How to find your profession answering just 3 questions?

how to choose a career

If you really think about the importance of a career choice in life, it’s quite remarkable that so little research on this topic has been done. Statistics show that people dedicate around 3300 days to their jobs on average and it becomes quite obvious that having a meaningful career is an essential part of living a happy life. Discarding your choice of a life partner and how many children you want, what decision could be more significant? 

“Do what you like” – the most common advice when you are trying to find your vocation, however the most ineffective. Sometimes, it’s really hard to understand whether you enjoy the job until you begin working. Moreover, people usually like many things at the same time. How to narrow the options? 

Professor of Columbia Business School, Sheena Iyengar says that the most common mistake job seekers make is asking themselves “What I really want?” because it implies many different answers. 

Through extensive research, Iyengar figured out that there are much better questions to ask when determining your professional career path. She narrowed it to a total of three main questions regardless if you are just graduated and looking for the first job, or want to find the job in a completely new field. 

Columbia Business School

What can you do better than others? 

First things first, try to identify what you are really into and discard the most unrealistic scenarios. Let’s say you are dreaming of becoming a pilot, but with certain health conditions, it’s impossible to fly planes. Anyways all people have their hobbies and related skills that they mastered to perfection. Determine for yourself what you are really good at and in what specific fields it can give you an advantage over others. 

What type of problems would you like to solve? 

This is one of the best questions you can possibly ask yourself. It helps determine your values and identify issues that really concern you. What’s important, is that it doesn’t set a specific scenario and limits yourself to defined tasks of a particular role. Let’s say you are fond of going abroad and planning trips, or going to restaurants of different cuisines. Then, most likely, you will enjoy helping people to meet other cultures and to understand representatives of those cultures. Such wording opens up many different career strategies. You can choose to become a marketer in the tourism field, an employee in the airline company or in some type of service like Airbnb. Or maybe you would like to become a tourist guide, language teacher or develop a website about traveling. 


How would you like to be known? 

Fortunately or unfortunately, what you do for a living identifies both other people’s image of yourself and your image of yourself as well. It’s vital that you want to tell other people what you are really doing and why it gives you energy, joy, and positive emotions. Think about five qualities you want people to associate with yourself like “smart”, “creative”, “ethical”, “sympathetic”, “helpful” etc. Try to draw a “map of qualities” – an image that will help you visualize relationships between the qualities in your list. 

Let’s say you want people to portray you as a helpful, reliable and caring person. In that case, you might want to work in some kind of “helping” field, kindergarten teacher for example. On the other hand, if you want to be identified as a sophisticated and spectacular human being – there is nothing wrong with that! – but you need to look in a completely different direction: teaching five-year-olds doesn’t suggest that kind of image. 


Rank your options 

Now, when you have a clear understanding of what can possibly bring you joy and fulfillment, it’s time to rank your options. 

According to research, particular formulas can improve decisions not only in hard science but when choosing a career too. Human beings are notorious for making judgements based on intuition and so-called “common sense”. However, it is much more effective to make decisions based on a particular system: determining the most critical factors and then looking at how your career possibilities score across those factors. When it comes to choosing a career, a huge number of uncertainties underlie, which suggests a more conventional approach to choosing.

So the idea is to approximately score each of your possible choices according to your preferences. It doesn’t need to be particularly accurate at this step, but it will definitely give a better understanding of all the pros and cons of those options. When you will see the whole picture from the bird’s-eye view, you might be surprised with the results. I will give you an example. My close friend was graduating from college and couldn’t decide between a Ph.D. in music or a career in accounting. He was sure that teaching music is his destiny, but at the same time, he was also thriving in his accounting skills. When we tried to evaluate both careers based on factors mentioned in the research, accounting did much better for him. At that time he was concentrating too much on what seemed interesting to him and discarding many daily nuances of the job. We, as human beings, tend to focus on factors that are most important to us at the time and neglect those, which are important in the long run. So this simple system can help you make sure you are not missing something crucial. 

Ph.D. Music TeacherAccounting 
Variety 23
Sense of completion15
Social support 24
Total 915


Questions above won’t help to determine a specific job, that will suit you exclusively. However, they will help to narrow an infinite number of options to the ones that worth it. What’s really important is that it will help you to find fulfilment, while staying true to yourself. It’s effective to get back to these questions each time a new possible career phase becomes relevant for you. Answers will help you realize whether new career steps bring you closer to your true goals and senses.

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