Ultimate Career Choice Guide 2021

The Ultimate Career Choice Guide (2021)

How do I make a career choice?

Making a career choice is a dynamic process that unfolds over a lifetime. Your values, personality characteristics, goals and preferences impact your decision. Choosing a career is a dance with self knowledge and making wise decisions. In this article I provide your with hands-on advice to make your career choice.    

Making a good career choice is composed of four key elements:

  1. Knowing yourself
  2. Making an informed decision
  3. Taking action 
  4. Being adaptable

You can use various career quizzes or career tests but you will also need to do some self discovery through reflection. 


What to expect in this article


Know yourself. Increase your self knowledge to make a great career choice.

Getting to know yourself is like building a puzzle. Reflective exercises help you sort the different pieces together. 
When you start building a puzzle you’ll usually start by putting the edge pieces together. Then you start organizing the colour pieces together and work from there. 
Career tests and reflections help you know yourself better. Reflections sorts the pieces of your life into an understandable way to form a clear picture. This picture becomes the blueprint for the life you want to design. 
It is very important to use both reflective and formal tools to help you make your career choice
Here are some tools and techniques that will help you learn more about yourself. 

Reflective career exercises to increase your self knowledge:

 “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”
― G.I. Gurdjieff


Figure out your future self.

Ask the right questions. This will help you figure out who you want to become. Defining your future self points you to the right career and clarifies your desired personality traits, values and life themes. 
Choose one of the activities and let me know how it works. 

The Documentary Question

Imagine you are 85. You were able to live a good life. You were out for the day and returned home that evening. You switch on the TV and to your surprise a documentary about your life pops up. 
The filmmaker interviewed people who admire you and are grateful for you. Take a few minutes, reflect on what you want them to say about you? 
  • What would you want your parents, children, partner, friends, colleagues, customers and strangers to say? 
  • Write down the answers to these questions. Keep them somewhere for easy access.

The Tombstone Question

You need to use your imagination for this question. 

  • Imagine that you can travel to the future. About five hundred years.
  • Archeologists are excavating grave sites and they come across your tombstone. 
  • What quote or motto do you want them to read on about the life you lived and what you stood for? 
  • Write down your answer.

What is your story?

Take a moment and imagine that you have to write your autobiography (the story of your life). Reflect for a few moments. Answer the following questions:
  • What would the chapters of your book be? 
  • What would your life story teach other people? 
  • What is the one thing that people should know about you from reading this book? 
  • What were some of the pain and struggles that you had to endure? 
  • How was your pain and struggles used to help others or make a better life for yourself? 
  • Now make a list of some of the words and themes that resonate with you. Write down your answers. They will come in handy later. 

Journaling for career success

Journaling helps you discover more about yourself. We are so busy working in our lives that we are not working on our lives. Writing down your thoughts and dreams settles the muddy sediment of your mind. This helps you to see more clearly. 
Use journaling to reflect on your past and future.
Using structured journal prompts to reflect on what brought you a sense of purpose and meaning. Keep this list. After a while you some patterns and themes will emerge. 

Do this journal exercise to reflect. This is inspired by the article becoming your desired future self.

Write down your answers to these prompts:

  • What are one to three things I could do today to make progress toward my future self? 
  • What stopped me from becoming my future self? 
  • How can I improve on this? 
  • What triggered me or brought me pain today? 
  • What did this pain reveal about something that I care deeply about? 
  • Write down the value that is behind the thing that you care deeply about.

Ask people. 

I came across the Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise listening to Adam Grant‘s highly recommended podcast. This tool uses the people in your life to increase your self knowledge, and it is simple: Email five people about when they experienced you at your best. 

