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5 Strategies for Making Career Decisions

Are you facing major life changes? Perhaps you’ve just finished school. Maybe you’re thinking about moving to a new job or a new location. Perhaps your youngest child is preparing to leave home. If you’ve reached a milestone in your life, you may be wondering “What’s next?”

Over the course of your career, you will make a few big decisions and many small ones. Seizing opportunities as they arise—and sometimes creating them—is a regular part of career planning. This can be stressful, but certain strategies can reduce the pressure. They can also increase your confidence in your ability to make good choices.

The first and most important strategy is to remember this one thing: You have the power to change your own life. At work, at home, or in any part of your life, if you’re not happy with your role or environment, you can change it. Even if you make a choice that doesn’t work out the way you hoped, you can learn from it. And that can help you make a better choice next time.

When you look at things that way, you realize there aren’t any wrong choices—only opportunities. Use the rest of these strategies to help you make the right choice for you, whether you’re taking an opportunity that’s come your way or making one of your own.

1. Think sample

That’s not a typo. “Think simple” can be good advice, too, but this strategy is to “think sample.”

What does that mean? Well, there are thousands of occupations in Canada. Even the best labour market information can only provide samples of the many types of work you can do. There are too many options for any source to include them all. And those options grow in number and change in nature every day.

The best way to explore an occupation is to talk to people in that field. They can tell you about related roles, opportunities in adjacent sectors, and emerging options. They can share information you might not find anywhere else.

2. Think sector

Work roles change every day, but sectors remain quite constant. For example, the entertainment sector has been around for a long time. However, many occupations within it are different today than they were even a decade ago. The same is true of sectors such as tourism, oil and gas, computing, telecommunications, and health.

When you’re exploring options, try to focus on sectors rather than specific occupations. Get a feel for sectors that interest you. If you’re considering nursing school, explore the whole health care sector. If want to be a rock star, think about anything in the entertainment sector. Looking at becoming a forklift operator? Think logistics, a huge sector that includes most things to do with moving goods from producers to consumers.

When you think of sectors rather than occupations, your options expand instantly and almost endlessly.

3. Think pathway

The world of work is changing all the time, and any job you choose will likely change in multiple ways during your career. Instead of looking at any one work option as an end point, think of it as a single step on a career pathway.

When you take this longer view, things like status and salary become less important. What’s more important is where the work can lead you. Ask yourself these questions about options that interest you:

  • Will this option lead me to a sector or field that interests me? Many roles provide entry points into a sector. Say you’re interested in tourism. Bussing tables in a family restaurant might not sound appealing. But what if it leads to serving, and that leads to a fine dining restaurant? What if that leads to becoming a maitre d’hotel, and then to managing a restaurant? What if that finally leads to entrepreneurship and the opportunity to start your own restaurant in a popular tourist hotspot? If you start with the end in mind, bussing tables might be a great first step to reaching your larger career goals.
  • Will this option help me learn about other interesting work? Sometimes you take work because you need money. That’s okay, but the job you take will be more valuable if you use it to explore other kinds of work. For example, doing service work like bartending, selling sportswear, serving tables, filling vending machines, or driving a delivery truck can provide opportunities 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 money now, try to pick work that offers ways to explore your options at the same time.
  • Will a job in one sector be a bridge to a sector I’m more interested in? You can’t always get what you want right away. Say you’re interested in communications, but there are no openings in your community. Go to OCCinfo and use the “Industries” filter to search for a related occupation in a different sector that is available in your community. For example, a job as a dispatcher or communication technician could be your bridge for a later move into the communications sector.

4. Think action

Worried about making the perfect choice? Not going to make a move until you know you’ve made the right decision? Beware of analysis paralysis—often any decision will better than none at all. Accept that there are many right answers but no perfect option. Every role will have upsides and 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 taking action. It also requires taking some risk. Risk can often feel scary. It can help to remember that, although you can’t eliminate risk, you can manage it by ensuring that the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks. And you can almost always change your mind or make a new and different choice in the future.

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—to jump at an opportunity when one arises. 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’s next?” can be a welcome and exciting question every time it comes up. In the process, you’ll realize that exploring and choosing options can lead to new opportunities you may not have thought of. It can also give you a much clearer sense of where you’re going as you choose the next direction on your career path.

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