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Try These 5 Strategies for Making Career Decisions

During your career, you will make a few big decisions and many small ones. Try these 5 strategies to help you make career decisions.

Are you facing major changes in your life? Perhaps you've just finished school. Or perhaps you're thinking about a move or preparing for your youngest child to leave home. If you've reached a milestone in your life, you may be asking yourself “What’s next?”

Choosing options is a regular part of the career–planning process. As a worker today, you can't expect employers to look after your career, as was often the case in previous generations. You now manage your own career path and look to create your own opportunities. You have the power to change not only your work role or work environment, but also other areas of your life.

When you actively manage your life and work, you continually make choices about what to do next. The career–planning process helps you see that, over the course of your career, you will make a few big decisions and many small decisions. Realizing this will help reduce any pressure you might feel about making choices

1. Think sample, not survey.

There are thousands of occupations in Canada. When you're using online and print sources to explore occupations, remember that these resources provide only samples of occupations, not complete surveys. The best way to explore an occupation is to talk to people in that field. They can tell you about related roles, opportunities in other industry sectors and emerging options that you probably won’t learn about from any other source.

2. Think sectors, not specifics.

Work roles change every day. But industry sectors remain relatively constant. For example, the entertainment sector will be around for a while, even if the occupations within it change. Other examples of sectors are tourism, oil and gas, computing, telecommunications and health.

When you’re exploring options, it's a good idea to focus on industry sectors rather than on specific occupations. Get a feel for sectors that interest you. If you're thinking about being a nurse, explore the health care sector. If you're a wannabe rock star, think entertainment. Looking at becoming a forklift operator? Think logistics, a huge sector that includes almost anything to do with the movement of goods from the producer to the consumer.

When you think of sectors rather than specific occupations, you multiply your options.

3. Think pathway, not position.

In a world of rapid change, the work you do will likely change throughout your career. Instead of looking at the work option you’re considering now as an end point or destination, look at it as a next step on your career pathway. When you take this longer view, things like status and salary tend to be less important than concerns about where the work can lead you. Ask yourself these questions about options that interest you:

  • Will this option be a gateway into a sector or field that interests me? Many roles can be entry points into a sector. Say you're interested in tourism. Bussing tables may not sound appealing at first, but what if it leads to serving, which leads to becoming a maitre d’, which leads to managing a restaurant, which leads to owning a restaurant in Banff? Bussing tables may be a very good pathway to a rewarding career.
  • Will this option help me learn about other work that might be interesting? Sometimes you take work because you need money. Thats okay, but the job you take will be even more valuable to you if you use it as way to explore other kinds of work. For example, doing service work like pumping gas, selling jeans, serving tables, filling vending machines or driving a delivery truck can be a terrific opportunity to talk to a variety of people about the work they do and the sector or field they work in. If you need a job because you need the money, pick work that offers you the opportunity to explore options while you’re doing it.
  • Will a job in another sector be a bridge to a sector or field Im really interested in? You cant always get what you want right away. Say youre really interested in the entertainment sector, but there are no obvious openings in that sector in your community. Use the “Industries” filter to scan through OCCinfo and find an occupation like make–up consultant or designer in a different sector that is available in your community. This could eventually be your bridge to the entertainment sector.

4. Think risk, not rest.

Worried about making the perfect choice? Not going to make a move until you know youve made the right decision? Keep in mind that there is no right or perfect option. Every role has some upsides and some downsides. The big questions are Do the upsides of this role outweigh the downsides? and Does this role lead to more upsides in the future?

Choosing options requires some risk. The way to reduce this risk is described in step 5. It helps to remember that although you can’t eliminate risk, you can almost always change your mind.

5. Think flexible AND focused.

When you’re flexible, you explore the world of work for options that look interesting. You take your time, go here and there, talk to people, browse online, read or watch the news and see if anything interesting pops up.

While it’s important to be flexible, you always need to be ready to focus. This means being ready to jump at an opportunity when you see one. This might mean volunteering so that you can learn more about a specific workplace. Or it might mean going all out to meet an application deadline for a program that has the best reputation.

Find your answers to the question “What’s next?”

Choosing career options can be challenging. But if you follow these 5 strategies, What next? can be a welcome question every time it comes up. In the process you’ll realize that exploring and choosing options can lead to opportunities you may not have thought of. It can also give you a clearer sense of direction on your career path.

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