Find Your Career Path with the Five Whys + Worksheets
by Haley Lyles
If you're unsure of your career path, know you're not alone. According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people aged 18 to 52 change jobs an average of 12.3 times during their careers.
With a rising culture of job switching and remote work, career opportunities are opening up that wouldn't have been possible even 10 years ago. Seeing as up to 85 percent of job positions are being filled through networking rather than traditional job postings, it's clear that the job marketplace is constantly evolving — and with it, so are the opportunities available to you.
Want to get your career started, but don't know where to begin? Keep reading to learn how the five whys method can help you find a career path and thrive.
The Five Whys Explained
The five whys method was created by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motors, to help streamline the production process. The premise of this method is to start with a problem and ask "why?" five times until the root cause is determined.
While at first glance this technique may seem simple, it is actually an extremely powerful tool for understanding cause-and-effect relationships. The brilliance in this method comes from the bare-bones framework that allows it to be applied to all kinds of problems — including understanding your career path.
How To Use the Five Whys Method for Problem-Solving
When used as a lens for examining your career path, the five whys is a powerful method to understand your underlying motivations and goals. Contrary to traditional career path quizzes, the five whys is a dynamic framework that helps you cultivate your own opinions rather than asking surface-level questions that lead to a mass-produced result.
To find clarity in your career path, it's crucial to spend time deeply thinking it through. A career isn't something that can be chosen hastily — you need to do the leg work to research potential careers and determine which ones would work for you.
How to Find Your Career Path with the Five Whys
The five whys technique is an invaluable tool to give insight into ways you can pursue career success. Keep reading for five questions that will help guide your career evaluation process.
1. What Are You Good At? Why?
Although it may seem obvious, the first step to discover your career path is to look inwards and analyze yourself. By starting from square one, you'll be able to dig down to the root of your strengths, motivations and skills to determine the career path that is right for you.
To get your self-evaluation started, try asking yourself these questions:
- What are your interests?
- What are your skills?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What comes easily to you?
- What time of day do you work most efficiently?
By answering these questions (and then asking yourself why), you will be able to reflect on your strengths and skills to understand the types of positions where you would succeed.
This example won't give direct insight into what career path you want to take, but what types of positions you would thrive in. Taking the time to sit down and think deeply about your underlying motivations and aptitudes can help foster new modes of thinking and development.
While some of the above questions may seem pretty self-explanatory, this next step is where the five whys really begin to help you dig deeper and understand the reasons behind your thinking.
2. What Are Your Career Goals? Why?
Figuring out your career goals starts by defining what you want in terms of career development. Are you happy with your current career status or are you looking to move upwards? Whether you're a career changer or a first-time entrant, clearly defining your career goals is crucial to creating a plan to get there.
A great way to foster this process is by creating a problem statement. The importance of crafting a problem statement cannot be overstated — a problem statement for determining your career path is just as important as a hypothesis when writing a research paper.
I am uncertain of my current career path as a realtor because I worry that I may not be able to sustain a healthy work-life balance long term due to the uncertain hours of this position. I want a job where I can balance my career development with my passions, and having dedicated time off from work is crucial to do that.
In this problem statement, the issues are clearly established and both short- and long-term goals are considered. To apply the five whys to your problem statement, try asking yourself questions like:
- Where do I want to be in one, five, 10 or even 20 years?
- Do I want to live to work, or work to live?
- What exactly are my outside passions, and how much do they intersect with the career paths I'm considering?
- Why do I care about those passions?
Your answer to these questions should give you an idea of what you value most: money, time or fulfillment.
3. What Do You Value the Most? Why?
The ideal career for you is one that encompasses what you need from each of these three pillars: money, time and fulfillment. However, it's important to remember that these three pillars are not a zero-sum game. It's possible to find a career that achieves all three, or sacrifices in areas where you're willing to change while still meeting your needs.
To help you determine what you value most in your career, it's important to take a look at the boundaries you want to set. Some things to consider are:
- Do you want to work 9-to-5 or are you willing to work nontraditional hours?
- What type of work environment do you prefer?
- How much weight do you place on work-life balance?
Work-life balance is a scale where the gain of one requires the loss of another. Try to instead view this as work-life fulfillment, which allows you to ask, "how should I spend my time to lead a fulfilling and productive life while meeting my goals?"
4. What Areas Are You Willing to Compromise On? Why?
Although it's possible to find a career where you can balance money, time and fulfillment, it's important to take a pragmatic approach to finding your career path. Think of your minimum, ideal and dream requirements, and use this framework to find an intersection that meets your needs. Some questions to get this process started include:
- Have you considered the industry standard for the field you want to enter?
- How much do you want to earn? How much do you need to earn?
- Are you willing to take a step backward to move forward in a new path?
Everyone's boundaries and areas of compromise are different. If you're a parent, your needs for time flexibility may be greater than if you are a single twenty-something.
It's important to remember that your career path is not always a linear progression. According to the 2018 BLS Employee Tenure Survey, the median amount of time that workers stay with an employer is 4.2 years — meaning that over the course of your career, switching it up is becoming the norm.
5. What Are You Willing to Do to Get Yourself There? Why?
Lastly, it's important to take into consideration the sacrifices you're willing to make to get yourself where you want to be. Ask yourself:
- Would you pursue more schooling or certifications?
- What about moving to a new city for a career?
A great way to work through this is to find people in the career you want — whether through platforms like LinkedIn or more traditional routes like job fairs, finding and talking to professionals can help give you insight into the true day-to-day life of someone with that job.
Regardless of the professional path you choose, it's important to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Investing in your personal branding [internal link] can open the door for new opportunities and pave the way for an upwards trajectory in your career.
Finding your career path is an individual journey. The five whys can help you facilitate a candid conversation with yourself about your underlying passions and motivations to discover a career that you will be happy and successful in.
No matter the career path you choose, it's important to always be prepared with an up-to-date resume — you never knew when your next big opportunity is right around the corner.