The 6 Worst Ways to Pick a Career

To choose the job that's right for you, avoid these traps.

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Andrew G. Rosen
Ask any graduating senior and they will tell you that choosing a career, while an exciting prospect, is also terribly stressful. After all, once the safety of academia disappears, you’re on your own, often pursuing a job that matches your educational experience. We’re all told that we can be anything we want to be, and that’s true. But the part that’s often left out is the difficult road we must travel to get there.

When choosing a career path, keep in mind the acronym VISE:

  • Values
  • Interests
  • Skills
  • Environment
  • These four factors, considered in that order, can help you determine the best career path for you. But there are many traps along the way, ones that can lead you on the wrong career path.

    Here are the six worst ways to pick a career and tips to avoid them:

    1. Picking a career because everyone says you'll be good at it.

    It’s flattering when friends pump your ego by saying that you’re funny or talented or super smart. But translating those skills into a career might be more difficult than you’d expect. And will you still enjoy that task when you’re doing it at work 40 hours a week? Plenty of people are good writers, for example, but don’t want the pressure of producing written work on a regular basis.

    The Solution: If you think you have a strong skill, show it off to people who are already successful in that field. They’re more qualified to assess your ability than friends and family. With the rise of Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s almost always possible to find someone who works in the industry you’d like to work in. Don’t hesitate to contact them and ask whether your skills would translate to the working world. You’ll be amazed at how generous most people are with their time when it comes to talking about career choices.

    [See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

    2. Picking a career for perks or pay.

    Choosing work around a schedule or how much money you’ll make rather than whether you’ll be good at it or enjoy the work means you’ve found a job—not a career. Teachers, for example, may choose the profession to have summers off and a liberal vacation schedule, but does that mean they’re good in the classroom? If you’re lucky, you’ll land in a career that does offer certain perks, but picking a job because of them is not a good idea.

    The Solution: Before embarking on a career path, write out a list of pros and cons. Assign a percentage of importance to each item on the list. If the perks are worth more than the job itself, it’s probably a good idea to look for another career. Your appreciation of those bells and whistles may wear off eventually, but what you do every day, the work involved, will affect you for the long haul.

    3. Picking a career you think you’ll like without interning in the field.

    Try it before you buy it. If you haven’t had extended exposure to the career you’re interested in, then you’re probably not ready to make the leap. Choosing a career is not the time for guesswork.

    The Solution: Find an internship before you commit to a certain career through education or a full-time job. It’s easier—and more important—than ever before to work as an intern before you make big career decisions.

    If you can’t land an internship, find a way to connect with people doing that job. Join online networking groups for that industry. Ask a connected friend or relative to put you in touch with people who work in the field. Or find another creative way to give yourself a sneak peek of what the job really entails.

    [See The Most Powerful Words to Use on Your Resume.]

    4. Picking a career because it will impress others.

    The grass is always greener. Choosing a career to impress other people—your friends, family, or even an enemy—is a recipe for unhappiness. Think about how much time you spend at a job. Is it worth entering that profession simply to impress certain people?

    The Solution: Visualize yourself actually doing the job. Figure out the best parts—and the worst. If you can’t fill certain voids, you probably need to do more research on the career. Focus on what you’re good at and what would make you happy, as opposed to which position might sound impressive.

    5. Picking a career as a temporary fix.

    Ever notice how temporary situations often become permanent? Life is complicated, and it’s easy to get trapped in a career you don’t like. You can always make changes, of course, but it’s easiest if you get it right from the start. Career transitions are challenging, especially after you’ve put significant effort into your initial job.

    The Solution: Don’t apply for jobs until you’re confident that you know what you want to do. This might not be realistic if you have bills to pay or a family to support, but for some of us, it is possible to take some time to step back and re-evaluate. If you do choose a career you hope will be temporary, set a deadline for change and hold yourself accountable by sharing it with someone you trust.

    [For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

    6. Picking a career to make your parents happy.

    The number of people who follow parents into a business or trade seems to be declining, but some offspring still join the family business for the wrong reasons. Yes, following in your parents’ footsteps may be good for your family, but it also has to be good for you.

    The Solution: Alleviate pressure from your parents by establishing a strong party line as soon as possible and consistently reminding them that the family business is a great opportunity, but it may not be for you. Pursue your dream career, but also keep the family business in the back of your mind. Having that as a safety net may give you the courage you need to land an awesome gig.

    Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of Jobacle.com, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job.