If you could start over from scratch, would you make the same career choices? It's hard to pinpoint all the little decisions that got us to where we are today and even crazier to think how different our careers might have been if we had chosen differently. Well, rather than trying to guess, there is now a simple tool that can tell you what your job might have looked like if you made the opposite decisions.

By extracting and examining job data collected by The Labor Department, Upshot (a division of the New York Times that focuses on data, policy, and economic analysis) found a way to scan millions of pieces of career information to quickly tell people what their "opposite jobs" would be if they made the polar opposite career choice.

Why? Outside of it being really entertaining, the exercise objectifies careers and distills titles down to daily responsibilities and skills. Think about it, how many opportunities have we passed up just based on their names alone? For instance, I typed in my title "HR," and the system quickly computed that the opposite job from mine is a "Physicist." Yep, that sounds about right -- there is no way that I would have considered this field nor, would I have felt that I was qualified. However, when taking a deeper look at the skill sets used the most/least, there were multiple areas of connections.

Now, I don't intend to throw in my HR hat and start exploring sub-atomic particles, but this seemingly innocent and fun exercise revealed that when choosing or determining a career path, we should shift our attention from the title of the job or industry to these three areas of focus.

1. The tasks that we enjoy and do the most.

After you remove the title, the responsibilities and tasks associated with "work" are surprisingly similar from job to job. For instance, when looking at the parallels between HR and a Physicist, both stress the importance of being able to staff and organize groups in effective ways, and the management of administrative tasks.

As a rule of thumb, take a look at the tasks that you most enjoy and excel at, and research other careers with similar elements.

2. The natural skill sets we possess and use frequently.

As opposed to searching for jobs based on title or projected income, filter results by foundational skill sets. To use my previous example, HR needs individuals who are analytical, have experience in law and government, and who understand accounting and economic principles. Based on those skill sets, you could also pursue a career in finance.

Also, don't let estimated income determine what opportunities you say "yes" or "no" to. If you are an expert, with a refined skill set, you can be just as successful in business as you can medicine.

3. The areas that motivate us and connect our passions with work.

I graduated with a degree in professional sales and marketing. If you would have told me back then that I would be in HR, I would have never believed you. However, through my career choices (retail, sales, consulting) I've realized something that was better put to words by Simon Sinek, "100% of customers are people, 100% of clients are people, and 100% of employees are people. If you don't understand people, then you don't understand business."

The common denominator in all of these job choices was people. Now, I'm on a career track that I would have never chosen originally. One that has afforded me the opportunity to specifically focus on people operations and workplace practices that will create a sustainable, competitive advantage for my organization.

For those of you who are choosing a career, or for those looking to reinvent themselves, this resource is an interesting and revealing place to start. Who knows, it could open you up to a career that you would have never imagined for yourself. At least, it will challenge the way you think about and connect your jobs with others.

Published on: Aug 10, 2017
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