How to Find the Right Career Path in High School
Finding a career is an intimidating task, especially for high school students. Here's a great place to start when creating your path.
The ability to find a personalized career path that you love is an exciting part of entering adulthood. Though, narrowing in on what path is right for you can be daunting and an overabundance of interests can keep you from finding a career path that feels “right.”
For instance, you might be interested in a multitude of career paths—from start-ups to photography to data science and everything in-between. Your range of interests can seem to make it nearly impossible to understand which career is the best one for you, and you can feel exhausted trying to decide which career path you are most interested in. That’s okay. You are not the only one who struggles with this. Many people in their senior year of college and beyond are still figuring out how to navigate their interests.
In XQ’s interview with Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White, Abloh explains that the path he took to get to his current career was complicated. At times, he didn’t know if he was on the path to his goals, but he understood the value of learning and failing along the way.
Abloh explained that there is not necessarily a “right” path for any one person and that trapping yourself in that mindset can be limiting. Instead, he suggested refocusing on finding jobs that match your skills and interests and align with your values as a means of helping you feel more at peace when you wake up and start your workday.
Remember to find a career that aligns with your values and matches your passions and interests, and to prioritize your well-being by finding the right career fit for you. In any case, here are some best tips for how to find a career path that is right for you.
How to find a career path that you WANT
The idea of finding a career path that you deeply love might sound difficult and time-consuming, but if you prioritize your needs and values, it can be done. Your career can help you accomplish deeper life goals in ways you may have never envisioned—but finding that fit is not an easy thing to do.
Understand the qualities that make you a unique candidate, but also recognize what’s important to you. Knowing how your values and skills fit together can help you find a job that will motivate you for your whole career. To help find that perfect fit, consider these questions:
|What are my interests?
|Think about the activities, media, and topics that interest you. What about them specifically excites you? Is there an overarching theme that piques your interest?
|What are my hard skills?
|Hard skills include technical skills like writing, coding, and data analysis. These kinds of skills are gained through technical training and the accumulation of knowledge. Think about the technical skills you learned in your classes to figure out what skills you already have under your belt.
|What are my soft skills?
|Soft skills include communication, adaptability, teamwork, and problem-solving. These skills are harder to measure but are just as important as the hard skills you can bring to the table.
|What are my strengths?
|It is essential to identify your unique strengths because everyone has different ones. You can reimagine a workspace by contributing your unique strengths. If you are not sure what you are great at, you can take this free personality, skills, and career test.
|What are my weaknesses?
|It is also critical to identify your weaknesses so you can find a work environment with people who balance out your weaknesses and create a well-rounded team. Weaknesses should not hinder you. The simple awareness of where you might need improvement will ensure that you are a reasonable team member.
|What are my values?
|Values can be defined as the most important beliefs that lead the way you live your life. Some examples might be reliability, integrity, positivity, and consistency. Many companies state their values in the about pages, making it easy to see if your values align with one another.
|What education or training do I need to achieve this?
|Time and money are some important factors to consider when understanding what education or training is necessary. Are you willing to put in the time to complete this kind of education or training? Is the education or training something that you can afford? If not, are there scholarships available to help finance it?
Once you have identified your interests, skills, and expertise, take the time to research careers aligned with those attributes. Here are some examples of interests, skills, and expertise that might translate into careers:
- If you care about improving the quality of community members’ lives, policy-making and government might be a good field for you.
- If you care about helping others tell their stories, journalism or communications jobs might be good for you
- If you care about helping others grow and realize their potential, teaching could be a good path for you.
The XQ Career Test is a great place to start searching for potential career paths that align with your values.
Interested in finding a career that matches your passions with your skills? Check out our new free career tool.
How to figure out which career path is for YOU
Immerse yourself in as many experiences you can find in those areas that align with your interests, skills, and expertise. This helps you take the next steps toward which career path is right for you. The more experience you get in each different field, the more you will find which careers naturally call to you and which careers leave you craving more. The right career path is hard to define, and project-based learning experiences throw you in many different directions and introduce you to a multitude of opportunities. These experiences help you learn more about yourself and what you value in work along the way.