So, send a message (or email) to 5 people that know you very well. Ask them the following 

Here is a step by step guide:
  • Look at your contact list and choose 5 people you feel comfortable sending a message or email to. Ideally people from the different spheres in your life. 
  • Ask them to write a story about a time you were at your best. 
  • Copy and paste all of their replies into one document. 
  • Look for patterns and themes. What themes do the different stories have in common? 
  • Make a list of these themes. Provide key examples of each theme and what strength you think it relates to?
  • Use this information to write up a self portrait about yourself when you are at your best. 
  • Create an action plan for how you want to use your strengths. 

Spotting themes and patterns. 

Your next step, look for patterns and themes from all the reflected exercises you did. 
A theme captures something important about you in relation to your life or career choice. More technically, it also represents some level of patterned response or meaning in how you want to craft your career.
Here is a step by step process to help you identify some themes:
  • Look for word repetitions. 
  • Look at keywords that strongly resonate with you. 
  • Sort the repeating words, patterns or themes into relevant categories. See what personality traits, characteristics, values, strengths and weaknesses can be grouped together. 
  • Look for metaphors that describe the pattern.

Career choice tests  

I can’t overstate how important it is to complete career choice tests from a registered professional. Psychometric tests are strictly regulated. There are so many factors that you have to consider when interpreting the results. 
When you consider doing online personality tests, remember that the results most likely are not accurate. Online career tests have their limitations and don’t consider all the factors influencing your scores. 
You will need a career counsellor near you to make sense of the results. 

Using personality personality tests for career choices. 

There are many personality tests available. The most popular personality tests are the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Hogan Assessment and the Big Five Personality Traits. 
These personality tests can be helpful. They are even more useful when you combine the personality test results with the reflective answers you wrote down earlier. 
To make an informed career decision you want to use a variety of information sources about yourself. Using different sources of information helps you understand yourself better. Please don’t base your career choice on just one source of information!

Here are some free personality tests:

You can also look for free online personality assessments. Here is a free personality assessment
Be sure to take these with a pinch of salt, as you have not completed these tests in a formal setting. Career counsellors and psychologists take extra care and precautions when administering career tests and reporting on these results. 

Using AI to determine your personality:

This is a fun method:
Use IBM Watson to help determine your Big Five personality.  
  • Navigate to this website. Click on ‘View demo’.  
  • On the next page connect your twitter account or copy and paste your own text from the journaling activities or any piece of writing you had to do. 
  • This will reveal Big Five personality traits. 
  • The more information you provide the more accurate the results become. 
Your Big Five Personality results can help you identify some traits that you need to be aware of and can even help to see what type of environment you prefer. Remember to also take these results with a pinch of salt. 

Values exercises for career choice

Your values offers you clarity and direction. It helps you determine the next step in your career. 
In my opinion, knowing your values is more important than knowing your personality. 
Your values provide you with the roadmap of the actions for your career decisions. Values determine what you care about and gives you purpose and meaning. 
See this article about values to provide you with more clarity on what characteristics of a value is. 
Here some great resources you can use to help discover your values.

Values in Action Character strength: 

This survey takes inventory of your character strengths, which is a valuable career test. It offers a tool for reflection and gives you a vocabulary to use when communicating your values. Values in Action helps you identify the positive traits that are essential to your identity. 
This can help you determine your character strengths and know how to communicate it. It also provides you with an opportunity to see where you can repurpose your energy. 
I am curious about how these results relate to some of your own reflections done earlier. 

Free values worksheet

Carnegie Mellon University has a free career values worksheet you can download for your career choice. 
This worksheet provides you with a list of values. Take some time to read through this list of words. 
Using mindfulness, notice what happens in your experience while reading these words. Highlight the words that resonate with you. 

Determining your interests for great career choices

O-Net Online is one of my favourite go to career exploration and job analysis sites. It has a very comprehensive list of careers. Each career also has detailed career information like work styles and whether a career has a bright outlook. 
What’s very cool about this site is that it gives you a free career interest survey. 
This survey will provide you with your career field code (RIASEC code) which can help you narrow down a career field and the careers that match it. It might help you find what career is right for you? 
  • Go to O-Net’s online interest profiler and complete the questionnaire. 
  • Then go to this link and insert your unique code.
  • This will provide you with a list of careers you can explore to help your career choice. 

