How to Decide Which Career is Right for You

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean that you enjoy it. In your best career, the two will go hand in hand.

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Curt Rosengren
U.S. News’s Best Careers of 2011 package showcases jobs that are packed with potential for 2011. But to pick your personal best career, that path where you can confidently say, “This is the career for me,” it takes some additional work on your part—work that’s well worth it.

In a post earlier this week, Tim Tyrell-Smith offered some specific questions to help you identify the best career for you. Here are a few more to help you develop a unique and individual perspective, so you can recognize your own personal best career.

To evaluate a possible career, ask yourself:

Would I feel energized by the work?

This is where it all starts. Regardless of a career’s growth potential or how much money you could make, if a job leaves you feeling drained and depleted, it can’t be the best one for you. Far too many people with “great jobs” get a creeping sense of dread every Sunday night—are you one of them? The job that’s truly best for you will have you falling in love with Monday morning.

How do you know if it will leave you feeling energized? Try this exercise.

[See How to Choose a Career That's Best for You.]

Would I feel energized by the outcome?

If you want to recognize your best career, you need to understand what energizes you. Some of that energy comes from the work itself, but the outcome you’re working toward can also be an energy source.

All work is inherently about making a difference. Something is different when you’re done than when you started. So it makes sense to ask, What kinds of outcomes serve as my energy source? What kinds of differences feel most energizing to make?

Making a difference doesn’t have to be about saving the world; it can involve a variety of outcomes. Which ones energize you? Do your preferred outcomes have to do with people? The environment? Ideas or information? Do they have a broad reach, or are they more about individuals? Do they involve organization and efficiency, or seeing people tap into their creativity? The more you know about the kinds of outcomes that compel you to work hard even when the going gets are challenging, the more engaged you will feel in your work.

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

Would I be able to use the gifts I want to use?

In your best career, your skills and abilities will shine. The work it entails will dovetail with what you have to offer, what you’re good at. You’ll make a contribution that you’re uniquely qualified to make.

But this requires asking more than, Would I be good at it? You should also ask, Do I want to put these skills to use? Would I find it enjoyable and energizing to use these skills day in and day out? Just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean that you enjoy it. In your best career, the two will go hand in hand.

Would it let me thrive financially?

Looking at what leaves you feeling energized and inspired is important, but the financial question is a vital part of the equation, too. The key is to make it just that—part of the equation, not the whole equation. Too often, people lead with salary and then fill in other job qualities around the edges, if there’s space. Instead, look at the whole picture.

Would it let me grow in a beneficial way?

The “best career” question can’t solely revolve around opportunities for growth, because most career paths include growth potential. The real question is whether or not there are opportunities for growth that you care about. This is where it’s helpful to have insights about what energizes you and what you find compelling. If you don’t equip yourself with that information, the answer to this question is little more than a stab in the dark.

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

How do I feel imagining myself doing this ten years from now?

This last question doesn’t require any thinking. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think about the job you’re considering. Think about what you would be doing day in and day out. Then fast forward ten years down that same path. How would it feel to be doing this, or whatever it would likely grow into, ten years down the road? Does the idea appeal to you, or does it feel heavy?

If it feels like a burden, that’s a good sign that there’s another career out there that’s best for you.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.