In today's rapidly changing world, the honest truth is your career will take many more twists and turns than your parents probably experienced. Outside of the most specialized licensed professions (Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, etc.), what you do out of school probably won't be what you will be doing for the rest of your life. Even people in those professions may make shifts later in their careers to running their own practice, policy advisory and other professions where they can draw on their expertise to create greater impact.
That said, your first job out of college or grad school is important for setting a good foundation for the early part of your career and beyond. Finding out what you want to do is partially dependent on where you are on the path. A freshman will have a lot more time to figure this out than a graduating senior, for example.
Here's my advice tailored by year in undergraduate:
1. Reflect on what courses you did the best in back in high school and in the first semester of college - Do you notice any trends?
2. Think about what topics interest you most in your pleasure reading or in conversations with your friends - Does anything stick out as a potentially interesting career?
3. Ask yourself: Is there anyone in my family/friends circle, anyone that I've read about or anyone I've seen in the media that I wish to be like (job, lifestyle, etc.)? - Reach out to them or read up on them if possible - How did they get to where they are?
4. Attend a career fair to learn about the kinds of jobs companies hire for internship and full time at your college
5. Speak to professors in classes you've liked about potential career paths coming out of those fields of study
6. Apply for internships or weekend experiences in areas you're remotely interested in. Apply widely and see what sticks!
7. Join some social clubs where you can meet a ton of different people and academic/career oriented clubs that expose you to various fields
8. Start building relationships with alumni through LinkedIn and campus events
Junior - At this point you should have identified your major:
1. Think more critically about your academic performance and where you rank within your class
2. Polish up your resume - extracurricular experience counts! Campus jobs (cooking in the dining halls, working for admissions, etc.) count!
3. Work on interview skills with your university's career center
4. Take any relevant graduate school exams - MCAT, GMAT, GRE. LSAT, etc. (Start prepping in the fall, take it in the spring so you can retake senior year if absolutely necessary)
5. Reach out to your alumni connections and mention you're interested in learning more about their field - Don't beg for a job!
6. Pursue as many on campus recruiting opportunities as you're remotely interested in
7. If you're still undecided, apply widely and see what sticks. It's always best to get a warm introduction through an alumnus.
8. Do very well in your summer internship (NEVER TAKE AN UNPAID INTERNSHIP - unless you plan to work for the federal government) and get a return offer for a full time position
Senior year - If still undecided, not much time left
1. Consider the following: Skilled military programs, Teach for America, Peace Corps, Venture for America
2. Consider grad school programs with no course prereqs: Law school, accelerated nursing, master's of accounting
3. Consider joining a coding bootcamp after graduation or UI/UX
4. Consider general corporate rotation programs with a fairly low barrier to entry
5. Look at entry level government jobs at the city, county or federal level in your area
Nick's answer above has a number of great points (work life balance, potential money, etc). Having been out of college for almost 30 years now I had a choice to make when I was a Senior in College, go into a career in Information Technology or go into Finance as a Stock Broker. I chose the former and started my journey as an IT professional
A couple of things attracted to me to the job back then and still do today - Constant learning and change forcing you to keep your skills up and focus on continual learning. An added benefit is the IT field has a lot of well paying jobs and a wide variety of jobs. One of my biggest recommendations to you would be to obtain internships in the field(s) you are interested in each summer so you can see first hand how the job will be. Another recommendation is to ensure you are on LinkedIN following and learning from people in the fields you are interested in. If you type in a Day in the Life of xxx there are many resources for a variety of jobs so you can see what people in that field think about the career field they are in.
Of course the job you are going to be doing out of college will be different in the latter part of your career as you gain more experience and you have to make a decision - Do you become an expert in that field or transition into management? Read and learn as much as you can about the fields that interest you and than target those two or three areas for internships. Hope this helps and good luck!
Another thing that helped me find what I wanted to do/what I had interests in where career quizzes. There are tons of free quizzes online that give you career suggestions and you simply rate them on whether you like them or not and then at the end, it gives you a top 10 or 20 list of possible careers you could be interested in. There are also quizzes that go more into depth by asking you how you interact in a group, or whether or not you would like an office job, etc.
But I found these really helped me and I hope it does for you too!
Sometimes, you have to go back to your elementary school days. What was the job you wrote down when you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? It may still linger in your subconscious mind. I wanted to be an on ice official, when I was eleven.
This is what I tell people to do, when they are not sure, what it is they want to be. Make a list of all of the things that what know in your heart, that you do not want to be. The answer, usually falls into your lap.
If you like some of the subjects, that you take now, it may just lead you to being a nurse, or doctor.
I would suggest starting by taking a career assessment, this will help you determine what your likes and dislikes are and could even point in the direction of career options that may interest you based upon a personalized assessment. I would also recommend taking some college courses at your local community college to help determine your like/dislikes as well as your strengths and weaknesses.
Ask them about their day to day tasks and keep a running list of those tasks that you would like to do and wouldn't like to do.
Once you have this list, connect with Career Services at your university and see if they have any recommendations.
I recommend getting involved in clubs at your school. This will allow you to learn about different career opportunities within an academic area. I also recommend job shadows and internships. Job shadows allow you to see what a certain job is like for a short period of time. Internships allow you to gain work experience without a long-term job commitment. Through an internship, you may find you love a certain job or that you want to go a different route for your career.
-Amount of money
-Type of work
-Pros/Cons and what you can and cant deal with
-Solo or team effort environment.
With any job there is always something, something that's a bummer. Its really depends on the type of person you are and what sparks your interest. What ever you decide have it tailored to your future needs. I say this because what you like now will change as your get older so make sure you can switch careers if you decide to later on in life. Hope this helps.
I know that's probably a super vague and frustrating response, but just be on the lookout and keep networking.