Finding My Career Path In My 20s | 4 Quick Questions (Save Money and Time!)

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Finding a Career Path in Your 20s

Many people in their 20's are trying to figure out their career path, but don’t know where to start. And that’s totally normal. In this article, I will teach you how you can find your career path in your 20’s. 

To find a career path in your 20’s, there are four very important questions to ask. However, before I get to those questions, I want to give you a bit of a background on why there are so many people who are struggling with this. Most of us when we went through high school took the mandatory high school “careers” course. With everyone that I’ve worked with, that course was not helpful at all. In addition, high school counsellors are outnumbered on an average of a 400:1 student-counselor ratio. If they spent one day on each student, they wouldn't be able to get through all students in one year. And this is on top of all their other work, it’s simply not possible to give any useful career guidance.

In higher education, it gets worse. Guidance counselors are outnumbered 884:1 in small colleges, and 1,575:1 in larger colleges. Reports reveal social-emotional problems among 50% of students. Therefore, these institutions' attention is focused on improving social-emotional health. As a result, career counseling and career guidance are heavily neglected.      

 Once people leave college and start working, we find even more astounding statistics. According to Gallup, 58% of college students' primary motivation for pursuing a college education is to get a good job. However, 51% of Americans stated that they would change one educational decision in their lifetime. Of that 51%, 36% say they would choose a different major, 28% would choose a different institution, while 12% would get a different degree altogether. One in four working US adults with college experience strongly agrees that their education is relevant to their work and day-to-day life. In short, going to college won't always prepare you well for the workforce.

Even when you join the workforce, things are still messed up. In Canada, youth unemployment rates double that of adults, and in the US the numbers are quite similar. A 2019 Deloitte survey of millennials found that 50% of them are continually looking for another job they can switch to in the next two years and that 70 to 80% of people find their jobs boring.

With these statistics, you can see why it is normal to be thinking about how to navigate your career path. The numbers are astounding. People aren’t happy. However, before you make that jump, it’s important to ask four essential questions, which follow below. 

 

Question #1: What is the new normal?

The first question to ask yourself when you’re looking to find your career path in your 20's is, “what is the new normal?” Your parents may have told you to get an education and work hard so you can hold the same career for the rest of your life. However, we know this is outdated advice. In 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that they refuse to track what constitutes a “career change”. The reason is simple, each position requires a different skillset. For example, jobs within the career of “education” could be a Teacher, Teaching Assistant, or Principal. Each of these requires different skills.

However, from this perspective, a person’s lifetime may easily have 12 to 15 career changes. So if you reasonably average it out to 2-3 jobs in each career, it is easily 20 to 40 jobs throughout your lifetime. This means that most of the jobs you’re going to do in the future have probably not even been invented yet. There will be tremendous disruptions in the near future, some of which we are already seeing in the fields of AI, robotics, and globalization. The new normal is that many people will switch careers numerous times in the future.

Therefore, self-awareness becomes one of the most important assets for you to navigate your career. Ask yourself, what are the skills that make you happy? What is your personality? What are your values? You will find common threads that will lead you throughout different careers. For example, if writing is your passion and you excel at communicating effectively, that could be the common skill you want to implement throughout your career. 

Self-awareness of transferable skills is going to be at a premium when old industries inevitably start crumbling away. As I write this article, during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is difficult to contemplate that once upon a time, bosses frowned upon letting their employees work from home. Suddenly, nowadays, remote work has become a necessity due to social distancing guidelines. This is just one example of a disruption that’s going to change how the future world works. 

 

Question #2: What do you need?

The next question to find your ideal career path in your 20's is, “what do you need?” What do you want as a unique individual? This comes down to personality, and the best measurement of personality is the psychometrically valid 'Big Five' personality traits. The Big Five personality traits can be thought of using the acronym 'OCEAN'.

'O' stands for openness to experience. Are you one who loves new experiences? Or do you prefer the tried and true?

'C' is for conscientiousness. Are you able to stay focused on tasks in a regimented way? Or are you more of a flexible person, preferring to multitask and juggle different responsibilities?

 'E' is for extraversion. Are you more extroverted or introverted? In this pandemic situation, introverts are flourishing, while extroverts like myself are really struggling!

 'A' stands for trait agreeableness, which is whether you like to put your own agenda first versus putting the group agenda first. If you are conflict-averse, you would want to avoid conflict-driven jobs.

The last personality trait for OCEAN is 'N', which stands for neuroticism. A better way of framing it is the need for stability. If you’re higher in trait neuroticism, you have a higher need for stability. If you're lower, you can handle more volatility and more stressful situations.

 I would highly recommend you take the free personality test on my website. You will get answers specifically concerning your personality in the workplace.

 

Question #3: What are your values?

The third question that will help you find your ideal career path in your 20's is, “what are your values?” What motivates you? One of the standout insights found in a 2019 research study by Deloitte is that millennials are very much driven by values. One major reason for that is because they witnessed the Great Recession in 2008.

An excellent way to figure out your values is knowing what you naturally gravitate towards. What do you naturally gravitate towards in school, for your extracurriculars, or for your free time? Who are your role models? Who are the family members or friends you hang out with? Similar people with whom you spend your time and energy will reflect your true values. People are good at talking about what they care about, but what really shows what you care about is where you spend your time.

Try the simple task of tracking where you spend your time and money throughout one week. For example, I spent five hours with friends; I spent three hours on video games; I spent twenty hours eating, maybe I spent 50 hours sleeping, etc.

Once you break it down, you see where you spend your time and money, which will give you a good sense of your values. If you don’t like what you discover, you can always change it, but it will take effort. You can also categorize values into non-negotiables, peripherals, and bonuses. For example, through introspection, you realize that I’m a guy who likes a stable nine-to-five job with a good pay rate, therefore you can find a line of work that aligns with that.

An important thing to consider is that these values will change over time. So in your 20's, maybe having the best pay or the best advancement opportunities is the most important thing. However, once you hit your 30's and 40's, these priorities may evolve to wanting better hours in order to spend time with family, or better health benefits. It is important always to leave room for change and be mindful of seeking careers that can adapt to your changing values. 

 

Question #4: What are your current skills?

The fourth and final question you need to ask yourself to find your ideal career in your 20's is, “what are your current skills?” What are you really good at? What do skills do you want to develop? These are important questions because they will point you in the direction of a career that will be fulfilling.

One of the best indicators of your skills is what gets you in a state of 'flow'. Flow occurs when you spend hours on something, but it feels like you spent only 30 minutes, because you are so enthusiastic about doing it. Finding that sense of flow in a career is what gives you the most satisfaction, research has shown that money becomes self-limiting to satisfaction once it hits a certain threshold. In the West, it would be $60-80K. Once you hit that 60-80K range, pay increases past this point do not increase your happiness substantially. Instead, what really increases your happiness is constantly being in the state of flow and in a career that matches your values and personality. 

 

Conclusion

After you’ve answered the four questions above, the next thing you want to do is,

1) Conduct career research

2) Write a career statement

3) Draft a career action plan

You can learn more about these steps in this video. In addition, if you haven’t done so already, make sure you take my free personality test so you can get a good feel for what your personality is like in the workplace. You can download a PDF on the four steps on how to find your ideal career and join my Facebook group 'career change advice'  so you can connect with like-minded individuals who are interested in building their careers for success.

 

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