Making a Career Change? Start here!

Article By: Erica Mathis, Ph.D.

Now more than ever, people are looking to make changes in their career. Long gone are the days in which we stay in the same job from the time that we begin working to the time that we retire. However, many people who want to make a career change find themselves hesitating – asking “where do I begin?” The task of identifying a new career path can be quite daunting. So, how can we break this exploration down into manageable steps? A great place to start is to consider some career exploration basics: interests, values, skills, and personality.


Interests are typically the starting point for career exploration. This makes sense! Being interested in the work that you do is important to remain engaged in and satisfied with your career. However, many people tend to think too broadly at first, considering things such as which career paths they already know. Another more specific way to assess your interests is to think about what tasks you enjoy doing at work. Considering types of tasks that you enjoy (and those you don’t!) can actually be quite helpful in the career exploration process. This free measure of career interests assesses how you feel about different work tasks to help you identify which career interest categories (see graphic below) are most appealing to you. Then, you can utilize your top categories to identify careers that are a good fit for you. Approaching career interests in this way can help avoid the disappointment of spending time brainstorming career paths only to find that the actual day-to-day tasks involved in the career are not really of interest to you.


Skills are also a critical factor in career exploration. You may be interested in a career, but do you have the skills to execute a job within that field? Assessing your skills can be challenging. Many people tend to either sell themselves short and not consider transferable skills when working toward a career change. Tools such as this one can help you to identify your skills by prompting you to rate your knowledge in a wide variety of competence areas (for example, technical skills such as using word processing software or mechanical skills such as using power tools). Using other exercises such as journaling about your skills or asking a close friend or coworker to describe your skill set can also help you to identify which skills you could utilize in a new career. Additionally, you may want to consider what tasks feel particularly easy for you. Don’t forget – what is easy to you may be difficult to others! Identifying your skills in this way can help you stand out as an excellent addition to an employer who needs someone with your skills. Engaging in these skill identifying exercises can also help you prepare for tasks such as writing a cover letter or engaging in an interview as you will likely gain insight on how to market your skills to others.


So far, we have covered what interests you and what you feel skilled in, which are obvious factors to consider when looking at a career change. What about the less obvious factors? Let’s consider values. When you think of values, you may think of terms such as integrity, honesty, and fairness. While these are great values to hold, career values are more specific – factors such as work relationships, opportunities for advancement, and the ability to utilize your skills in your job. Much of the advice we receive about career exploration is focused on interests and skills but values are a very important part of the puzzle. You may be able to find a job that interests you, but unfortunately does not provide adequate benefits and does not allow for leadership opportunities. If these are things that are important to you – things that you value – then interest in and skills for the job will likely not be enough to keep you invested in that job and/or entire career path. This activity is a great start for exploring your career values. The results can help you understand the importance of your values as well, as the results are presented in order of priority based on how you responded. Oftentimes we have to compromise on some of our values when choosing a career path as it is difficult to find one that matches our values completely. However, knowing which values are the most important to you can help identify the areas in which you are least willing to compromise. This can aid you in narrowing down career paths and/or specific job options.


Our final area of discussion is personality. Another often overlooked factor in career exploration, personality is a crucial part of figuring out which career paths and/or specific jobs would be the best fit for you. There are many personality measures that can help you figure out what aspects of your personality may influence job satisfaction and performance. However, this is an area in which a thorough self-assessment can be just as useful. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do I like to work alone or as part of a team?
  • Am I interested in a client-facing role or something more behind the scenes?
  • Do I enjoy interacting with coworkers regularly or is minimal interaction best for me?
  • Do I prefer a manager who is closely involved with my work, or do I work better when allowed to accomplish tasks with minimal supervision and direction?

There are many more questions that can be helpful to ask yourself, but these provide a good starting point. Ignoring your personality as a factor in career exploration and decision-making is a misstep that people often make. For example, one may feel interested in and skilled at sales and then identify a sales job that matches their values. However, if the job requires working on a sales team and that does not match with the individual’s personality, the job may feel stressful to them. Thus, this person would want to look for opportunities in which they could engage their interests and skills in a role where daily sales work is primarily done alone.

Pulling it all together

So, how do you use the information about your interests, values, skills, and personality to make a career decision? While there is only so much detail that can be covered in one blog post, below is a basic example of how you can use the information in this blog to explore career paths and make a career decision.

  1. Use the tools and self-reflection recommended in this blog to identify your interests, values, skills, and personality. 
  2. Take notes on what you learn in a document or notebook where you can compile all information in one place.
  3. Use websites such as O*NET Online to explore career fields and identify ones that interest you. You can use the information you have learned about yourself to search by interest area, values, and skills. Put those quiz results to work! 
  4. Begin searching online for job postings similar to the occupations that interest you. Use the information in the postings to familiarize yourself with typical salaries, educational requirements, work settings, etc. to ensure that the jobs available in your fields of interest truly match your interests, values, skills, and personality. 
  5. Utilize resources (examples: websites, career coaches, peers) to work on career materials such as resumés and cover letters. Identify references that can speak to your skills.

Apply to jobs! When you reach the interview stage, don’t forget to ask questions to ensure that the employer is a good fit for your interests, values, skills, and personality. Use the information you learned in your self-exploration to formulate these questions.

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