Determine your Abilities to make career decisions

Of all the psychometric tests, ability tests are usually regulated the most. To get good quality results you will need to be assessed by a career counsellor, psychometrist or psychologist to complete an aptitude test or an ability test. However there are some ‘hacks’ you can use.
  • Look at your school marks and see what subjects or what type of work you had a natural knack for.
  • Do the activity RSB activity mentioned earlier. Email friends and colleagues ask them to share a story when you were at your best. 
  • Another indication is to reflect on the moments that you experience ‘flow’. Think of the moments in your life where you lose track of time. There will be something about this activity that you find engaging and keeps you in the zone. This might be an indication of a strength of yours. 

Go for career counselling

I can’t overstate how important it is to consult with a career counsellor near you. 
This meta analysis found that counsellor support is a critical ingredient in career counselling to be the most effective strategy for career choice. 
If you feel that the above career choice strategies are not sufficient you can search for a career counsellor near me.

Making an informed career choice.

This section will help you make with your decision making process in your career transition. 
The two important aspects in making a great career choice are 
  • Having good information about careers. 
  • Making a good career decision. 
Read on for more information. 

To make a good career choice you need: 1) Good career information and 2) a process to make a good career decision.


How to get more information about the careers. 

Having the correct career information is essential. After you have gained some self knowledge, the next step is to do some exploring about what careers are out there. 
By now you should have gained some self knowledge. Either by going for career counselling or doing  activities in the  previous section. 
Identify activities or occupations that you always wanted to do. See if there is a way you can experiment with it, reflect on if you enjoyed it. 
Vocational exploration involves the active exploration during the career counselling process. Some exploration activities include:
  • Informational interviewing
  • Visiting job sites
  • Exploring your interest

Informational interviewing to make career decisions

Interview someone in the field or job you wish to know more about. Here are some tips from UC Berkeley to help:
  1. Research Career Fields and make a list of careers.
  2. Identify people to interview (see tips below)
  3. Prepare for the interview and make a list of questions.
  4. Initiate contact by email or phone. Emphasise you are looking for information and then ask for a convenient time.  
  5. Conduct the interview in a professional manner. Be prepared and respect the person’s time. 
  6. Follow up by sending a thank you note and keep in touch.
Tips to find someone for informational interviewing when exploring careers. 
Using LinkedIn to get information about careers

LinkedIn is a social networking site that specifically focuses on social networking and career development. It is a great place to network, find opportunities, see what is out there and establish your brand. 

Set up a profile and see if you can connect with anyone that is in the fields you are interested in. Set up an interview or alternative send them 4 to five questions about what you want to know about the career. 


Using Community Groups to explore careers
Many neighbourhoods and communities of Facebook or WhatsApp groups. Join these groups and politely ask if anyone in the community can connect you with someone. 

Google some companies that specialise in the field that you want to go into. Ask them if they have any open days. 

Find out if there is a representative you can contact. 

You can also ask them if they have any job shadowing or internship opportunities available. 


Research and explore the occupations on your list of careers

Look at trends

Discover what the global trends are. The World Economic Forum is a great resource. Every year the World Economic Forum releases reports on future job market trends.  This report for instance highlights global employment trends, need skills and jobs that are forecasted to be redundant. 
Educate yourself 
Educate yourself about what is out there. Create a list of careers and career fields, use the following websites to help you make the list. 
These websites provided detailed descriptions of the careers that are out there and is a great career choice list. 

How to make good career choices.

To make good career choices you need to have enough self knowledge, good career information and then the ability to make an informed career decision. 
The last aspect in making great career decisions is actually make the career decision and take action. 
There are many facets to making good career decisions. Firstly you need to look at the factors that can influence your career choices. Then you need to follow a process to help you make informed career decisions. 

