When people ask about your long-term career goals, do you think, “I don’t even know what job I want”? You’re not alone. Trying to plan your career — with so many industries, companies, and titles to choose from — can be overwhelming, stressful, and challenging. We’ve all been there. That’s why we’re here to help you learn what job is right for you.
Uncover Your Interests
When you keep telling yourself, “I don’t know what job I want,” you might feel like you have to rush and find a career match. Instead, take a step back and start by considering what interests you. It doesn’t have to be what you think is typically “professional” — things like travel, TV, and reading count! Dreaming big and not limiting yourself is essential. Ask yourself:
- When I have free time, what do I like to do?
- What extracurricular activities am I drawn to?
- What classes do I like taking?
- What topics excite me?
- What do I find myself talking or thinking a lot about?
- How do I like to do things? Do I like creating? Fixing? Managing? Giving advice?
- What does my ideal life look like? What do I want to be doing in 20 years?
“You may never know what you ‘want,’ (who truly does?), but you definitely know what you like and the things that interest you,” Korn Ferry career coach Ryan Frechette says. “Look at how you spend your time. Consider what’s already under your nose. Look at what you spend most of your time thinking about/talking about/learning about. Chances are there will be a few main topics that rise to the top that get you really excited and energized to have conversations about. All of those personal interest areas have companies making products and services in that domain.”
For example, I’ve always had an interest in writing. When I was a kid, I would write and illustrate my own stories, keep journals, and read constantly. As I grew up, English was consistently my favorite subject, and it’s what I chose to major in in college.
When it came time to find a job, I knew that I wanted to pursue something with writing. Yet there were a only few jobs I knew about that had directly to do with writing — an author or a journalist, for example. Once I started researching based on my writing interest, tons of career paths popped up. I could work in marketing, and use my writing skills to write copy that entices users to use a product, or work in communications, managing a company’s voice and internal and external branding. My first real job didn’t involve “writer” in the title, but I was on a community marketing team where writing was a large part of my job. I wrote advice in community forums, drafted strategic email copy, and shared a monthly newsletter.
You don’t have to conform your interests to find a job you like. Instead, start your search from your interests — you just might find a job you didn’t even know existed that fits the bill.
Find your career fit
Discover the right career path for you with free Forage job simulations.
Consider How You Like to Work
Once you’ve thought about things that interest you, it’s time to put together the next part of the working puzzle: how you like to work. This isn’t just whether you want to work remotely or in-person (although that’s very important!), but also whether you’re more of an independent worker, love collaborating, or maybe like interacting with people you don’t know.
“A different environment might make a bad career choice tolerable, but not satisfying. Likewise a great career choice in the wrong organization could be a disaster,” Ira Wolfe, president and future of work global thought leader at Poised for the Future Company, warns.
But how do you know what kind of work environment you like without professional experience? Consider environments you have worked in, whether for a school project, extracurricular, or volunteer opportunity. Did you enjoy working in a team? If so, what role did you play on the team, or did you admire a function someone else did? Did you like working remotely? Do you like being in a large class or a tight-knit group?
Know Your Work Values
If you’re telling yourself, “I don’t know what job I want,” consider why you want a job in the first place. Maybe you care about social issues or politics and want to make a difference. You may want to serve your community. Maybe you don’t want to work for a higher purpose and instead hope to focus on getting a well-paying job. Perhaps you want to work for a company with a diverse workforce. Maybe you care about learning new skills or having a job that gives you a great work-life balance.
Your work values can help you prioritize what kinds of roles to look for and settle on your non-negotiables: things you absolutely need from a job and will not accept a position if it doesn’t have them.
Understand Your Strengths
It’s easier to find, land, and like a job you’re good at — which is why you might want to figure out your strengths before job searching. Consider three main types of skills:
- Hard skills: What are your quantifiable skills? What are technical skills, programs, and tools you know? You don’t need to be interested in technology to have hard skills. Skills like negotiating, graphic design, copywriting, Microsoft Excel, and foreign languages count, too.
- Soft skills: What are your skills for how you work with others and prioritize your own work? Do you collaborate well? Are you a great logical thinker? Do you have top-notch time management skills?
- Transferable skills: These are both hard and soft skills that you can take from one job to another. For example, just because you worked at an ice cream shop doesn’t mean you don’t have the right skills for sales roles — in fact, your customer service experience might be a highly valuable transferable skill.
