09/19/2014 06:01 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

How to Choose a Career Path, Not Just a Job

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The reality for most of us is that we will change jobs at least three to five times during our professional life. So when we set out on a job hunt, start off by making a list of your financial and lifestyle objectives. Then match your ambition (what you like and want to do) with the jobs that will be most fulfilling, but that will also allow you to learn the skills you need to climb vertically.

First and foremost, make sure the jobs you pick work toward your long-term needs. Jobs at big companies are usually more rigid and clearly defined. This makes it easier for the company to compare your performance to that of many others. Small companies tend to be less stable and less structured, and they tend to build jobs around the people they have. That allows creative people to assume responsibility sooner. You should decide what model works best for you.

Next, know how much you can make and how high you can climb. It's important to recognize the ceiling you may reach in any one job so that you can plan ahead to make a move. When you reach the point at your current job where you're learning fewer and less important things or you have maxed out your vertical climb, consider looking for the next job.

Lastly, here are a few key questions to ask yourself when looking for and vetting job opportunities:

• What can I learn at this job that will make my future better, easier or safer?
• Will the experience or knowledge I am learning here improve my résumé for the type of job I want next?
• Does it make my progress look slow or fast?
• How can I use the things I can learn here position me for a better job or to start my own business?
• Will this job allow me to buy or earn an interest in the
• What am I best at right now?
• What could I learn to do better?
• What would be the most satisfying?
• Which type of work would make me the happiest?
• Which job would allow me to use my capabilities best?
• What kind of job will allow me to work around or help me
with my weaknesses?
• What would be better for me now: schooling, training or
work experience?
• What type of job will allow me to the flexibility I need at the moment (if you are in school; need to be home afterschool for your kids; etc.)?
• Which products/services interest me?
• What is the easiest for me to learn?
• How can I make the fastest progress?
• Where will I be needed most?
• Where can I make the most important contribution?

Keep in mind that nearly any job can be the right job if you can learn enough of the right things while you are there that will help you with your short and long term goals.