This quick-but-not-dirty approach may be worth trying, especially if you've already tried a lot: You used your college's career center, read a fat career guidebook or three, even hired a career counselor who gave you the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment tests, only to end up telling you, "There are lots of careers you could pursue."
The Quick-and-Not-Dirty Approach
1. Scan the quick intros in U.S. News's list of the 100 Best Jobs and AOL's piece on "25 Great Careers for 2013 and Beyond." Jot down any professions that appeal.
2. Use the U.S. Department of Labor's Skills Profiler tool (http://www.careerinfonet.org/Skills/). It inventories your skills and spits out five matching careers. Do any of those intrigue you at least as much as any you identified in step No. 1?
3. Google the name of prospective jobs and the word "career" (for example, "genetic counselor" and careers) and review relevant articles and videos.
4. Search Amazon for a book on any career(s) that remains a candidate. Too many books on a career are written by a cheerleader for that career. So particularly look for books that take equal care in presenting a career's positives and negatives, for example, "Should You Really Be a Lawyer?" by Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky. Also look for books that present the perspectives of a number of practitioners – for example, Barbara Arnoldussen's "First Year Nurse: Wisdom, Warnings, and What I Wish I'd Known My First 100 Days on the Job." This book distills hundreds of nurses' input.
5. Shadow people who work in your top-three career choices. You might find them through your personal network, alumni association or local chapter of a professional association, for example, the American Optometric Association. It's tempting to trust such people more than the information you obtained in steps 1 through 4 because you experienced them and their job-site first-hand. But place greater trust in the information you get from items 1 through 4 because those represent many people's viewpoint.
6. Make your choice. You'll have, quite quickly, chosen a career more wisely than do most people.
Are you still not sure which career to select? Most people who end up happy in their career wouldn't have known that before choosing it. So rather than search further for a career that will elicit an instant "Eureka," choose the career that ranks No. 1 from steps 1 through 5, then take the time to become a go-to guy or gal at it, and, as with a suit of clothes, tailor and accessorize the job to fit your preferences.
For example, if you want to become a graphic designer, get mentored by designers whose work you admire. Then search for a niche within graphic design that feels both exciting and viable, for example, big data. That booming field needs graphic artists to create visuals such as infographics to distill mountains of data into an easy and understandable form. Then search for a big data graphic design job that has the elements you care about: Solo- or teamwork? Work at home or a busy office? Nonprofit, government or for-profit?
As in romance, falling in love with your career usually requires you to get intimately acquainted.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.