A guide to making good career choices

CDr Coaching

Welcome to this surprising and thorough step-by-step guide on how to make good career choices. By the end of this article you will know better which questions to ask in order to decide between different opportunities!

There are six steps to follow before you are ready to make a well-informed, optimal career choice. These questions are designed to guide one step at a time. They start in the mundane and every day aspects of your professional life, and gradually progress towards your inner world of beliefs, thoughts and feelings.


Carmen Rietdijk

1- Environment
There will be social and physical environments that you will make you feel at ease. Finding a work place that fits with your personality will be a blessing for you and your new manager and colleagues.
You may prefer a place with a ‘work hard, play hard' mentality, a family-oriented workplace, or a competitive environment. Maybe you perform better when you work alone, or maybe you thrive when you have plenty of interactions with your colleagues. And you might feel safer when your manager gives you clear instructions, or you might be happier when your manager gives you a lot of freedom.
What type of physical location is a good fit for you? Think about the main location of main activities of this job (behind a desk, in a car, outside), travel time, amount of potential distraction at your main work place, the amount of sunlight in the building.


So ask yourself: what type of social and physical environment makes me feel comfortable, and allows me to be the best version of myself?


2- Actions
You will have a preference for certain types of behavior, and will struggle with others. Choosing a job with many activities that give you energy, and only a few activities that require a lot of energy, will make you more successful in the long run.
Your attention span can be long or short, your energy balance can be high or low, and you may or may not be sensitive to stress. You may enjoy new tasks and varied activities, or be more comfortable with familiar tasks and routine work. You may work best when you carry responsibility for your own planning and approach, or you may do best when the expectations of your manager are clear. You may or may not be bothered by irregular hours, or a lot of time spend on the road. You may or may not appreciate opportunities to follow a training, or regular social activities with colleagues.


So ask yourself: which way of working would give me energy every day, and what would I enjoy doing daily for a longer period of time?


3- Skills
During your studies you have developed and perfected skills, of which some were easy to develop, while others were harder to master. Different jobs require different skills, and your natural abilities will make some jobs a great fit for you.
Looking at your strongest and weakest skills, and comparing them to skills needed for certain jobs, can be very informative. Think about any and all skills you used before in different situations. Which ones seem to come back every time? Which ones do you enjoy the most, or not at all? And what do other people see as your strongest (and weakest) skills? Which skills would you like to develop (further) in a future job? Choosing a job with the right balance of familiar and new skills is always a good idea.


So ask yourself: which skills do I have and enjoy, which skills do I want to (continue to) develop, and which skills are best admired in others?


4- Beliefs
Your beliefs are an unseen force driving your thoughts, decisions and actions. They can be a powerful ally, or hold you back in your career. They usually operate in the back of your mind, where they become an invisible guiding hand.
You have beliefs about your work and career. Answering these questions will shed some light on them. What does it mean to you to … 

  •  … have a good job? What makes a job ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in your eyes? 
  • … be a good employee? What would make you or your colleague a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ employee? 
  • … be successful? What would make your life ‘successful’? And what would be the worst kinds of ‘failures’ you could encounter? 
  • … have a job? How important is your work compared to other parts of your life? To what extend do you define yourself and others by their job? 
  • … make a good decision in your career? What makes a career choice ‘good’ or ‘bad’? 
  • … hold a degree? Why did you attain a university degree? What would it mean to you if you did not have this degree? How do you view people with and without a degree?

So ask yourself
: which beliefs are driving my decision to follow this career path, and are these the beliefs I want to live by?


5- Identity
Your identity makes you who you are, is independent of your circumstances, and is usually experienced as unchanging. It is your internal answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ and can be hard to describe.
Your identity is so fundamental that it is very difficult to go against it. Finding a job that allows you to be who you are is therefore a great way to live a happy life. ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ (unknown source). Answering the questions below will help you put words to your identity, and therefore the type of job you might seek.

  • What makes you unique? 
  • What is your place in the world? 
  • How do you relate to other people in the world? 
  • What has defined your identity since childhood? 
  • Who do you want to be? 
  • Assuming you received enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life and you would know you’d keep your health until you were at least 100 years old: who would you be and what would you choose to do with your life?


So ask yourself: which career choices would allow me to be my happiest and truest self?


6- Purpose in life
The purpose of your life is even more elusive than your identity. It revolves around the question ‘What gives meaning to my life?’.
You will have an instinctive response to this question, which may again be hard to put into words. Finding a job that is sincerely meaningful to you will be a true blessing. So you are invited to answer these last questions, and find out which purpose you want to fulfil in your career.

  • Why are you on this earth?
  • To what end do you live your life? 
  • What do you want to contribute to the world? 
  • What purpose makes you get out of bed on a dreary morning? 
  • How do you want to be remembered? 
  • What gives meaning to all your choices and actions? 
  • What purpose do you want to fulfill in your lifetime?


So ask yourself: what is the most meaningful work I could be doing in my life?


Final thoughts
Working through the six steps above will likely open new perspectives to you and your career. Hopefully this clarifies which opportunities you want to chase, and which ones you want to let go. Nonetheless you may still struggle with certain career choices. Therefore I will give you a few final tips and tricks on decision making.
First of all, remember that you will spend a lot of time on your job, so your opinion is the one that should matter the most. Secondly it is important to realize that all career choices contain inherent risks; there is never a guarantee that it is going to work out perfectly. The only way to find out if a job works for you is to try it out. Thirdly, if a job is not a ‘YES!’, then it is a ‘no’. You shouldn’t settle for a job that’s a ‘maybe’.
I wish you a lot of happiness, prosperity and success in your future career!


By Carmen Rietdijk
Carmen Rietdijk’s experiences as a PhD candidate in Neuroscience inspired her to start her own company after she had obtained her PhD in 2016. CDr Coaching supports and coaches PhD candidates, especially with emotional and motivational struggles in their professional and personal life. For more information please visit cdrcoaching.nl.


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published online 13-Feb-2019


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