Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do when they get out in the working world. It may be medicine, engineering, culinary arts or interior design, but their career path seems clear and straightforward.
For the rest of us, the road to figuring out our professional goals can be windy. At a certain point, perhaps in college, the conversation will become less philosophical and more practical.
After all, you'll need to support yourself and put your degree to use. If big questions like, "What are my career goals?" or "What job should I have?" feel overwhelming, try starting smaller. Here are four simple questions that will help you craft your future career plan for after graduation.
1. What are your career interests?
The first and most obvious way to get started is to make a list of topics and activities you find interesting. Try not to think too much about what you write; just get it all down on paper and review it later.
If you see a pattern emerging or if one particular interest really jumps out to you, explore whether your degree and the skills you've developed in college can help you to turn that interest into a job. Look into the types of jobs that support your interests. Your on-campus career center can be a huge help in this area. Career counselors are trained to help you channel the things you care about into a career.
Don't let your degree box you in; just because you chose to major in architecture doesn't mean you have to apply for jobs with architectural firms after graduation. Your degree can help you qualify for jobs you might not have considered, such as landscape architect, urban planner or furniture designer.
2. Where are the jobs?
Finding a job that excites you can be challenging at any point in your career. As a recent graduate, you may have the added hurdle of little or no practical experience in your chosen field.
While you're wondering how to pick a career path in college, keep in mind that some industries, like engineering or computer programming, require a degree related to the job. But in other industries, like marketing or political science, your major doesn't matter as much, once you have a degree and if you're willing to learn on the job.
"I've hired a lot of people over the years for jobs in marketing, technology and logistics," says Bobby Frank, managing director of RMF Associates and a serial entrepreneur who has launched and operated numerous businesses over his 30-year career.
"While a college degree is important, the course of study is often less so. I'd rather hire someone who has a lot of curiosity, creativity and drive, and can apply what they've learned in an academic setting to real-world situations. Certain jobs require specific training, of course, but even for something as specialized as software development, some of the best hires I have made have been English or history majors who found their way into programming."
3. What is your career outlook?
Another consideration when choosing a career path is what job industry you should work in long-term. You don't want to put your energy and time into a dying industry, leaving you looking for a new career — out of necessity, not choice — in five or ten years. On the other hand, don't choose an industry that doesn't interest you just because it's growing quickly.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing occupations right now are solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. If you have a passion for renewable energy, you're in luck. If not, keep scrolling. If you look farther down the list, you'll find many more traditional career paths with high growth potential, such as software developers, physical therapists, and physician's assistants.
4. How's the pay?
Money matters. You can choose to pursue as much as possible or just enough to get by, but in order to pay your rent, buy groceries and put gas in the car, you need to make money.
Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve and how you'd like to live. For example, you may have a passion or calling to be a minister or a teacher. But be aware that they're also two of the lowest paying professional jobs, so they may be incompatible with your intended lifestyle.
On the other hand, if financial comfort is important to you, you'll want to explore a higher paying profession. You may have to make sacrifices along the way, such as working long hours or otherwise paying your dues to climb the professional ladder, but careers in fields like engineering and accounting often come with financial security down the road.
Don't feel pressure to find the "perfect" job right out of school. Starting with a decent position at a good company can be a great opportunity to explore your career path and build your skillset. When it comes time to apply, let LiveCareer's Resume Builder help, or take advantage of our cover letter writing tools and career advice for making the best impression possible.