Making Career Decisions

Making career decisions can be nerve-racking. Often students are afraid that they will make the "wrong" decision and end up in a career that will make them unhappy. Keeping the below thoughts in mind can help make the career decision making less stressful:
  • Make the time to explore your options. You didn't choose to come to Northwestern without some serious thought, so why would you choose a career that way? Set aside time to learn about various careers and to reflect on your values, skills, and interests. While the task of choosing a career may seem overwhelming, you will be amazed how information about careers can help clarify your options.
  • Keep your options open. Many students believe they should have their career plans clearly defined - resist that expectation. Careers develop over time. In fact, for many, clarity about careers only develops after working a few jobs. Feel comfortable telling others that you're exploring your options, and then be sure to commit to a process of exploration!
  • Your first job will not determine the rest of your life. This viewpoint will create paralysis and undue stress on your decisions. Rest assured that your first job has little likelihood of determining the rest of your life. In fact, your first job will have little to do with your last job.
  • Take risks. Don't be afraid of failure or uncertainty. Playing it safe can keep you from discovering wonderful opportunities and making great connections. Even if you do decide that the internship or job isn't for you, you will have still learned things about yourself and gained skills from the experience that you will use in subsequent experiences.
  • Be aware and take advantage of opportunities. Try different classes, get involved in extracurricular activities, research projects, internships, travel, or overseas study opportunities. Look for natural connections and relationships between experiences. The more experiences you have, the more you'll clarify your interests and values and learn where your passion may lie.
  • Listen to advice, but make up your own mind. Gather information and perspectives, and then make decisions based on what is important to you, not what you think you should do or what others think you should do. Remember, it's your life.

What to Avoid

Avoid these mental traps that practically everyone falls into at times, especially when making major career decisions. Three of the most common mental traps you'll face are:

  • The Herd Mentality: The tendency to do what everyone else seems to be doing. Example: "All my friends are majoring in Economics, so I will too."
  • Anchoring: Attaching great importance to something that may have little or no bearing on your best interests. Example: "My parents have always wanted me to be a doctor."
  • Decision Paralysis: Becoming so overwhelmed with choices that you can't decide, or you decide not to decide. Example: "I don't know what I want to do, so I'll just go to law school to keep my options open."

If you are having trouble with decision making, it often helps to talk to someone who is objective. Make an appointment and let a UCS Career Counselor guide you through your career decision making and help you move forward in the process.