It's never too late─or too soon─to start preparing for your future. High school is an important time to start exploring careers. At this stage, a career search is all about seeing what's out there and finding opportunities that interest you so that you can decide what you need to do next.
Exploring career paths can guide your academic and extracurricular pursuits. When you have some idea what your goals are, you can take relevant courses, develop skills, and effectively transition into work or education after graduating from high school.
How do you make that happen? Learning more about yourself is the ideal way to begin the career-planning process. Your passions, hobbies, and experiences can point you in the right direction.
During this process, you may discover new talents and passions while exploring your goals. Here are five ways to help you get started.
1. Think About What You Love and What Matters to You.
There's a world of career possibilities out there. It might feel a little overwhelming to settle on something now while you're still in high school. Even if you change your mind later, knowing which options best meet your needs can help you stay on track to a fulfilling career. That's why we recommend starting with your preferences.
Identifying what's important to you can help you focus on finding careers you’re likely to enjoy.
2. Research Career Options by Asking Questions.
Once you have a list of career matches, research a few opportunities to determine what's right for you. What classes have you found especially inspiring? What activities keep you so absorbed that you don't even notice how much time has passed?
To determine your career path, here are a few more questions you should ask:
- What do people in this career do?
Can you imagine how you want your day-to-day routine to look? It's easy to think that a career is a good match for you when you look at broad job descriptions. But what does someone in an occupation that interests you actually do in a typical workday?
- What’s the work environment like?
Your future work environment matters. Some people thrive in a closed-office setting. Others would rather be on the go, spending some or all their working hours outdoors. Some people do better when working alone and setting their own pace. Others prefer to work in a challenging environment where they can collaborate with their colleagues face-to-face. Figure-out what sort of environment your potential career involves.
- What salary do people in this career earn?
Once you pinpoint an occupation, start looking into salary potential. The importance of pay in your search might change over time but will always matter to some degree. Although you can't know for sure what you'd earn in a specific job, you can learn more about what most people make in that occupation.
- Is this salary enough?
To better understand if a job salary would cover your expenses, you can assume that you'd pay the average U.S. tax rate of 22% and deduct that from the overall salary number. Once you see the potential annual take-home pay, divide the yearly salary by 52 weeks to get a sense of what you'd make weekly.
- Is this career growing?
Job outlooks change as technology and society evolve. Numerous jobs from decades ago no longer exist. Investigate job forecasts when exploring potential career paths. Although you can't predict the future, you can dig into anticipated occupational changes to better understand the best positions to pursue. BigFuture Career Search relies on dynamic labor market information to get you the most relevant insights as they emerge.
- What education or training do I need to enter this career?
Some career paths require complex job training that could affect your educational timeline and costs. Education and training opportunities are available after high school, and they can lead to good jobs. Consider four-year colleges, two-year colleges, apprenticeships, certificate programs, and other skills training to help you get on the right career path.
Keep in mind that scholarships and educational grants can help you pay for your education. Knowing what you're in for can help you start your career with a solid financial strategy.
3. Identify Defining Experiences. Create a Self-Portrait.
Think about three experiences that taught you something about yourself. Choose the one that gave you the greatest satisfaction. Write a sentence explaining why that was so. If you can pinpoint what makes you happy, you can aim toward a career providing those experiences.
Are you friendly, creative, impatient, funny, or organized? Try writing down a list of 10 qualities you feel describe you. Ask your friends and family to name some of your qualities─sometimes others see us more clearly than we see ourselves. Add their suggestions to your list. Now think about what sort of career would suit the person your list describes.
You may also want to list your top five strengths and weaknesses. What sorts of employers would be interested in your strengths? For example, if you're a good public speaker, explore what careers call for that skill.
Your weaknesses can also tell you a lot about where you might go. You can steer away from careers that require skills you're not confident about or work to improve weaknesses that may keep you from your goals.
4. Set Goals.
Once you've identified some career options, consider where you see yourself long term. Decide on your next step to explore further. Commit to doing something to get started. You can learn more about setting career goals here.
5. Explore Careers
What do actuaries or archaeologists really do? What sorts of opportunities will there be in the future for architects or art directors? Imagine yourself in different roles.
Remember, even if you know someone who has been planning to be a doctor since the age of seven, most young people don't know what they want to do. Career exploration isn't a process you go through just once. People go through the experience throughout their lifetime.
You’ll discover what you like or want to avoid as you explore. Check in often to make sure your current interests, values, and skills match the goals you set. If there's misalignment, start the process again, and update your plan.
If you want to learn about yourself and your options, make sure to take the Career Quiz.