Along with resolving indecision, work experience can help secure more future opportunities. In a 2012 survey, employers noted that they place a heavier emphasis on internships and work experience over college majors, coursework, and GPAs in hiring decisions. Students learn skills outside of the classroom and working internships in different industries than sitting in classrooms writing papers.
When looking for work experiences, consider the following:
- Will this opportunity give me a look into the real-life day-to-day of employees?
- Does this environment encourage me to learn and grow?
- Are there opportunities for mentorship in this experience?
Internships are a great way to get real-world working experience. Paid internships are especially great because students learn from real-world working experience and earn a paycheck. This kind of opportunity may sound far-fetched, but they are more common than one would think. A couple of students from an XQ school in rural Elizabethton, Tennessee, even worked for a small tech firm over the summer in Jackson, Mississippi, developing virtual reality for schools. One of the students, Skyler, noted, “I love it here. It’s been amazing. I wake up excited to go to work. And there’s nothing like real job experience. I’ve learned and progressed so much.”
It is important to note that nowadays, work experience does not just stop at internships. If you are having trouble finding an internship, remember that students have the power to create your own opportunities as well. For instance, at XQ school Washington Leadership Academy, students have started their own businesses, designed websites, and solved complex coding problems. One year, the 9th graders designed a school registration website for the next year’s freshmen. A student in 11th grade recently made a flower pattern through code and uploaded it to a pair of shoes she could wear. 10 percent have started their own web development businesses and even have external clients.
The time to get creative with work experience is now. Here are some great examples of entry-level opportunities:
- Find an internship in a field that interests you
- Start your own project from the ground up with peers
- Shadow a professional in an area that interests you
If you are still having trouble knowing where to start finding opportunities, check out this job posting resources table below.
|Besides its job search function, LinkedIn is useful for expanding your professional connections. You can upload a profile highlighting your skills, connect with coworkers and recruiters, and read posts related to your areas of interest.
|Glassdoor is a site that hosts anonymous employee reviews about company culture, salaries, and possible interview questions. It can be central in determining whether or not a potential employer aligns with your goals and values.
|Indeed combines elements of the previous two resources by allowing you to upload a resume, search for jobs, and read company reviews. It also lets you sort positions by a wide variety of criteria.
|Also referred to as Internships.com, this site is unique in that it specifically focuses on internship listings, which you can sort by experience level and compensation. Staff and student articles provide additional advice for all stages of the application process.
|Idealist lists jobs, internships, and even volunteer opportunities available in the nonprofit sector. This site can serve as a starting point for students interested in working in industries that create positive change.
How to find opportunities to choose a career path
The most tried and true method of securing a potential work opportunity is to network. I am sure you have heard the term, networking, before, but what does it mean? Networking is the practice of using resources and the people you know to get your foot in the door with your dream companies. Each of us has different relational circles in our lives. They might include familial circles, social circles, or professional circles. The practice of networking helps us expand and strengthen our professional circle, which is integral in how to find the right career path.
In his TEDx Talk, Isaac Serwanga discusses his concept of the three bones of networking. He explains that anyone can network if they identify and use the three bones together.
Here’s a summary:
- Wishbone: Identify what you want and who could help in your journey. For example, you might want a government job and could reach out to your congressperson to set up an informational interview.
- Jawbone: Are you competent in the industry you are interested in? Have you done background research about the company, the role, the person you are looking to speak with? And if so, are you humble about the subject and eager to learn more?
- Backbone: Are you willing to push through any obstacles to achieve your networking goals? You will face countless “no” after “no” when you reach out to connect, but persistence is key to find the “yes” that is worth the effort.
Networking not only helps strengthen and expand our social circles; it also helps build up soft skills necessary to thrive in the workforce. Networking is a truly impressive skill that proves that students have the motivation, perseverance, and good communication skills to succeed at a job. A recent Georgetown study found that employers will seek cognitive skills such as communication and analytics from job applicants rather than hard skills. Candidates with strong soft skills who are quick learners with open minds are in high demand.
Networking is simple but can sound scary, especially if you have never tried. For instance, I remember struggling with networking because I did not like the idea of reaching out to professionals and bothering them during their busy days. Then, I learned that networking is a standard, and starting the practice is not bothersome at all. It takes initiative and research to find the right people. Luckily, if you focus on these simple steps you can achieve your networking goals.