What factors should I consider when making career choices? 

According to this systematic review these are the most common factors to consider when making career choices. The factors can broadly be sorted into external, personal and interpersonal factors. 
See this table below
 a Making
Factors to consider when choosing a career

Looking at this table. See what factors you might have not considered. 

You can also use the career values activities discussed earlier to make a list of the career values that are the most important to you. 

How to make informed career choices.

As human beings we have two systems of decision making. Daniel Khaneman, a Nobel prize winning psychologist for his work, names it System 1 and System 2 thinking. 
System 1 thinking involves your intuition or pattern-recognition ability and System 2 thinking involves your analytic ability. Read this article for a more detailed explanation.

It is important to be aware of both these systems of thinking. My advice will be to wear both of these hats when working through your decisions. For this reason Steven Hayes advises to make decisions with your ‘whole self’. 

Basically, use both System 1 and 2 thinking to make your decision. 

Read on for some tips and tricks to use both your intuition (System 1) and your logic (System 2) to make a decision.

How to use your intuition to make a career choice

Steven Hayes provides us with some great prompts. 

Take some time and don’t be in a rush. Reflect on each of the questions below and keep it abstract. Just for this exercise try to keep clear of System 2 thinking. Sit with these questions and allow it to be cultivated. (These prompts were adapted from this article):

  • If this career choice was a song, what song would it be?
  • If this career choice was a movie, what movie would it be?
  • If this career choice was a famous story, what story would it be?
  • If this career choice was a poem, what poem would it be?
  • If this career choice was a bodily sensation, what sensation would it be?
  • If this career choice was a memory, what memory would it be?
Taking your time, notice what answers pop up. The next step is to be more expressive with your decisions. 
  • Consider the choices and move your body in a way that fits each answer.
  • Consider the choices and draw an abstract drawing for each.
  • Consider the choices and think of each as an image.
  • Consider the choices and allow a word to percolate up for each alternative.
It is okay not to figure it all out at once, but use this as part of your System 1 thinking. 

How to use logic to make a career decision

Now it is time to use your analytical skills to help make your career choice. 
Just a reminder, use your whole self to make the decision.
Here are some practical steps to use your ‘System 2’ thinking to make your career decision. Khaneman provides four practical tips:
  • Use algorithms (rules / system) to make your decisions. This eliminates bias.
  • Take the broad view, your decision is not in isolation. 
  • Test for regret. 
  • Seek good advice.
Each section will provide you with tips and tracks to follow these steps. 

Create a system (algorithm) to make your choice

Create a system (algorithm) to make your choice
Be aware of the ‘noise’ before making your decision. Noise refers to any variation in decision that you will have given the same information. 
Ask yourself:
  • Will you make the same decision now with this information next year?
  • What are the factors that are currently affecting my decision? This can include emotions, people, even the weather. (See the list above of factors to consider)
Being aware of the ‘noise’ create a practical system to make your decision:
Make a list of 5 key dimensions that are important to you. Base these dimensions on the self knowledge you gained by going for career counselling or reading the first section of this article. 
  • Now rate each decision or career option on a scale of one to 5. 
  • Now add up the scores for each career option. 
  • The option with the highest score wins.
  • To avoid halo effects, you must collect the information on one dimension at a time, scoring each before you move on to the next one. 
  • Do not skip around this can create noise and bias. 

Gain a broader view to help with your career choice.

These questions help take a broader view and gain more perspective. 

Imagine you receive a letter from the future. 

  • What will your future self be grateful for? 
  • What quality of being did you cultivate in the next five years? 
  • What will your family or children be grateful for? 
  • What will your friends be grateful for? 
  • What will society be grateful for? 

Test for regret and weigh up risks when making a career decision

Reflect on this question. 

Imagine it is 5 years into the future, and things did not go your way. It went horribly wrong. 

