Choosing your career

It can be difficult to know where to start in deciding which career pathway to follow. However, career planning is important as it allows you to:

  • Make informed choices, helping you to secure a good fit between you and your chosen role 
  • Identify goals and produce an action plan to allow you to achieve these
  • Develop skills and experience relevant to your area of interest – this in turn will enhance your employability as you can demonstrate that you are motivated, proactive, and well prepared for the graduate job market.

There are a number of online resources to help you through the process of career choice.  

Log-in into your Careers Portal and explore the “Career Assessments” module.  This includes a variety of assessment tools focusing on areas such as “Sound Decision Making”, “Motivation at Work”, and “Workplace Culture”.

Prospects Career Planner is an online tool aimed at students and recent graduates.  It consists of a number of questionnaires that focus on your career interests, strengths, skills, aspirations, and values. Based on your responses the system will generate a number of suggested job areas to explore.

Bright Network Career Path Test helps you to discover career areas which match your skills and personality.  

Download the Careers information resources for mature students  and/or the Careers information resources for PhD and research students which provide links of particular interest to these groups.

Remember also that you are welcome to access 1-1 support from a careers consultant. An individual guidance interview gives you the opportunity to discuss your ideas and interests and may help clarify your thoughts as well as support you in developing a plan of action. 

Career planning is not about making a “one-off” choice, but instead, it is an ongoing process and your ideas and priorities will develop and change as you move forward.  To help you get started you can break the process down into four stages.  Each of these is described below, and resources are highlighted to help you at each point.

Ask yourself questions...

  • What skills do I have and what evidence can I provide for them?
  • What motivates me? (status, financial reward, closing a business deal, social/political issues, making a contribution to the community)

Other factors which can influence your planning include:

  • family commitments and priorities;
  • financial constraints;
  • expectations of significant others;
  • self-confidence;
  • health;
  • geographical mobility;
  • legal restrictions eg. work permits.

At this stage, completing the questionnaires mentioned above on Career Assessments or trying Prospects Career Planner may be especially useful.

What’s out there? Find out about:

  • job roles, sectors, organisations, and employers;
  • entry routes and requirements; availability of opportunities; entry-level competition; salaries; promotion prospects; future sector trends; size and culture of specific organisations.

The Prospects “Job Sectors” pages or the Target Jobs "Job Descriptions" pages provide detailed information on a wide variety of graduate career areas and so are invaluable resources.  In addition, you may find the Prospects pages on “What can I do with my Degree” useful as these outline some of the main job areas which link to your degree subject.  "What do Graduates do" is an annual publication which reports on the types of jobs or study areas graduates from a range of disciplines have gone on to, and this too might provide some ideas.  

The webpage "Research your Sector" includes resources on a wide variety of industry sectors and includes links to professional bodies and relevant publications for example.

Your Careers Portal Industry Reports or Discovering Career Possibilities also allow you to find out more about opportunities in a variety of sectors.

Other more general resources include:

  • The National Careers Service;  
  • your personal networks - talk to people you know about their jobs and employers, their likes/dislikes, current and future issues in the sector, and how they chose their current job.  You could consider joining the career mentoring programme to extend your network and your sector knowledge.

Having reflected on your abilities, preferences, and priorities and researched possible opportunities, the next step is to evaluate this information to allow you to gain a sense of direction.

At this stage you might:

  • weigh up the pros and cons of different job roles – which would best match your assessment of your skills and abilities?
  • compare the culture and values of different sectors and organisations, eg “not for profit” vs the private sector;
  • consider whether you can meet the basic entry requirements and if not, are you in a position to gain the additional training/experience needed?

Through this process, you should hope to identify some areas of potential interest, although this will not necessarily mean that you have reached your “career decision”.  The goals you identify could be quite specific, eg “to become an account executive in an advertising agency”, or they could still be quite broad, eg “to work with vulnerable people”.  You may find it helpful to refer to the material on setting S.M.A.R.T. goals in the careers portal.

Either way, you have identified a starting point from which you can move forward.

Making goals realistic

It may be helpful to reflect on your progress and to seek feedback to check the feasibility of your goals.

  • Careers consultants offer an opportunity to discuss your plans and to check that you have considered the relevant issues.  If you have not been able to find all the information you need, the consultant may be able to make suggestions as to how these gaps can be filled.
  • Any contacts you have who work within your chosen area(s) may be able to provide another perspective on factors you should take into account.

Making goals achievable

It is important that the goals you set yourself are achievable and so you may need to:

  • break your ultimate goal down into a number of smaller steps;
  • think about timescales – sometimes these can be imposed upon you, eg an application deadline, otherwise set your own targets

This could include identifying:

Having gathered feedback from others and started to put your plans into action, you may find that your circumstances or your views change over time – it is always important to regularly review your plans and your progress to make sure that you continue to move in the direction that feels right for you.

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