Questions to Ask in Contemplating a Career Choice

Choosing what to do for a living

There are many questions that a young person should seek to get answered when contemplating what to choose to do for a living.  The answers should help guide them to choose a career that will really fit them, while they are still in the early stages of their education and preparations.  My impression is that it is common today for young people to have only the haziest understanding of what different career options really involve.

Changing conditions in the world of work

My view is that post-secondary education is at a point where almost everything needs to be rethought.  A large portion of the reason that people take post-secondary education is to prepare themselves for a livelihood. However, the world of work is in a state of rapid and profound change, and what could be counted on in prior decades is no longer likely for the future.  Many factors are combining now.  These include increased levels of automation, globalization and the extensive offshoring of jobs, rapid corporate consolidation and the elimination of competitors, and the replacement of many forms of experts by artificial intelligence systems.  The half-life of professional knowledge and expertise is getting ever-shorter.  Increasingly, winner-take-all dynamics dominate in the economy.  As a result, a small handful of people and institutions at the top get the great majority of the benefits, while everyone else fights over the scraps that remain.

Young people need to think carefully and deeply before preparing for earning a living in a particular career, considering the dynamics that are developing now.  What seems particularly important is to develop general critical thinking and creativity skills along with a capacity to learn new capabilities on a continuing basis, keeping ahead of the curve as changes occur constantly,

Following are some key questions I think would be valuable to ask:

Prospective career demand:

  • How strong is the demand for this career now? What is the number of jobs available compared with the number of people seeking jobs in this field? Are there many more applicants than jobs?
  • What trends in the career demand are observable now? How are they likely to play out in the future?
  • How future-proof is the career? What things could upend it, such as automation, movement of the jobs to other countries, or replacement of human workers by artificial intelligence? How long can strong demand in the career be foreseen?
  • What is the stability of employment in this career? Are there boom and bust cycles?

Prospective financial return:

  • What is the expected pay in this career as a function of position level and seniority?
  • How much educational debt will one have to start this career?
  • How soon could one expect to become debt-free and start saving?

Necessary preparations for the career:

  • What specific preparatory qualifications are necessary for this career (e.g., degrees, certifications, internships, professional licenses, etc.)?
    • How important is the prestige of the educational institutions you attended in this field?
    • What will be the expected cost of your educational preparations? How will you be expected to cover these costs (e.g., taking out student loans)?
  • What computing capabilities will you need to have (languages, programs/apps, etc.)?
  • In what languages other than English will you need to be fluent?
  • What cultural knowledge will you be expected to have?
  • What continuing education will you need to keep up during your working life?

Career path:

  • What does a typical career path look like in this field?
    • Opportunities to advance to higher positions with more responsibility and pay
    • Fraction of people who advance to each higher level (steepness of the advancement pyramid)
    • Likelihood of staying in the career over a working lifetime
    • Length of time people typically stay working in the career
    • Typical reasons people leave the career
    • What people who leave the career tend to do next

Personal characteristics for the career:

  • What particular talents and abilities are essential for doing well in this career?
  • What psychological profile factors are most compatible with this career? What profile factors are less?
    • Big five personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism)
    • Meyers-Briggs typology (extroversion/introversion, intuition/sensation, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving)
    • Multiple intelligence modalities (e.g., logical/mathematical, linguistic/verbal, visual/spatial, musical/rhythmic, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, teaching/pedagogical, digital/computational, etc.)
    • Temperament factors (e.g., ability to delay gratification, tolerance of uncertainty, etc.)
  • What physical attributes do you need to have for doing well in this career (e.g., high attractiveness, size, strength, flexibility, visual acuity, voice quality, etc.)?
  • What other attributes do you need to have for this career (e.g., high self-confidence, charisma, etc.)?
  • What might you face in terms of barriers and prejudices for various personal factors in this career?
    • Gender
    • Disabilities (e.g., sight or hearing impairment, mobility impairment, etc.) or medical issues
    • Appearance factors (build, weight, tattoos, etc.)
    • Race/ethnicity/national origin/social class/religion, etc.
    • Sexual orientation/gender presentation
    • Prior brushes with the law
    • Substance use
    • Controversial opinions and views expressed in social media postings, etc.

Career employers and their locations:

  • What are typical institutions with the jobs in this career (companies, schools, governments, etc.)?
  • What are characteristics of these employers?
    • Public or private
    • For-profit or not-for-profit
    • Size
    • Support for employee well-being
  • Where do jobs in this career tend to be located geographically?
  • What are characteristics of these locations?
    • Climate
    • Population density, crowding
    • Availability and cost of housing
    • Social and political environment
    • Cultural resources
    • General cost of living

Environment in the career:

  • What will the physical working environment be like in this career?
    • Will you spend most of your time sitting at a desk in an office, or will you work some outdoors? If so, how much? In what kind of weather and conditions?
  • Are there personal risks in this career?
    • Physical danger
    • Other risks (e.g., legal issues, harassment, etc.)
  • With what kind of people will you regularly interact in this career?
  • What will the working hours be like (number of hours per week, shift schedules, amount of on-call time, etc.)?
  • How will you be expected to present yourself?
    • Dress, hair, grooming, etc.
    • Possessions (e.g., car, clothing, electronics, etc.)
  • How much travel will you be expected to do? Where will travel be to?
  • How compatible is the career with marriage and raising children?

1 thought on “Questions to Ask in Contemplating a Career Choice”

  1. I liked that you said that you must think about the expected pay for the career that you are interested in to choose the right path. This is something that I will share with my 19-year-old niece who is interested in attending a self-guided career discovery course next month. She wants to ensure that she will choose a career that can provide her with financial stability, so your tips are helpful.

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