Unsure how your strengths match up to real-life roles? Here’s a guide to some common strengths and corresponding job simulations to explore:
|Design, critical thinking||Accenture UX Design|
|Programming skills||Accenture North America Coding: Development & Advanced Engineering|
|Creative thinking, brainstorming||BCG Introduction to Strategy Consulting|
|Data analysis, critical thinking, Microsoft Excel||Lululemon Merchandising|
|Research, presentation skills, public speaking||Cisco IT Sales|
|Problem-solving skills||Bloomberg Client Engagement|
|Writing, attention to detail||Introduction to Commercial Law|
|Active listening, customer service||Customer Relationship Advocate|
|Research, critical thinking, interviewing||PwC Cyber Security Consulting|
|Written communication, leadership, project management||McKesson Leadership in Global Healthcare|
Take a Career Test (With a Grain of Salt)
Career tests seem like an easy answer for finding job options when you don’t know what job you want. While they can help you understand your work personality and strengths and weaknesses, career experts are divided on whether you should rely on them to make major career decisions.
“I’m not an advocate of career tests that match careers to personality,” Wolfe says. “Personal values and environment ultimately drive personal and career engagement and satisfaction. Connection to the role, often dictated by the job title, is just one of four connections that must align.”
Wolfe goes on to say that your work should also be connected to your personal values, who you like working with, and the organization — not just the job title, as career tests will typically only give you.
Others say career tests can help you in numerous ways, “whether you are in the exploration stage, looking to widen the options available, or in the decision-making stage, trying to narrow your focus,” Melissa Venable, education advisor and principal writer at BestColleges.com, says.
Some common career tests include:
- Work Values Matcher
- O*Net Interest Profiler
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
- 123 Career Aptitude Test
- Self-Directed Search
So, should you use a career test to help you figure out what job you want? It depends on what you need at this point in your job search. These tests can help you learn what interests you and your personality type or inspire you to think about careers you might not have even heard of. They can also give you a starting point for roles to look into or a better understanding of what kind of work environments to look for. But it’s probably not in your best interest to take a career test result as the undeniable truth. Instead, your career test results should be guiding, not perscriptive.
Be Willing to Try Anything
“My no. 1 piece of advice is EXPLORE, EXPLORE, EXPLORE,” Brianna Brazle, founder of CultureLancer, a career development and transition tech platform for historically disadvantaged and underserved college students.
So, how do you “explore” without jumping into a job you might hate? Get professional experience and skills with internships, externships, short-term courses, part-time work, and experimental learning programs. These can give you inside views into different fields and career paths without having to tie yourself to a full-time job.
Learn new professional skills and see a day in the life of a professional, for free.
“It is important for individuals as they prepare to go into or looking for fields to go into to explore their options, interests, skills, and passions,” Brazel says. “However, it is equally (if not more) important to explore with intention and not aimlessly jumping into anything that waste one’s time. If you are in college, it is the perfect opportunity to experiment with different avenues that could inform your career decisions and interest.”
Career coach David Meintrup of Korn Ferry agrees, citing that this exploration can even help you stand out to recruiters.
“As many avenues that you can practically explore the better,” Meintrup says. “At the same time [as you’re exploring] you’re building an industry and functional brand. My most successful students follow this type of process and upon graduation are very attractive to recruiters because they have done two things – built their brand AND know what they like and don’t like.”
Talk to Professionals
Networking can be scary, but it’s a great way to learn about what other people do. Set up informational interviews to get insights on what professionals’ careers are like, the daily responsibilities of their job, and companies they’ve worked for.
>>MORE: How to ask for (and prepare for) an informational interview.
“Ask people a few years older than yourself, who work in your areas of interest, what their perspective is of the environment and culture where they are at,” Frechette says. “Chances are you will listen to and relate to their perspectives since they were in your shoes not long ago.”
If you’re interested in a specific company, Frechette recommends asking employees who work there to talk about their experiences. “Seeking more diverse inputs from employees can help provide different insights and wisdom that could lend to better and more holistic decision making for yourself.”
Know It’ll All Be OK
When you find yourself saying, “I don’t know what job I want,” it can feel impossible to start your career. Know that you don’t have to get it right the first time — or even the second or third time (or fourth or fifth!).
You might find that the job you want now differs from the one you want in five years. And that’s all OK. It’s especially common to job-hop early in your career. Jop-hopping is common; nearly a quarter of Gen Z’ers and millennials plan to leave their employer in search of a new job this year, according to a LinkedIn study. If you do so intentionally and with care, you can learn transferable skills, gain experience, make connections without burning bridges, and hopefully land a job you really love.
>>MORE: How to Find a Job You Love: 3 Things to Do (and 4 to Avoid)
Image credit: Alex Green / Pexels
Frequently Asked Questions
If you don’t know what job you want, start by considering your interests, how you like to work, and your strengths. Then, start researching roles through internships and networking to find positions that might be a good fit.
Yes! Even people in the middle of their careers might not know what job they want. That doesn’t mean you’ll never find a job you love — it just might take some reflection and research.
If you’re not passionate about any type of work, consider what you want out of a job. Are you looking for a position with good work-life balance? High pay? A mission-driven company? Then, you can work backwards to find companies and roles that fit your strengths.
To find a job or career you love, consider what you love, whether that’s a subject, interest, mission, value, or way of collaborating with others. Then, research to find positions that match what you’re already interested in.