  • What went wrong? 
  • Write down your thoughts. 
Weigh up the risks of deciding on your career. Here are some questions you can reflect on. 
  • Does the opportunity require the commitment?
  • Can you accept the risk?
  • Is there a contingency plan?

Take action in your career choice

The first three section of this article helped you 1) gain self knowledge, 2) get more career information and 3) make a great career choice. 
Once you have narrowed down your career choice, it is time to take action and remain adaptable. 
Continue reading to help you set goals to take action. The last section will explore the importance of career adaptability. 

Setting goals for in your career journey

The internet is saturated with goal setting advice. But what does research say works? 

Here is my summary of the elements in goals setting that helps you achieve your goals:

  1. Align your goals with your values
  2. Write them down
  3. Make your goals vivid
  4. Plan for obstacles
  5. Review your goals
  6. Have a system to keep you accountable
The next few headings will elaborate on each of these elements

Align your goals with values for your career

Values are your chosen quality of beings practiced in the present moment. They are like a compass direction that guides your moment by moment actions. Goals are the tasks which you want to accomplish. 
If your values are the compass directions then goals are the destination that you reach while travelling ‘East’. This makes it very important to align your goals with your values. 
Here is an example:
Your value is ‘vitality’, your goals would be to exercise 3 times a week. Vitality is something you can choose to cultivate in every moment of your life. In contrast, exercising 3 times this week is binary. You either achieve it or not. 
Make sure your goals and values align. 

Write your goals down to achieve your career goals

Research suggests that people who write down their goals are significantly more likely to achieve their goals. More specifically vividly writing down or picturing your goals.
Writing down your goals helps keep you reminded of them. The act of writing also helps store your goals into your long term memory, which enhances your ability to remember them as well. 
Keep a visual cue that you can see everyday to help you remember and remind you of your goals

Make your career goals vivid

The more vivid (detailed) your goals are, the easier they are to remember. 
Making your goals vivid also helps eliminate any uncertainty and defines the boundaries for your actions. 

A great technique to make your goals more vivid is the SMART goal setting technique. A SMART goal is a goal that is:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

Plan for action and obstacles to achieve your career goals

By now you should have written down your goals, aligned them with your values and made them vivid. 
The next step is to look at your calendar and plan. You need to plan for two things: 
  • Plan for action. 
  • Plan for obstacles
Plan for action to achieve your career goals
Writing down the dates and times and the actions that you need to do during these dates and times increase your odds with achieving your goals. 
Take your calendar and schedule the times that you are going to be working on your goals. This becomes a cue for your brain. It also helps eliminate any uncertainty. 
Planning to achieve your goals also helps you become aware of any obstacles. 
Plan for obstacles to achieve your career goals
Looking at your calendar, see if there are any events that might hinder you from working on your goals. 
Be proactive and plan around it. For instance, if you are following an eating program, but your friends invited you for dinner, communicate to them that you are eating healthier. 
Note the time of day. Some tasks are easier to complete in the morning versus in the evenings. 
Reflect: What time of day will provide you with the least distractions?

Review your career goals

On a daily basis review your progress towards your goals. Being clear on the actions you need to take makes this easier. 
Have a daily list of actions or habits. Convert these actions and habits into a checklist. 
Keep your goal action checklist somewhere you can see it (like on your fridge). Everyday, tick the actions off if you completed them. 
If you are not able to complete an action, review the reasons for not achieving them. Take a minute to consider what helped you and what hampered you to achieve your goals actions.
It is easier to review your goals when you have an accountability buddy. 

Have an accountability system to achieve your career goals

Trust me, it is easy to review your goals and commit to the action when your motivation is high. But let’s face it. You are not going to be 100% motivated to work on your goals every day. This is why you need someone to keep you accountable. 
Someone to keep you accountable to your goals is a great safety net for the days that you don’t feel motivated. 
Motivation is overrated, action is key. 
Having someone keep you accountable to your daily goal directed actions ensure that you keep working even if you do not feel motivated. 

