How to Choose a Career When You Don’t Know What You Love to Do

This is all about career planning, to find a combination of your skills, long-term goals, interests, and careers out there. You start by aligning as many of these as possible and then fine-tuning as your career, or careers, develop.
Joe Hale 9 min read
How to Choose a Career When You Don’t Know What You Love to Do
Photo by Razvan Chisu / Unsplash

Making the decision to start working towards a career can be daunting, especially if you don't know what you love to do. Everyone's career path is unique and evolves over their entire life. How do you make a choice when there are so many options? It's important to remember that it's not about finding your dream job immediately but instead finding something that will allow you to grow and develop. This article will outline some tips and techniques on how to choose a career when you don't know what you love to do.

You have a career choice, but do you have a clear one in mind? Or are you drawn to many? The idea that you have one sole purpose in life is quickly being debunked, and job options are beginning to expand beyond national boundaries. But where do you start?

Begin with your career goals in mind. What sounds interesting? Are you into computer programming? Medical? Engineering? Choosing a single field is not strictly necessary, but it is helpful to begin there.

Choose a broad field of work that matches your strengths, interests, or objectives. Investigate different jobs in this industry, then match your personal qualities with the daily tasks of various jobs to narrow the options. Ask questions about the jobs to understand if you have the skill set or require additional education or training.

This is all about career planning, to find a combination of your skills, long-term goals, interests, and careers out there. You start by aligning as many of these as possible and then fine-tuning as your career, or careers, develop.

Understand yourself and your personality type

An honest evaluation of your personality should be among the first steps to determining your career options. And I don't mean taking some random personality testing to find the motivations behind your work, they are often unrealistic and don't show how you drive yourself. Instead of focusing on a specific career topic, ask the following questions to help you.

What am I interested in?
What are my skills?
What training do I already have? Or, what training will I require?
Do I want to pursue a university or graduate school education?

Your new career should align with your personality traits.

How is your time management? Do you love problem-solving? Are you detail-oriented? Do you love working with your hands and building things? Or do you love sitting at a computer creating things? Are you at your best, surrounded by many people or alone?

scrabble, scrabble pieces, lettering, letters, wood, scrabble tiles, white background, words, quote, letters, type, typography, design, layout, focus, bokeh, blur, photography, images, image, self-image, self-awareness, mediate, identity, identity crisis, self help, find yourself, finding yourself, understanding, therapy, mindfulness, roots, personality, authenticity, honesty, principles, id, ego, psychiatry, philosophy,
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

While it's important to be realistic, don't limit yourself too much. Allow yourself to explore career paths that excite you, even if they might not align perfectly with your current skills and experience. Working on developing those skills and taking the opportunity to grow, even if it is a little uncomfortable.

Researching career options

After you understand yourself, the next step is to discover your options.  Once you understand your own personality, you should begin researching the different career options. You should start looking for jobs in a career area that might suit the job description you have created for yourself.

Start by researching careers that you find interesting. Go online, read news articles relevant to your career interests, and watch documentaries and YouTube videos. You can also join career forums and connect with people already in the same industry you’re thinking of joining. This will give you a better understanding of what's expected daily and how the career might fit into your life.

Finally, consider a career coach. You may have a career counselor at school who can guide you in the right direction or find someone outside of school to help you make career decisions based on research and career assessments.  One of the best options is to hire a career coach who can help guide you through these initial questions and help you find new ways to research.

Make a master list of potential careers to explore

Often choosing a job can be daunting because people begin to believe that this single job will be the one they're locked into for a lifetime. That's not the case, and in the next several decades, if you are entering the workforce, you'll likely experience many career options.

So, start small and give yourself some space to discover. Start by turning your research into a list of all your possible job opportunities.

List them in one place. A spreadsheet, a word document, whatever you work best with.

Writing in a journal
Photo by Cathryn Lavery / Unsplash

If something interests you, add it to the list. This is what's called a clouding technique. It's an idea that you can see all your options as if looking into the sky full of clouds. Remember that these are just career ideas, not a commitment. You'll begin discarding them as you move through this strategy.

One note as you are developing your list. Don't get hung up on job titles; titles change from company to company. Look at the job description to see what skills you need, and then look for those skills in other career titles. Many people will have a more senior title at one company and a more junior one at a much larger company. Some companies call the same work by different titles.

Make a list of jobs you can love

That was a lot of work, and now you know the best paths for a potential career choice. You may even have multiple industries to choose from. The next step is to place a star next to the ones you are immediately interested in. This could be based on work-life balance or your current skills and activities. Or it could be something you want to gain an education for.

Understand your compensation expectations

An important part of your career planning at this stage is to set your compensation expectations. Whether you are driven by large paychecks or the intrinsic rewards of the job, you need to know what to expect. If you are attracted to a job and discover it's well below the salary you would be willing to accept, you'll either need to change your expectations or adjust your passions.

