How to Choose a Career That’s Best for You

Since we all have different skills, interests, experiences and expectations, here’s what you should consider when thinking through this important decision.

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Tim Tyrell-Smith
As U.S. News unveils its Best Careers of 2011, it makes sense to think about whether one of the jobs on the list is a good fit for you.

Of course, since we all have different skills, interests, experiences and expectations, there’s no one career that’s best for everyone. So how do you choose the career that’s best for you?

Whether you’re trying to decide where to look for your first job or pondering a possible career change, here’s what you should consider when thinking through this important decision:

What are your natural talents?

We all have natural talents, certain tasks that come easy to us. When we use our natural talents, time moves fast and we tend to receive compliments for our abilities. Knowing where your natural talents lie is key to choosing the right career. Of course we’re capable of doing other things, but those other tasks usually feel more like work. What do you always enjoy doing, and how can those skills be applied to a job?

[See the full list of 50 Best Careers of 2011.]

What’s your work style?

Each of us has a preferred work style, even if we don’t realize it. That style can sometime conflict with a career choice. For example, a flexible work environment might allow you to deliver projects on various dates, while a structured environment would require specific deadlines and strict guidelines. What works better for you? In which environment do you tend to thrive?

Where do you like to work?

What’s your preferred work location? Your preference could vary from a small regional office to corporate headquarters to a home office, an airport hotel in Buffalo or a beach suite in South Florida. How often do like to work away from home? Do you mind traveling for your job? If living out of a suitcase makes you cringe and you need a consistency in your workplace, avoid careers that require a lot of moving around.

Do you enjoy social interaction?

Do you like working with others or as part of a team? Are you motivated by the needs of others and your ability to provide a solution? This is critical because some people shy away from that connection and would rather deliver value behind the scenes—without the complications of interacting with colleagues and clients. Know your social needs so you can choose a career that matches them.

How important to you is work-life balance?

Do you value a short commute and a home-cooked meal every night? Do you live for weekends out at the soccer field watching your kids play? If you need those creature comforts on a regular basis, pick a career that will give you the time to enjoy them. Look for jobs with regular hours and little to no requirements to work overtime or on weekends.

Are you looking to give back?

Some careers have a component of giving back, where the beneficiary of your hard work is not a corporation’s bottom line but rather a sick child, an endangered species or the planet’s air quality. If it’s important to know that your hard work makes a difference in the world, this could be a significant driver in your career choice.

[See Tips for Landing Jobs on Our Best Careers List.]

Are you comfortable in the public eye?

Certain careers encourage or even require employees to have a public persona. You may become known in your local community. If you’re a spokesperson, that recognition could extend to a nation level. Or if you serve as your company’s representative at trade shows or special events, you may become known in that niche community. How does this strike you—as an opportunity or an obligation? If you thrive on recognition and the chance to build a personal brand while promoting your company’s work, look for careers that allow you to stand out front.

Do you deal well with stress?

Some of us thrive on big deadlines, or being on the hook for important projects. We like being the glue that holds everything together. In this role, people trust you and expect that you’ll suck it up and deal well with the pressure. Of course, we all have different stress thresholds. If you thrive under the gun, you may do well in a high-stress career. But if stress makes you want to run the other way, look for jobs that are more laid-back.

How much money do you want to make?

As you look forward in life, what are your expectations for money? You might be single now, but maybe you hope to become your future family’s breadwinner. Or maybe you’re part of a successful two-income family and need to decide whether you’re comfortable living on less or compromising on other career aspects, like work-life balance, to earn a better income. If money is the reward you seek, there are careers to match.

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

If choosing a career feels like too much pressure, here’s another option: Pick a path that feels right today by making the best decision you can, and know that you can change your mind in the future. In today’s workplace, choosing a career doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick with that line of work for your entire life. Make a smart decision, and plan to re-evaluate down the line based on your long-term objectives.

Recognize that you’ll change as time rolls on. Your needs for money, freedom, balance, and recognition will change with you. But for now, think through each of these ideas, and you’ll be well on your way to choosing a career that’s best for you.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and share his 30 Ideas E-Book with job-seeking friends.