Starting a career is about making choices as to what you want out of life, well into the future. You could be switching careers, starting fresh, or just looking to see what is out there. Either way, it's important to find out what fits best so that you don't burn out mid-stream after years of trying to fit into something that isn't your strength.
List your strengths, talents, and passions, even those not related to typical careers. You should find a career that fits your unique skills and loves, not one that you hope you'll enjoy once started. A career is something your work on and build for years, a job is something you just do to pay the bills. If you don't think about yourself first and foremost chances are good you'll be bouncing around careers a lot.
Is there a particular field (entertainment, healthcare, finance, etc.) that you want to zero in on?
What are your absolute needs in a job? (High salary, helping others, working with kids, etc.)
What are your absolute "turn offs" in a job? (Work without helping others, work 50+ hours, go back to school, etc.)
What do you know well or have studied? Even little things make a big difference here -- volunteer work, classes or hobbies, odd jobs, passionate extracurricular, etc.
Don't feel like there is a "right" answer to picking a career. There is not! This is about finding your wants and needs, then looking for the career that matches them later.
Dive online into research about careers you're interested in. If you're unsure about which career you want, make a list of 5-10 you might like and then start researching them. Search online for "______ Careers" and start clicking. Don't neglect to add new jobs to your list as they come up, either. You may realize, for example, that becoming an actor has a high burden to entry, with low job security and uncertain hours. But being a Production Assistant, working on film sets, is much more manageable start and can lead to a variety of film careers.
Keep notes as you do research. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, so look for jobs that get your excited and thinking about the future.
Have fun with this -- look for jobs that excite you, even if you can't exactly say why.
Be sure to make notes about needed or recommended qualifications as you search.
Take an honest look at your current qualifications. More often than not, the career you want is going to need some training, experience, or prior recommendations to get involved in. Never fear, however, if you feel a little under-qualified at the moment. The point is to see what you would theoretically need to do to get into each career you flagged. Make sure you note everything, even volunteer experience, personal projects, and education, and never cut yourself short -- if you're proud of something, it's likely worth noting.
Many career qualifications are more of guidelines than strict policies, especially for non-science/tech jobs. Think about how your personal qualifications make you the best fit for the career, not just how closely you hew to posted qualifications.
Note any careers require hard, black and white qualifications -- doctors must go to medical school, lawyers law school, etc. There is little getting around this, but if you're not bothered by the work up front this is a sign you might care enough about the career to give it a go.
Do some volunteer, intern, or trial work periods in fields you enjoy. This can be especially useful if you're not sure, or if you have several choices and you can't make up your mind between them. Working for free or for little pay shouldn't go on indefinitely, but it is useful for a short period to give you a good taste of what the career is like. It is important to set this up through reputable companies and individuals, to avoid being taken advantage of.
Talk to people in potential careers and ask if you could "shadow," or follow them for a day or two, to learn about the job first-hand.
Talk to your college's career center about placement, internships, and opportunities early on in school. Maintaining a relationship with the career center will pay dividends later on.
Ask other people what they like about their careers. This is a good way to gauge if people are are genuinely still fired up and enjoying what they're doing every day. It also lets you ask question to put yourself in their shoes, determining if you see yourself in that job. This can really help you to decide what will work for you. Make sure you take some time to think of good, specific questions that tell you about the career, not just the job.
"What do you enjoy most about a day of work?"
"What things did you wish you knew before starting your career?"
"Where did you start to get to the position you are today?"
"What does a normal "week-in-the-life" look like?
Consider the mixture of work and free time you need to be happy. Remember, a career is about much more than how much you make a year. It might be really important to you to be able to spend a lot of time at home with children. Some careers will enable this, others will obstruct this. You should enjoy your work, and it shouldn't be a burden, but a career shouldn't take over your life if you don't want it to.
Make this decision before looking for work. It is perhaps the most important aspect of future job happiness, and you should treat it with respect.
Consider the career you want if all of the hurdles were crossed, not the "easiest" one. A really helpful set of questions can help you learn what you really, above all, want to do. If you really care, then the effort needed to fill in education gaps or issues will be totally worth it. All they require is some honesty and a bit of courage to put yourself out there:
"If I had the skills and education, I would love to be a __________"
"If I had to go back to school, I'd major in __________"
"When I'm retired, I want to look back on a life spent _____________"