5 Essential Questions for Anyone Considering a Career Change

5 Essential Questions for Anyone Considering a Career ChangeWhat motivates someone to return to school or pursue a new career path? Is it the possibility for greater financial security or the opportunity to do something you truly love? Is it a chance to escape from an unfulfilling job or simply to find one that is more in line with your skills and interests? And of course, there is the well-worn notion that finding your passion should be central to anyone’s decision to go back to college. But is it, really?

A recent Fast Company article suggests that we might be asking the wrong questions when trying to decide on a new career path. It’s not that wondering, “What’s My Passion?” is a bad place to start the conversation. It’s that it may too often be where the conversation ends, which leaves a host of practical concerns on the table. As with every major decision, happiness should always be a major factor, but finding a career that contributes to your overall happiness can be complicated. As the article says, “You need to think more concretely about your motivations, needs, skills, and what you're willing to do—or give up—in order to find that great opportunity.”1 Below, we’ve tailored some of Fast Company’s tips for students who may be pondering the next step in their academic journey.

Finding Your Passion: 5 Practical Questions

In the article Alison Jones highlights five questions that could just lead to a more meaningful career choice.

  1. Why Do I Want to Follow My Passion?
    For many students, following your passions may seem like an obvious place to start because the focus is squarely on you and how you feel. However, Jones explains that people often correlate “going to work” with doing “what you love” because of friends, family or even career counselors who overemphasize the connection. People start to assume that a happy life requires a career that is perfectly in line with your passions, when in fact most people are plenty happy despite having jobs they aren’t necessarily passionate about.2 The article suggests having an honest conversation with yourself about why a new career path is important to you.
  2. Is Work Important To My Idea of a Good Life?
    Many people feel that they have to love their job in order to have a good life. However, the Fast Company article suggests that there can be a danger in wrapping your identity up too tightly with your job. Jones writes, “There's a continuum between loving your job and hating your job—between a job as an identity and fulfillment, and a job as drudgery.” Think about where you fall on that continuum. Whether you’re considering a career in nursing or criminal justice, your passion for helping others should be balanced with the practical realities that go along with any job, like shift schedules, opportunities for advancement and workplace culture. Ultimately, it’s these things that will add or detract from your day-to-day satisfaction.
  3. What Really Excites Me?
    Sometimes, focusing on what we enjoy can limit our job opportunities because we aren’t exactly sure how our interests relate to an actual career path. For example, it’s one thing to have a passion for computers, but you need to take the time to identify what it is, specifically, that you like about working with technology. Do you like to tinker with hardware, or are you interested in network security? Do you like to work alone or collaboratively? Make a list and then try to distill your likes and dislikes into a manageable, realistic view of the job market.
  4. What Am I Good At?
    Choosing a career path should have as much to do with developing skills as it does with your ideals and interests. Research has shown that people tend to be happier in their job when they are good at it. It’s not only fulfilling to show mastery for a skill, but that mastery actually makes your job easier. As Jones explains, “Figuring out the skills we want to use and develop and the work we'd like to do takes time and experimentation, but it's a far more practical way to get closer to what we actually want out of our jobs.” Our skill sets and passions often align, but by focusing on those skills that we can actually apply in the workplace, we improve our chances of success when the first day of work arrives.
  5. Am I Willing to Negotiate?
    Every career requires some amount of sacrifice, but you should know ahead of time what areas of your work life are negotiable and which aren’t. Are you willing to deal with a long commute for the opportunity to make more money? Or is making a little less worth the chance to be home 30 minutes early every day? A good place to start is to think about previous jobs and take inventory of those aspects that you liked and those you would like to improve. Did you have a flexible schedule but less than ideal pay? This might offer a few valuable hints about your priorities, and it might keep you from going down a certain career path for the wrong reasons.

Fast Company’s advice can be summed up in one sentence: If you want to find a fulfilling career, you have to start by being completely honest with yourself. You don’t want to make a serious decision simply to appease someone else’s idea of happiness, and you don’t want to start with unrealistic expectations about the day-to-day reality of going to work.

Looking for more helpful tips for pursuing new career and academic goals? Check out these five things you need before going back to school as an adult.

1Jones, A. (2015, November 11). 5 Career Questions To Ask Yourself Instead Of, "What's My Passion?" Retrieved February 08, 2016, from (Visited 3/14/16)
2State of the American Workplace. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2016, from (Visited 3/14/16)
3Jones, A. (2015, November 11). 5 Career Questions To Ask Yourself Instead Of, "What's My Passion?" Retrieved February 08, 2016, from (Visited 3/14/16)