A Simple Guide to Finding “What career is right for me?”

“What Career is RIGHT for Me?”

For so many times, in my Career Coaching sessions, I get asked this question: “What career is right for me?” It’s probably because everyone asks this question at some point of time in one’s life.

What exactly is this question about?

To try to know something, we first have to be clear about what exactly we are trying to know.

A few things are actually not clear here in this question: “What Career is RIGHT for Me?”

  1. What does “Career” mean to us? It’s a simple word but if we ask one thousand people, we’ll probably expect one thousand answers.
  2. And what do we mean by “Right”? For some people it’s about tapping on their strengths, and for some people it’s about developing their weakness.
  3. And what about “Me” here, we obviously need to know who you are a bit more before we try to find a match.

Now, let’s explore these three elements one by one, to uncover what right career means for you.

Element Discovery 1. What does “Career” mean?

There is no right answer, but we must know what “Career” means for you before we can learn what career is right for you. It’s a broad question, so we should look into dictionaries for some inspiration. I googled.

The problem is, even dictionaries cannot agree with each other:

YourDictionary.com says,

The definition of career is what you do for a living and how you advance through a profession or company.

Hm, it seems that by definition, career should give me some financial returns, and it should be growing / advancing over time.

And then when I look at dictionary.com, it’s talking about something else:

An occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework.

A person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking.

Success in a profession, occupation, etc.

This definition is definitely super broad, and the three pieces don’t necessarily connect to each other. e.g. Is it as lifework or just through a phase of life? How about the Success piece? What about the work without success?

Nonetheless, it brings a few new topics up compared to the previous definition:

  • “Special training”: skills required for work
  • “Occupation or profession”: what do these mean? I again searched in dictionary and here’re my findings: It’s basically things that people do, that take up their time, and they get paid for.
  • “General course of action”: so career seems to be a chain of occupations / professions
  • “A series of Occupations”: This says that career is not about one job, but about occupations. and it’s not about one occupation but could be a series of occupations.

Then I saw Cambridge dictionary:

The job or series of jobs that you do during your working life, especially if you continue to get better jobs and earn more money:

I quite like this definition as it covers most of the things we talked about, but something is missing here. Is Career just equivalent to a series of jobs that we do, get money, and more money?

merriam-webster seems to be saying it a bit better:

Career is a profession, calling

Merriam-Webster Definition on What does career mean?

A profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling

A field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life

The words “calling” and “life” caught my eye.

It’s exciting, there is a life in public, professional, business domains. Indeed, in most of our cravings for an ideal job, what we actually want is to feel alive when doing our jobs.

To top up this excellent uplifting version of career, I wanted to see if Indeed.com offers a more pragmatic view. It does:

“A career is a long-term professional journey you may determine based on your passions. It is the path you embark upon to fulfill your professional goals and ambitions. You may require a certain level of education or training to achieve these goals. Individuals pursuing careers often have set salaries with benefits such as stock options, retirement plans, pensions and bonuses. They also gain benefits beyond money, such as personal pride, work satisfaction and self-worth.”

“A career might last for your entire life. You could hold numerous jobs under many employers in your chosen industry that you progress through during your career.”

In essence, career is a series of positions that you made sense of. That series of positions together create a unique story of yours.

Coming back to the mission we started out with, we wanted to know what career means for you. After the research checking all these dictionaries, I have come up a definition covering all the important aspects:

Career is

A Series of professions / positions that you do over time and may require special training. Its key elements include:

  • “Financial return”
  • “Advancement Opportunity”
  • “Permanent Calling / Overarching theme”
  • “Achievement / Mastery”
  • “Feel alive in work life”

Element Discovery 2. What do we mean by “Right” for “ME”?

Now let’s start our second mission, to define what we mean by “Right”. Here we are talking about a career uniquely right for you, so you need to use your lenses to examine: what does the right career mean for me?

To uncover the uniquely right career for you, here are the important steps you should take:

Step 1. Expand the meanings

On the key elements in our new definition: “Financial return”, “Advancement Opportunity”, “Permanent Calling / Overarching theme”, “Achievement / Mastery”, “Feel alive in work life”, have a thought on what each of them means to you.

Step 2. Complete the list

If you find anything important to you that cannot fit into the list, add them in. e.g.

For some people, it’s very important to have a life outside of work, then a school teacher who works 70 hours a week may not be that ideal profession. And for someone else who really likes to go solo, a job in a big corporate company might be real torture.

