefore can immediately choose a profession of their dreams. But more often than not, this turns out to be a delusion.

It is impossible to make an informed decision quickly — it will take several days or even weeks of deep reflection. At a certain period of time, you can be influenced by "supeficial" factors — emotional events in your life, an unexpected passion arising from a movie about a specific profession, or even the desire to get a certain specialty to annoy someone. Such things lead to making impulsive decisions that we later regret. That is why you need to analyze yourself for a long time, consistently and calmly.

Prepare for quality self-analysis to be more difficult than you thought. But your efforts and the time spent will pay off — most likely you are not just looking for a good job, but for your life’s mission.

Being afraid of popular professions

This may sound unexpected because many sources recommend just avoiding choices based only on prestige. And this, by the way, is also worth considering!

Blind trend-following or irrational fear of competition make an informed decision equally difficult. Imagine that the profession turns from prestigious and highly-paid to just average. If you still genuinely want to do it, then don't be afraid that the market will be oversaturated. Employers do not need specialists who meet only the minimum bar of requirements and do not understand their field of work deeply. But in case you like the direction, study hard, do an internship, improve your qualifications. Then you will find a job to your liking.

Focusing on singular images

If you are inspired by the success story of a representative of the profession and now you are eager to master it, do not rush. Chances are, in your first Google search, you'll find well-packaged misinformation. These are stories from major media outlets that choose the most interesting cases to attract the viewer. Most often they are truthful, but in real life, they are rarely repeated.

If you choose a profession just to become like your idol (or succumb to the impression of a couple of stories), there is a high probability of making a mistake. A superficial approach to career guidance will only hurt — it is worth digging deeper. Read about both positive and negative experiences. This is the only way you will get a picture close to reality.

Replacing the choice of profession with the choice of an educational institution

A healthy approach to career guidance is to first choose a specialty and only then select an educational institution for it. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Sometimes applicants choose a city or a prestigious university, and only then select options for specialties. But more often than not, people overly value prestigious higher education. A person will not be happy even in the most famous university if the occupation does not inspire them. As a result, a bored lawyer earns less than an electrician who was not mistaken in choosing a profession.

Remember that moving to your dream destination is not that difficult if you have a good education and motivation. But it is much more difficult after several years of studies to understand that work is not only unpleasant but also interferes with enjoying life. And don't forget that a college degree alone does not bring happiness or money — a lot depends on whether you really enjoy your job.

Blindly following friends

It often happens that people with similar interests work in the same company. But this does not mean that the same profession will bring you the same pleasure. Studying in different universities (or even cities) is not scary. What is scary is to understand after decades of work that you would have been much happier if you had made a more conscious choice.

Most often, blindly following the crowd is a sign of infantilism and fear of taking responsibility for your destiny. If you want to find what you love to do, then you will have to make important decisions anyway. No one knows you better than yourself, and there is hardly a person who fully shares your interests and goals.

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Bonus: Career Advisors

Don't confuse a career advisor (or consultant) with a regular HR manager. An advisor is a specialty for which one learns separately. They solve more serious problems than just finding a job and writing a resume.

Most often, people turn to career consultants when they are looking for a job in a new city or decide to change employment after a very long stay in the same company. But such specialists solve other problems as well — they give advice on career growth, career guidance, and job search in difficult conditions. Usually, the service costs from 20 USD to 101 USD, depending on the request.

If you are still in school, a career counselor will help resolve the issue of career guidance and advise the university. Students are advised on how to find their first job or internship. Adults — how to change their profession, position, and place of work.

A career counselor does not guarantee employment. But they will facilitate periods of professional growth, adaptation, and finding oneself.
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