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Career Makeover Tips: How to Choose the Right Job

by Ray Lightman

The prospect of starting on a new career can be exhilarating and promising. After all, who hasn't thought about making a fresh start? But the process can also be full of stress. What if you don't make the right choice? Following a few simple steps can make the whole process a little more manageable. And who knows, maybe you'll end up with your dream job!

Step 1: "Ideas"

  • 1. What makes you happy? List out your hobbies to find out what makes you happy. E.g., I would put sketching, being close to nature, watching home improvement shows, baking, reading about current affairs in Asia, tinkering around with the computer to write little scripts that improve productivity, making up little stories to amuse my little kid, and travelling to different countries to see indigenous wildlife.
  • 2. What are you good at? List out subjects you took in school/college that you did well at, and also things that other people look at and say "Hey, that's really good!"

Outcome: A list of free-form items of things you like doing, not necessarily in the form of careers or job descriptions. Order the list to keep the ideas you like more at the top.

Step 2: "Goals"

  • 1. What are your goals? Remember to think long-term. Making money will probably be an important one (unless you are financially independent). But also include goals like reducing stress, staying outdoors, working with people, getting a month off every year to visit your home country, working with your hands to create something, helping the needy etc.
  • 2. Make each goal specific (e.g., Money -> $80,000 per year by the year 2006).

Outcome: A list of goals you want to accomplish. Order the list by importance.

Step 3: "Careers"

  • 1. Look at your Idea List and your Goal List side by side. Are there ideas you can eliminate or set aside because they do not meet enough of your goals? If so, do it and narrow down your list of ideas into a shorter list of maybe 6 or less.
  • 2. For each of the ideas on your short list (or some combination of the ideas), come up with a career or job. E.g., author of children's book, chef on a cooking show, journalist writing targeted travelogues, computer programmer, catering business owner, specialized building contractor etc.

Outcome: A list of (5-10) careers that are potential candidates. Order the list to keep the careers you like more at the top.

Step 4: "Research"

  • 1. For each candidate career, answer the following questions:
    • How many years/months will it take to educate yourself on it?
    • How many years/months will it take to gain enough experience?
    • How will you get experience at it? Can you volunteer somewhere for part-pay or no-pay while you're learning?
    • Talk to real people working in the field.
  • 2. Look at your candidate careers again and eliminate those for which the preparation time or expense is unrealistically high - e.g., something that will take a 6-year PhD with no financial aid expected.

Outcome: A list of (1-4) careers that are on your short list.

Step 5: "Take Action"

  • 1. Can you try out a career for a while? E.g., devote a couple of weekends (or more) to write a children's story and try to get it published. Or take a summer internship at a computer software company. Maybe you can try out a new career part-time while continuing to hold your current steady job.
  • 2. Imagine what it would feel like to wake up every day of the week and work in the career you are evaluating. Will you still like it a few years from now?
  • 3. Get all the information you can about how to get started once you decide on the right career for you. E.g., dig up everything you can on the internet or in your public library on how to start a catering business.

Outcome: A hands-on idea of what your life will be like if you switched to your new job.

Step 6: "Decide"

  • 1. Decide on the best career for you.
  • 2. Write down the pros and the cons and the reasons you made this decision. This will be useful in the future if you start having doubts about your choice. You can reassure yourself that you thought this through carefully.
  • 3. Come up with an alternative plan if things don't work out exactly the way you're planning them.

Outcome: A brand new career!

Remember that your work's not done until you make your dream job a reality. In order to do that, you must update your resume, obtain the relevant training, prepare for interviews, apply to jobs and start interviewing.

Hopefully, you have a fresh brand new career opportunity to look forward to. Or maybe this whole process taught you to value your current career and realize that you are already in your dream job. Either way, you will have learnt something about yourself and your needs. Even if you decide not to make a drastic career change, maybe it will have inspired you to take up a new hobby or a new activity that will make your life more balanced, complete and enriched.

Good luck!!

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