Add in what’s uniquely important to you and complete the list.

Step 3. Rank by importance

Then rank them. It’s a tough exercise to rank because we want it all!

It’s true that a good career probably offers everything, good money, good prospect, you get to build an overarching theme around it, if not a permanent calling, you manage to master something and you feel alive in your work life.

But we don’t start off with a career that offers us everything, and most of the time we don’t end up with everything either.

Here’s the truth:

We want it all, but we probably can’t have it all.

So, This is why people do benefit from this exercise: even if we want something, there’s always something we want a bit more.

Step 4. Define minimum threshold

For the things, we put at the end of the list but feel painful, write down what’s the least we can accept.

For example, many feel that Financial rewards (money) are at the bottom of the list, but find it hard to just deprioritize it. In such a case, it’s necessary to define a minimum threshold that you want to achieve in a healthy and balanced life.

Real Life Examples on How to apply these steps

I’m providing two live examples below showing you how you can use the framework to uncover the right career for you.

Example 1:

For example, John works in a top consulting firm but is thinking about finding a role in the commerce industry. Going through the exercise, below is where John has arrived at:

His key learnings here are: feeling alive in work-life matters the most, and he also expanded on what will make him feel so: challenging, diverse environment, works with different cultures.

“Feel alive in work life”: I spend more than 8 hours working per day, and outside of that, work still occupies my mind a few more hours each day. It’s important to me that I find what I do meaningful, valuable, and enjoyable – and these are what makes me feel alive. I think the kind of work I enjoy are like: intellectually challenging, stimulates my brain, I can work with people from different cultures, and ideally, travel when we finally can!

“Advancement Opportunity”: I am convinced we need to stay ahead of changes in the industry, to keep competitive. I need jobs that give me skills in high demand in the market which means more opportunities in the future

“Financial return”: Hm… I do think it’s important but then if it is that important, I would stay in consulting. But I wouldn’t, because I did not enjoy it. It’s ok to rank it at 3 because financial success should follow if things are done right.

“Permanent Calling / Overarching theme”: nah, I don’t believe in a permanent calling. It’s possible to have an overarching theme but that’s like a hindsight, you’ll find it when you look back.

“Achievement / Mastery”: this is also an afterthought. If I do something right, achievement and mastery will follow.

Example 2:

Sue, a project manager who craves to specialise in something. But she’s also aware that she will take a hit financially – also investing time in getting new skills, and the fields she likes may not pay so well initially as what she currently earns.

The biggest learning through doing this exercise, Sue realized that the financial worries are more emotional fear than a rational consideration, and she learned to come to terms with it.

“Achievement / Mastery” & “Permanent Calling / Overarching theme”:

I believe being a specialist will give me purpose and meaning for life, not only work. So, mastery and calls are the absolute #1 for me, there’s no doubt.

“Advancement Opportunity”: It’s important because I will be, kind of taking a bigger bet and have less flexibilities in career.

“Feel alive in work life” sure, I want to be just doing the work I love!

“Financial return”: It’s painful to put it at the least, but it is what it is. Actually, at this point of the ranking exercise, I realized the fear of financial hit is more emotional than rational. Thinking about the threshold, the average salary in the target industry is sufficient for me.

Wrap Up “What career is right for me?”

In summary, for the question “What career is right for me?” career is a Series of professions / positions that you do over time and may require special training. Its important elements include:

  • “Financial return”
  • “Advancement Opportunity”
  • “Permanent Calling / Overarching theme”
  • “Achievement / Mastery”
  • “Feel alive in work life”

And, the steps to go on and discover the uniquely right career for you are:

1. Expand

2. Complete

3. Rank

4. Define threshold

These are only the first steps, but very important steps to start with.

Also, see Yolanda Yu’s articles on How to take stock of your career capital.

A Simple Career Coaching to Finding the Best Career For You

Guide for introverts: How to be more confident at interviews

Watch more of my Youtube videos on how to find a fulfilling career.

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portrait_Yolanda Yu_YL_r

Yolanda Yu

  • 𝗣𝗖𝗖 ICF Certified Executive Coach
  • 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗸𝗣𝗿𝗲𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲ᵀᴹ Career Coach
  • Ex-Visa Ex-Alibaba business leader
  • 🐧Penguin Author
  • Ex-Headhunter