Practical Answers to Common Career Planning Questions

Creative business people reviewing proofs in sunny office
••• Milton Brown / Getty Images

If you are in the midst of choosing a career or are contemplating whether to change to a different one, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the career planning advice out there. Who can blame you? There's so much of it! Take a deep breath for your mind will soon be put at ease. Here are practical answers to all your questions.

What One Thing Leads to the Most Career Satisfaction? in Other Words What Quality Will Help Insure That the Career I Choose Will Make Me Happy?

There is a different answer to that question for every individual. What you may love about a career may not make me feel the same way about it. That's why it is so important to learn about your own values, interests, personality, and aptitudes and find a career that is a good match based on that information.

But as Long as I Make a Lot of Money, Then None of That Will Matter, Right?

You couldn't be further from the truth. If a particular career isn't a good match for you, for example, it isn't suitable for someone with your personality, it won't matter how much you earn, you still won't be happy.

So Are You Saying That Money Isn't Important at All?

Well, that's not true either. Earnings are very important to many people, but it must be considered in conjunction with all the other aspects of a particular occupation, for example, the job duties, the opportunities for advancement, the way it utilizes your hard skills and soft skills.

I Hate My Job? Does That Mean I Should Change Careers?

You have to ask yourself whether you hate the actual work you do or the place where you are doing it. It's often difficult to separate one from the other. For example, let's say you're a dog groomer. You love bathing and trimming your furry clients, but your boss won't stop barking orders at you. That's a problem with your job. Before you decide to find another occupation, look for a job at a different shop. The same advice applies if your boss doesn't give you as much responsibility as you can handle or doesn't offer you the opportunity to advance.

What If I Love My Job but My Work Isn't Very Interesting, and I Think I Should Be Doing More With My Life?

It's sometimes easy to get attached to a particular employer—the bond with your coworkers and even your boss may be strong. There is such a thing as being too comfortable if that keeps you from progressing as far as you want. If you have no room to grow, it may be time to explore other opportunities. Try to think about what you'd do if your current employer closed shop and you had to look for work elsewhere. Would you be able to find a job that utilized your skills and experience?

I'm Happy With My Job but My Parents (Or Significant Other, Friends, Etc.) Tell Me I Can Do Better. What Should I Do?

You should ask yourself why you're worrying about what others think if you are happy. If you enjoy your work and feel fulfilled, then you can rest easy. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. It's your life after all. You may, however, want to ask your parents (or significant other, friends, etc.) why they think you should change jobs. Perhaps they don't realize how fulfilled you are with your current situation and are just worried you've become complacent or are afraid to make a change.

What about those careers that we keep hearing are so great to get into, like healthcare or computer coding? Is it a good idea to pick something off those "Best Careers" lists?

You should never choose a career simply because it appears on one of those lists. While it is important to consider job outlook while evaluating whether a particular occupation is right for you, the fact that it has a promising future doesn't necessarily mean it is. Job outlook varies over time—what is a hot career now may cool off in the future. Make sure the occupation is a good fit for you.

I Really Want to Go Into This Career, and It Seems Suitable for Me, but the Outlook Is Pretty Bad Right Now. Should I Take a Chance?

As emphasized previously, job outlooks change. They can worsen, or they can become better. Do some investigative work to figure out why your dream career appears to be on the decline. That might be able to tell you whether the outlook is going to get worse or if there is a chance it could recover. A decline due to economic trends may turn around, but one due to technological advancements will probably continue its downward trajectory.

Should I Follow My Passion Into a Field That Is Highly Competitive, for Example Performing Arts or Sports?

It is wonderful if you can have a career about which you are passionate, but it is very important to be realistic about your chances of succeeding. You have to ask yourself some very hard questions: 1. Are you talented enough to succeed? 2. Are you willing to pay your dues, perhaps taking small roles if you are an actor or playing for a minor league team if you are an athlete? 3. Are you competitive by nature because you will have to be? 4. Are you able to take rejection, because you probably will?

5. Do you have a plan for supporting yourself while you pursue your dreams, for example waiting tables?