Career Decisions: Young Adults

Career decisions are one of the most challenging aspects of young adulthood. Aside from the obvious ramifications of determining financial status, career choice often impacts where you live and who your friends are.

It’s normal to be overwhelmed

There are so many career options that a career decision can seem daunting. Alternatively, you may find that even with thousands of occupations to chose from, nothing is jumping out at you.

Understand that most young people are fuzzy or even completely flummoxed about career choice and that this feeling often persists into the early twenties. It is the rare adolescent who can say with confidence that they want to be a such-and-such and then proceed steadfastly down a path to get themselves there. Furthermore, over 30% of adults in their 30’s will also say they are not sure about their career decision. Let these facts be a comfort to you, but not so much of a comfort that you set aside thinking about your career right now.

There are compelling reasons to set a career direction early on in adulthood, specifically in the college years. Doing so allows an individual to judiciously choose a course of study or a college major that will dovetail with the occupational choice. Unfortunately, about 50% of college graduates report that they did not major in a subject related to their current occupation. Some of those individuals had to go back to school to get the credentials necessary for their current careers. Although changing career direction later in life is a possibility, it is often stressful and frequently results in taking a pay cut as you become a beginner again.

Let’s Get to Work

The exercises below will require a fair amount of effort, but in the end, you will be rewarded by having moved yourself forward on the road to a career decision.

Grab a piece of paper, or better yet, a notebook to write down your responses to the questions that follow. Writing is really not optional! It forces your mind to concentrate your thoughts and helps you commit to the follow-through that will be needed.

1. Make a list of subjects/topics that are most interesting to you. Examples: Biology, math, creative writing, computer science, cooking, history, art, music, business, psychology…

2. Make a second list of some activities you enjoy doing. Examples: Working with your hands, teaching others, solving problems, organizing objects, speaking in front of groups, giving advice…

3. Think about how the subjects of the first list can combine with the activities in the second list to create a job. For example, someone who likes art and enjoys teaching others might consider a career as an art teacher. Someone who likes writing and also sports might consider becoming a sports journalist.

More Exercises to Help with Career Choice

1. List people you admire. For each person, answer the question: Is this person’s occupation of interest to me?

2. Sometimes the apple does not fall far from the tree. Which means, you may have interests and skills similar to your relatives. If so, you may be well-suited to similar careers. Write down the occupations of your parents and any older siblings. Next to each, write down why their career is, or is not, a good choice for you. (If you are not sure, spend some time with your relatives and ask them about their jobs.)

3. Create a list of at least 25 things that you would like to try, experience, or accomplish in your lifetime, but which you have not started or completed yet. Do not let yourself get constrained to the expectations of others or any obligations you may feel. Include some items that are not practical. Let your mind wander toward your fantasies and dreams. Complete this list on your own, without being influenced by others. If you struggle to reach the goal of 25, leave the task for a while and think about it. Often ideas generate while you are doing something else.

4. Take note of what your read, what you surf, and what you watch on television. What kinds of stories, or perhaps movies, draw you in over and over again? Do you see any recurring themes that interest you?

These exercises should give you some good career ideas. If not, or if you would like to expand the possibilities even further, check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook. In addition, libraries and bookstores have dedicated career sections with many titles that highlight specific career fields. Finally, career counseling sessions, with or without career testing, offer the most individualize approach to the process.


Internships are enormously varied opportunities. An internship may be paid or unpaid and may be full-time or part-time in nature. Some colleges have internship programs that are linked to college courses and result in earned credits. 

Benefits of Internships:

    • An internship can help you make a career decision by confirming or rebuffing your interest in a particular field.
    • An internship allows you to meet professionals who can mentor you.
    • An internship builds knowledge and confidence for workplace competence.
    • An internship lets you practice communication and teamwork skills.
    • An internship adds a powerful entry to your resume.
    • An internship can enhance your application to a graduate school program.
    • An internship may result in a job offer after graduation.

Some students feel they are unable to participate in internships. Sometimes this is because they already have a job which pays more than an internship would. Another problem is that the internship commitment would interfere with taking a full load of courses, resulting in a delay in graduation or a summer school obligation. The economic hardship that the above situations might create is understandably concerning but must be put in perspective. The long-term benefit of gaining experience which helps determine or launch a career is significantly more important than a short-term financial set-back. 

Recent college graduates can sometimes be hired as interns. Technically they are temporary employees and should be paid. It often serves as a way for a company to evaluate a candidate before making a lasting employment decision. Such an internship can be a good way to break into a very competitive field or simply get started in the work world if you have not been offered a traditional position quickly enough.