Career Adaptability and Resilience

The world of work is changing faster than ever. It is very difficult to predict the future, moreover, unexpected things DO happen. On the flip side unexpected opportunities might happen as well! 
Having an adaptable and resilient attitude towards your career helps keep you open for opportunities. Being adaptable and resilient also gets you through the tough times and increases the odds for you to design the life you want. 
Career adaptability helps you be ready and cope (or even thrive) during various transitions and demands in your career. 
Choosing a career in itself is a transition. Changing careers is a change. Change can be demanding. What we do know from research is that career adaptability and resilience helps you during the changes. 
Saying this, you must be wondering what are the ways to enhance your career adaptability? 
Keep reading…

Ways to enhance your career adaptability. 

Research suggests that the main resources of career adaptability can be summarised in the 4Cs 
  1. Concern
  2. Control
  3. Curiosity
  4. Confidence
Each of these career adaptability resources are considered self regulatory strategies. What is meat by this is, each of these resources are a way to manage your actions to remain adaptable. It helps you know in what area you can take more control of your actions for your career. 
Highlighted below is a brief discussion and some ways you can increase your career adaptability. 

The 4 career adaptability resources

The following headings will elaborate on the 4 resources of career adaptability. 

Career concern as an adaptability resource

Concern as a career adaptability resource looks at how concerned you are about your future. It enables you to look ahead and prepare for what comes next. In other words, it looks at how pragmatically you are looking at your future. Are you thinking ahead and aligning your choices and actions accordingly. In other words, are you preparing for your future career tasks? 
If you frequently think about your future and what decisions you need to make for your career then you will score high on career concern. 

Career control as an adaptability resource

This adaptability resource looks at how much responsibility you are taking for your career development. Do you feel responsible for developing yourself and shaping your environments to control your next step? 

So if you have a lot of self-discipline, put in a lot of effort, and persist towards your career goals, then you will score high on career control. 

Career curiosity as an adaptability resource

Curiosity as an adaptability skill means that you are constantly exploring future possible future selves and career opportunities. This resource helps you think about the different career scenarios and roles you can find yourself in. 
A person that will score high on career curiosity will for instance look for opportunities to grow, explore different career opportunities and discover different ways of doing things. 

Career confidence as an adaptability resource

How confident are you in your ability to learn new skills, to do things well, make decisions and solve problems? If you are very confident in this ability then you will score high for career confidence. 
Career confidence is concerned with your belief in your ability to succeed in solving the various problems in your career. 

How do I enhance my career adaptability? 

Be proactive in your career development

Take responsibility for your own career development. It is your responsibility to future proof your career
Base your career decision on your own personal values and developmental needs. People who are proactive in their career tend to be more successful in their ability to change their environment to better fit their needs and preferences. 

Know your life story and its impact your career

Take some time and reflect on your life story. Think about some of the adversity and pain that you have had. Is there a way that you can transform your pain and adversity into a story of personal agency. A story where you take control of your journey.
Turn your pain into your and someone else’s hope. Having this ability increases your odds to have higher levels of mental health, well being and maturity
Use some of the activities and prompts under the self knowledge section of this blog to help you reflect on this. 

Write about your career challenges

What are some of the emotional challenges you faced today? Ever thought about writing them down? Take some time to write down and describe some of the emotional challenges you’re facing. 
Write about your challenges in finding a new job, in relationships, the stressors you are facing or the conflicts you had in the office. 
Stay with me…even if this sounds weird. 
Though this might seem very uncomfortable, there is some great scientific evidence behind this. Over and over again the experiments have shown that in the long run expressing your struggles, thoughts and feelings is good for your health and resilience. 
Constructively expressing your feelings of negative events helps you make sense of your painful events. This makes your ability to move and focus on your future more likely. In other words, you are not moving forward with a grudge or unnecessary weight on your shoulders.