Depending on your industry, you can conduct a simple job search on any of the many career sites, such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or Indeed and see typical salary ranges. Make sure you understand the industry expectations and international differences in pay scales.

Research your top choices

You now have a master list and set expectations; you should start narrowing your top choices and doing deeper research. It takes time to learn everything there is to know about the job, and there are several techniques you can use to speed up this process.

Remember: There is still no need to know every single detail about each role; you need to understand the general role requirements regarding experience, education, and the most common responsibilities. You may realize that one may not be the right career, or you should pursue additional training to move into something that matches your personal interests.

Conduct informational interviews

Now that you have narrowed down your career list and taken the time to visit career websites and search for current job postings, it's time to get up-to-date insight into each possible career. And you'll build your network at the same time!

Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash

Start by matching job descriptions and requirements of the roles you're interested in with job posting on career websites. Then when you find something that fits, search LinkedIn for a list of people with those skills or job titles, and reach out to them. Don't be afraid to contact people working in the career you are interested in. Most career professionals are happy to mentor and provide career guidance or even career advice if they can.

Don't just ask them for their time and advice. Be curious and engage with their work if they have an online presence. If they don't, you can engage with their motivations to support and mentor a new graduate, or if you are switching mid-career, their expertise and knowledge of mid-career transitions.

Next is the informational interview. Informational interviews are informal discussions with someone in your profession. This should be considered the most important step in determining if this is your career path. You may already be aware of informational interviews, but very few people actually take advantage of these opportunities.

Focus on them and their process and journey so far. What are their actual job responsibilities? Do they love their chosen career? What are some lessons learned that could've made their journey different? Does it sound interesting to you?tt

The key is understanding how they mapped out their career path and if that resonates with you.

Explore further

The choice of career develops and fine-tunes over time. Depending on where you're at in life, it will be influenced by your experience up to this point. Right out of college? An experienced professional? Discovering your next step requires further exploration.

Look over the resources you've gathered so far, the list of available careers, and those that are starred as ones you're interested in. Combine your research with the notes you took in the informational interview with each connection, and you'll begin to narrow down these options.

A handful of other resources can help you narrow these options even further and are worth exploring.

Career aptitude test

Career aptitude tests are great for adding data points to your research when you have a vague understanding of your career possibilities and find it challenging to choose a career. They also inject some new information that you may not have considered. Taking a test can introduce other jobs you didn't know you could be good at. They are methods of identifying additional passions that you could pursue. They can be a career quiz or a series of descriptive responsibilities and daily activities.

Career coach

Look into hiring or partnering with a career coach. A career coach can help you in many ways, but one of the most important is acting as a challenger to your assumptions. They can guide you through the questions you aren't asking and push you on the answers you are giving. They can help you explore career options and opportunities that interest you and devise a plan for how to get there.

Two middle age business workers smiling happy and confident. Working together with smile on face hand giving high five at the office
Photo by krakenimages / Unsplash

They can assist in exploring career options based on your interests, values, and strengths, as well as providing guidance on career opportunities, job search tips, resume writing advice,  and career development strategies.

Things to look out for and pay attention to

You should be wary of a few things if you can't nail down your desired career or are getting hung up in deciding which career to pursue.

Career sunk costs

Sunk costs are costs that you have already invested in a career and can't be recovered. This could include education, training, or equipment.  If you're in the early stages of career exploration, this may not be an issue for you just yet, but it's something that you should take care of considering.

One of the most debilitating aspects of career exploration is having to commit to a career path because you've already put so much time into it. It's important to remember that career paths are not linear, and the choices you make now don't determine your career destiny. Your purpose is not singular.

Career changes and job title

Job titles change through the career and don't always represent job growth but a non-linear career direction or, more appropriately, your career journey. Don't let career titles guide you as much as career objectives and outcomes.

Man at the Crossroads
Photo by Vladislav Babienko / Unsplash


Most people spend at least one-third of their lives at work, so it's no surprise many seek careers that suit them well. But most people end their lives with some regret that they didn't pursue more of their passions.

Remember that your purpose is not singular, and you can have multiple passions. Of all the careers you researched, which do you find yourself returning to?

Consider hiring a career coach, don't focus so much on the job title, but more on the job descriptions. Pay attention to the job outlook and any absolute requirements you must fulfill. Look into training and the soft skills the roles require and their match to your own. And lastly, take advantage of the informational interview. Never pass up a chance to discuss your career with someone already working in that field.

More from Leader Dev
How to build confidence without becoming overwhelmed

How to build confidence without becoming overwhelmed

In today’s digital world, staying confident in your abilities can be difficult, especially when the competition is fierce. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the pressure of keeping up with the latest technology trends, perfecting your skills, and being successful
Joe Hale 11 min read

Get unstuck & accelerate your growth

Join other technology professionals in the pursuit of high performing careers without sacrificing healthy lives, strong relationships, and pursuing passions

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Leader Dev.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.