- Look up companies you love: When evaluating which companies you admire, consider including their mission statements, values, products, and how they interface with the public.
- Use LinkedIn to find employees who are in positions that you aspire to: The simplest way to do this is to look up the company on LinkedIn. Look through their employees and find individuals who work in departments that excite you. This might be marketing, content, creative, or any other department.
- Draft a professional, introductory email asking for an informational interview: This post outlines great tips for writing a professional email. It includes a basic outline to crafting the email while keeping the tone and language appropriate for the work environment.
- Reach out and be persistent: You will often reach out to professionals who either do not reply or tell you that they do not have the time, but every now and then, a person will be open to a chat. You will find that many more professionals are eager to help out since they have been in your position.
It is okay if you are not sure who to start reaching out to, as well. A great place to start is with your own connections. Think of professionals that you admire in your inner circles—your parents’ friends, your teachers, your community members. These are easy people to reach out to who will more than likely be happy to chat about opportunities or connect you with more people in your desired industry. Here are a few more examples:
- Family Friends
You’ll be surprised by how many adults are excited and willing to help you find the career path that is right for you. Remember that everyone experiences a point of confusion in their lives where they don’t know what to do. They were where you were too at one point and are excited to help you figure out how to find the career path that fits you.
Using informational interviews to find a career path
Informational interviews are a great way to learn more about different career paths. Informational interviews, sometimes called coffee chats, are meetings set with professionals to learn more about their career path, get your foot in the door with a company, and an excellent way to network. You can use informational interviews as a way to learn in any stage of your professional life from when you’re a student to when you’re working a full-time job and looking to learn more about different roles within a company. Many professionals are open to connecting for a coffee chat as well and a genuine mentor-mentee relationship can emerge from the meeting if the two of you hit it off.
It’s important to have clear goals when approaching an informational interview. It’s gracious that professionals are willing to carve out space from their busy schedules to meet with you, so it’s important not to waste their time. Do your research before speaking with professionals as well. Look up their LinkedIn profile to learn more about their experiences. You can ask more specific, thoughtful questions if you already have context about the work that they’ve done. Here are some general example questions to ask during an informational interview to get the conversation started:
- What made you interested in this industry? When did you know you wanted to be a part of it?
- How can I be successful in this industry as you have?
- How have you noticed this industry change in the past five years and where do you predict it will change in the near future?
- What advice do you have for a student looking to figure out their career path?
Check out these additional informational interview tips below:
- Practice your elevator pitch
- Rehearse questions
- Consider the skills you are looking to develop
- Self-assess your professional goals regularly
- Always leave an informational interview asking for more connections.
A good thing to remember when you’re participating in an informational interview is that this is your chance to show off your accomplishments in a more casual setting. Try to ask questions that show what you have to offer by explaining how your experience is relevant. At the end of informational interviews, always try to leave with a new name to contact to learn more. And finally, make sure to follow up with a thank-you email. After all, the professional you talk to easily could have ignored your request or said they were too busy, so be sure to thank them for their time and willingness to speak with you.
Networking connects you to countless job opportunities and helps expand your professional circle as well. Many professionals have been in your position before and are happy to help you reach your goals in whatever way possible. Sometimes it will take extra work and perseverance to find the right person to speak with, so reach out to as many professionals as possible and be persistent with the ones who you want to learn from the most.
How to figure out what career to pursue
Overall, searching for that career path that feels best for you can feel chaotic. Try to remember that this process is a journey full of excitement and opportunity. You get to try on different hats at different companies with different responsibilities. Some hats will fit too loosely and others will fit too tightly. Some might fit just right but miss the mark with style. But the more hats you try on, the more likely you are to find the few that fit just right, that you feel comfortable in, and the few hats that bring out the best in you. In reality, the right career path search is your ability to carve out your future in whatever way you would love to see yourself in five years, ten years, or even just tomorrow.
What is exciting about embarking on finding the right career path is that just like there is no “right” career path, there is also no “wrong” one. Whichever route you choose to follow will be full of twists and turns moving forward and backward, but there are always learnings along the way. Each career path is dynamic and constantly changing. No one’s career path is a straight shot and everyone is figuring this out together.
Interested in finding a career that matches your passions with your skills? Check out our new free career tool.