Career Development And Self-Awareness: An Exploratory Guide

Medically reviewed by Jerry Crimmins, PsyD, LP
Updated January 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While exploring a new career can be an exciting venture, for many, the process can be intimidating. Career development typically requires a thoughtful and thorough exploration of self-awareness. In fact, knowing who you are is the pivotal first step in finding the right career. Research has demonstrated that people who find fulfillment and satisfaction in their jobs are more committed, competent, and productive. They also are reported to have a higher level of life adjustment. This article gives you an overview of the career planning process, including career development strategies, self-assessment techniques, and counseling options.

Narrowing Down Your Career Choices Can Be A Difficult Process

Career Development Strategies

To get a more complete answer to your question, "What career should I pursue?" it can be helpful to discover what you are truly passionate about. According to the Career Development Association of Alberta (Canada), career development is “the lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future.” Developing your career is a continuous journey that involves self-awareness skills that incorporate your values and passions into a career you love. While it is helpful to figure out where your strengths and skills lie, it is also important to find a career that excites you. 

If someone asks you what your passion is, the answer might not come to you immediately. The following questions can help you discover which career might interest you most:

  • What first excited you about your current career?

  • What work activities and rewards keep you motivated?

  • What tasks made you feel most alive?

  • What do you want to do that you are unable to do in your current career?

Know Your Options

Getting to know the job market is a necessary step in career development. Without knowledge of the job market, it may be difficult to find a career that helps you answer the question, "What career should I choose?" Opening your mind to the possibility of a new career can be overwhelming due to the sheer number of choices available. 

Moreover, there are several risks involved in pursuing a new career, including job competition. You may be asking, “Am I likely to find a job right away, or are the number of positions available so limited that it might take months or even years to get started?" Finding answers to these questions may help narrow down your choices and give you clarity in choosing the right fit for your career.

Explore The Job Market

While getting to know “who you are” is a crucial first step in your career plan, you also need to know what kinds of jobs are available in your career choice. This will depend on several factors, including how much preparation you are willing to do first, where you want to live, what salary you need to make, and other considerations.

A good place to get started understanding the job market is the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook (available online or in book form). You can also find information on local industries from the chamber of commerce in the city or town where you live. 

Get Exposure To New Career Fields

There are several ways to gain first-hand experience and understanding of a career. For example, you can volunteer in the industry that interests you. Many companies offer internship positions, especially to recent college graduates. Consider taking an internship if you can arrange it. You can also find a mentor who is already engaged in the career you’re interested in. Try to take a tour of a company where people follow that career path and make it a point to take advantage of any options available to you in your career interest. Each of these can assist you in determining which career you should choose.

Commit To A New Career Path

Once you have all the information you need to decide, it’s important to make a firm commitment to yourself so that you can follow that path to its conclusion. With so many options available to you, it is easy to feel intimidated and confused. You may even want to stop trying to pursue a new career when you hit roadblocks. You may be more likely to stay accountable to your goals if you tell others about your decision and begin preparing yourself for that career. Accountability can be powerful and support from others may help keep you on track. 

Knowing Yourself: Lessons In Self-Assessment 

What does it mean to know yourself? If you examine your innermost qualities, skills, talents, and where your passion lies, you'll probably find a very complex answer to that question. However, the results of the effort it takes to arrive at an answer to that question are often worth it. It can help you immensely whenever you're thinking "I don't know what career I want." The following are strategies that can help you along the path of self-discovery and awareness. 

Identify Your Skills, Values, And Talents

Identifying your skills, values, and talents can be a helpful starting point in career development. Remember that your skills are a direct reflection of proficiency and competence that have been developed through repeated use and practice. Examine your past schoolwork, job experiences, hobbies, and interpersonal relationships. Begin with a period of reflection, then write down these experiences along with a list of interests, preferences, and values. Talking to a counselor can help you reflect on past successes and identify the strengths that allowed you to accomplish them. 

Self-Assessment Tools And Career Counseling

If you are unsure about which career path is best for you, there are several assessment tools available to assist you. These resources can be found online, through a local college, or by talking to a career counselor. Some of these tools, such as personality and aptitude tests, can be self-administered for free or for a small fee. For example, you can take an aptitude test online or through a local college. An aptitude test can tell you the subjects you excel in and align you with a career that uses these subjects the most.  

You can also make an appointment with a career counselor who can guide you in methods of self-assessment that are not aptitude tests. Many counselors utilize the Career Development Assessment and Counselling (C-DAC) Model to help their clients navigate career planning. The C-DAC Model is not a job-matching aptitude test, but an exploratory assessment of a person’s unique individuality and life experiences in relation to their career development. A licensed career counselor can direct you as you reflect on what you want and what you have to offer. It is a productive way to begin your search when you are wondering "What career is best for me?"

Reassessing The Value Of Your Current Education 

Are you concerned that the education you have now does not fit the career path you want to follow or is not suitable for your future employers? Many people who are changing their careers or re-entering the job market experience this conundrum. You may feel that your education is not suitable for today's technologically advanced job market. Or you may have attended college with an idealistic mindset without considering the marketability of your degree.

If you are having these doubts, consider that your degree can be a major asset in today’s job market. Current income statistics reveal that 87% (96% with no college debt) of college graduates will out earn high school graduates. You may also want to pursue additional education that builds on an earlier degree. Another option is to see how your degree might apply to current workforce needs— which you can find out through research. Once you identify a connection, construct an argument as to why it could be advantageous. This exercise can help you build confidence and give you the valuable information you need to persuade an employer to hire you.  

Getting Help For Answering "What Career Is Right For Me?”

If you are still unsure about how to begin your career planning process, do not hesitate to ask for help. Career counselors assist people in researching different career paths by considering not just individual skills and talents, but the entirety of who you are (including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability). Even if you are unsure whether you’re ready to start a new career path, a qualified counselor can help you begin down a productive path. Small steps in the right direction can add up and become large leaps toward where you’d like to be. 

Narrowing Down Your Career Choices Can Be A Difficult Process

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

Developing a new career path can take time, effort, and persistence. It can be difficult to do on your own and, in some cases, it may be beneficial to have support from a professional. Licensed counselors specialized in career development are available for you to connect with at BetterHelp, an online therapy platform. 

Job searching and career planning can be time-consuming and, at times, overwhelming. Online therapy might be an ideal option for those too busy to travel to appointments. You can receive guidance in discovering who you are and what makes you uniquely qualified for different careers through online counsel— without ever having to leave your home. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be helpful whether you’re facing mental health challenges, exploring your career options, or both. One study found that online career counseling was “able to significantly increase group career decision-making.” However, those with more “psychological capital and tenacity scored better,” showing how an individual’s “characteristics can affect the success or failure of online career counseling.” Therefore, if you are hoping to increase your chances of finding a fulfilling career path, it may be beneficial to improve your mental health.


The lessons learned in this guide in self-awareness and job planning can be a starting point for you on your life-long journey of career development. After you decide on a particular career choice, you still may need to develop more self-awareness, job skills, or communication skills. By starting now, you can increase the time you have to grow mentally and emotionally before jumping into your future. An online therapist can help you identify your strengths and skills so that you can find careers that naturally complement the person that you are.

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