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Choosing a career is no walk in the park. With others’ experiences and expectations clouding your thoughts, it can be hard to get a clear vision of what you want to do.

You may have heard the saying ‘Choose a job you love and never work a day in your life’, but this isn’t always the best advice. Instead, pick something that you like (enough!) and pays enough for the life you love.

Eliza from Grey Lynn, Auckland had a stint in the private art sector before moving to the public sector – a career move that helped her achieve her goals while still living a life she enjoys.

“While it is absolutely important to do a job which you are happy in, if your current priorities are things like saving as efficiently as possible or working hours which allow you to pursue other passions outside of work, there is no shame in basing decisions around this.”

To get started, ask yourself these key questions… 

How much money do I need – now and in the future?

Rather than focusing only on what job you want, think – what lifestyle do I want? What are my financial goals, and how can I make sure I get there?

Your goals might be traditional ones like buying a house or having kids, but they don’t have to be. You might want to earn enough to go surfing in Hawaii each year, or to work part time so you can start a side hustle. Either way, your job could be the way to get there...

Your career will be a main source of income throughout your life, so it can hugely impact your financial wellbeing. Imagine where you could be in 10, 20 or 30 years – this can be hard, but your future self will thank you for it!

When you’re just starting out, it can be hard to feel confident making financial decisions. If you’re feeling unsure, have a chat with a parent, trusted whānau member or financial adviser.

You can also head over to the Sorted goal planner to map out your financial goals and develop a plan to achieve them.

What are my career must-haves?

Think about your must-haves in a job. What do I need to be happy, what’s not so important and what are the nice-to-haves?

  • Do I want to work in a specific location?
  • Is flexibility important to me?
  • Do I want to play it safe or take risks?
  • Would I rather work with people or alone?

For Eliza, this meant balancing her short and long-term goals.

“The reliability of working 40 hours per week has made a huge difference in my ability to achieve the things that are currently important in my life - paying rent, looking after myself and enjoying life - while also knowing I am working towards longer term goals of building my KiwiSaver and paying off my student loan.

“There are so many more jobs available in this new sector, so I have more confidence in my career progression. It’s also lower risk than the previous sector I worked in – starting a gallery or being a practising artist requires a huge amount of dedication and investing time in something without knowing whether it will pay off.”

Do I need to study – and will it be worth it?

Studying is a big commitment, so before taking on a large student loan, you’ll want to be sure it’s a smart move.

Education can be a great investment and student loans are interest-free (if you stay in New Zealand), so it may be well worth it. It’s just a matter of making sure you get a good return for taking on that risk.

For example, if you want to be a primary school teacher it might cost $19,000 to study, before earning around $50,000 a year when you graduate (Careers NZ). This loan would typically take around 5½ years to pay off.

You’ll likely have years of earning (with pay rises) to come, which will make this a great investment. However, if you’re only planning to do the job for three or four years, it might not be worth it.

Will I be able to get a job?

Another key consideration is whether your chosen career is in demand.

Careers NZ has a useful feature where you can see whether job opportunities are currently good or bad for a particular profession.

Think about the current climate. For example, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it wouldn’t have been wise to become a flight attendant, when redundancies in the travel industry were rampant.

Imagine what the future could look like for the industry you choose. Is it growing and presenting new opportunities, or is it declining?

Some of this can’t be predicted, but at least if you’ve taken the time to consider it, you’ll know you’ve done all you can.

Do what’s right for you

At the end of the day, the best job is the one that feels right for you. While money is important, it’s also important that you’re happy in a job. The key here is finding the right balance.

Taking these steps early can save you a lot of time and stress in the long run, setting you up not just for a long and fulfilling career, but also a long and fulfilling life.

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