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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up: 14 Questions to Help You Figure it Out

By Marty Nemko

I ask my clients these questions to help them pick a career. Don’t feel bad if most of your answers aren’t helpful. On average, only a few questions generate a useful clue.

Questions to tease out the unusual

None of us want to feel ordinary. One way to feel special is to find a career that incorporates something unusual about us. That also may yield you a higher salary: employers often pay more for rare attributes than for common ones.

  1. Do you believe something that is different from what most people believe?
  2. What knowledge or ability do you have that most people lack?
  3. Do you have an unusual personality characteristic?

Questions to tease out career clues from our daily life

Clues from our daily lives can help us figure out who we really are:

  1. What items do you save?
  2. On what productive task, do you spend a lot of time, while enjoying the process? (Consider both at-work and outside-of-work tasks.)
  3. If I looked around your home or office (including through your drawers,) what clue(s) might I derive about you?
  4. What kinds of problems do you solve well at work? At home?

Questions that look at our dark side

Northern California is the land of positivism. We’re encouraged to think positive, act positive. Yet our dark side may offer career clues.

  1. Is there a product that makes you so angry you’d like to fix it?
  2. Is there a service that makes you so angry you’d like to fix it?
  3. Is there an aspect of society that makes you so angry you’d like to fix it?
  4. What would be your job from hell? Would you like to do the opposite?

Question to identify a career angel

It is sad but true that who you know often counts as much as what you know.

  1. Do you know a wealthy, well-connected, eminent, or highly skilled person who could help you get hired for a better job than you could likely get on the open market?

The most powerful questions

Sometimes, these questions are the most revealing of all. Some clients cry when I ask them:

  1. What are you reluctant to admit, even to yourself?
  2. What do you want? What do you really want?

Now, look at your answers. Pick out the one, two, or three clues that feel most significant. Does any career come to mind?

Advice I’d give my child

Standard advice is to pursue a career only if you’re passionate about it. I believe that is poor counsel. If you asked 100 people who are passionate about their career, “Were you passionate about it before you entered it?,” most would say no. Most people become passionate about their career after they’ve entered it. For example, I know someone who, by chance, ended up in the truck dashboard manufacturing business. Before he entered the field, he certainly wasn’t passionate about truck dashboards, but now, when he can answer anyone’s questions about them and makes a good living at it because few people have his expertise, he has indeed grown passionate about dashboards. Take a moderate amount of time to consider career options, then choose something, anything. It’s like sex: for real passion, you can’t just think about it; you have to get into it.

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