Identifying Career Options: External Indicators

Image of a man tapping on a virtual screen. There are three options 'Yes', 'No' and 'Maybe'. The person is tapping on 'Yes' to indicate he has thought about his career options.

We discussed in an earlier article how using ‘passion’ as a compass and a guide for one’s career, especially at the early stages of our careers might not be the most practical and prudent choice. After all, figuring out life in one’s early 20s is a pretty daunting (and almost impossible) task given the plethora of career options available these days.

If one is fortunate to have some financial cushion to experiment, or has the risk appetite to take some chances early on, then wonderful! But more often than not, we don’t have that luxury and most students exit the education system with the goal of getting a job right away due to financial constraints.

Our advice to individuals struggling with this choice is to ‘find your energy’ and look for the meaning in the opportunities you have in front of you.

Doing this is much easier than searching for that something as shrouded in mystery and confusion as ‘passion’. Plus, it’s more practical (and possibly a seemingly less fluffy way to discuss your path with parents who are chasing your tail to get a job soon).

Okay, I’ve narrowed it down. Are we there yet?

If you’ve invested some time looking at the career options in front of you, reviewed the ones that give you the most energy, take away your energy, and where you can derive deeper meaning from, you should be in a good place to arrive at a decision.

But is that enough? What about the market environment and need for that particular direction?

For example, here is a true story about Dhruv, who completed mechanical engineering in 2007. Although he enjoyed his field, he wanted to pursue becoming a commercial pilot. So he took a loan. He moved to Australia for about a year, completed his aviation studies and flying hours.

Portrait of confident pilots in corporate plane cockpit.

Dhruv was ready to return to get his license back in India. He was talented; the flying school asked him to consider staying back and joining their school as a junior instructor. However, he insisted on returning back and began working towards his license.

Unfortunately, that was when the 2008 financial crisis hit, and pilots were not in demand anymore. He eventually decided to opt for his plan B by looking for a job in the mechanical space. He continues with that successfully till today.

We’ve got tons of stories like this. They do not always relate to market crashes, but changes in the global workforce demand and macro situation. This could be because of change in customer behaviour or even new technology that makes old jobs scarce.

External factors: Markets and needs to evaluate career options

The goal of Dhruv’s story was to illustrate how even if we have our passions and energies identified and lined up carefully, there are external factors involved. Market direction, consumer need, and oversupply of that particular skill are some factors that are not in our control.

Magnifying glass over a newspaper classified section with Job Market text. The job market at a point in time affects our career options.
Magnifying glass over a newspaper classified section with Job Market text
Identifying what the market needs and is willing to pay for are very crucial elements of being able to decide the right path for us individually.

Even if we are able to align our internal direction and energy, the external may not always align with us. And sometimes, it’s vice versa. This is where the Japanese idea of ‘ikigai’ really comes in.

Understanding the concept of ‘ikigai’

Ikigai refers to a Japanese concept where we identify our ‘reason for being’. The four spheres include:

  1. what we love,
  2. what we are good at,
  3. what the world needs, and
  4. what we can be paid for

Our formal education and our time growing up should ideally help us identify #1 and #2. Even if we haven’t gotten that done by this time, narrowing tings down by figuring out where we get energy from is a valuable tool (refer to our previous article). There is nothing wrong in not having figured it out at by an early age.

Our education system which is geared towards marks and grades, unfortunately prevents such exploration and experimentation which is needed to help us identify our ikigai.
Diagram representing the concept of Ikigai. Ultimately our career options should align with our ikigai, although that is hard to identify and takes time.
Finding our ‘Ikigai’ is ideal, but takes time and effort

In addition, #3 and #4 are not easy to identify because they require real-world skills and exposure. Understanding the markets around us requires experience and skills that even seasoned entrepreneurs and business people often get wrong. Even then, the market situation is constantly evolving and one can never precisely predict the future. If we could, the stock market would make us all millionaires!

This is exactly why we believe it is hard and impractical to use passion and ikigai as a compass for one’s career early on, because they are illusive. It takes time and patience to develop this vision for ourselves.

Learning about ourselves and the world to navigate career options

So the question finally boils down to:

How do we learn about ourselves and the world? Who can we go to for help? What do we do?

Now that we know the parameters that are involved in making an optimal career decision, figuring out where to get answers is next.

Our recommendation for that is to go as wide as possible and taste as many of the ice-cream flavours as possible, as early as possible.

You can do this through a variety of ways to explore the career options of interest to you:

  • hobbies,
  • internships,
  • projects,
  • freelance work,
  • networking,
  • start a side-hustle or part-time job,
  • research (online, mentors, interviewing someone from that space)

In practice, these are some of the most underrated options for learning more about ourselves, our career options, and the real world around us.

Even if one has the option of getting an unpaid internship, the opportunity to get some exposure is very powerful and can go a long way.
Notebook on desk with the words 'Internship', 'experience', 'learning', 'exposure' and 'practice' on it. There is a phone, a pen and a cup of coffee on the desk as well. The image indicates how we can narrow our career options with practical experience.

This approach is more hands-on and helpful because other avenues for advice may not give us a realistic picture. Many college professors have theoretical knowledge and do not know enough about the marketplace, the career options available, or the evolution that’s happening. Relying on advice from them or parents who do not have sufficient expertise in your chosen space can also be a disadvantage.


With this, we’ve explained how choosing from the wide range of career options is tough in today’s world. We also pointed out how depending on our passions or internal energy isn’t sufficient and that we need to consider external indicators as well.

Looking for ways to test the waters through different channels is the most optimal approach. It ensures that we don’t simply dive into a career space without a reasonable taste of it. And even if we do find out that our choice wasn’t great, being prepared for career mobility enables us to pivot at a later stage.

Another concern that we have commonly heard is, “I have so many interests. I want to do more than one thing. I can’t choose because I actually like multiple avenues equally. Can I not be successful by dividing my time between multiple career options?”

This is a reasonable concern, and we discuss more of that in our next article on the power of focus, and how it applies to our career choices.

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