Choosing your career
Career decision-making is not simply about matching yourself to a specific job but choosing education, training and jobs that match your interests, values, personality and skills. It may be the case that choosing a career happens once in your lifetime, but it is more likely to happen a number of times as you change and redefine your goals. There are three main steps to choosing a career: self assessment, career exploration and decision-making.
Self assessment is a vital first step in deciding which career you want to pursue. It very much is concerned with gathering information about yourself in order to make informed career decisions – basically, it is about evaluating your interests, values, personality and skills.
- Interests: what you enjoy doing (e.g., socializing, sports)
- Values: the things that are important to you (e.g., challenges, responsibility)
- Personality: your individual qualities, needs and attitudes (e.g., openness, honesty)
- Skills: the activities you are good at (e.g., writing, teaching)
To begin your self assessment, write down these four headings on a piece of paper and list your ideas beside each one. Here are some examples of questions you should ask yourself:
- Interests: What are my strengths/weaknesses?
- Values: What are my priorities in life? Happiness? Money?
- Personality: Within which type of work environment do I work best? Am I a leader or someone who prefers to be instructed?
- Skills: Which areas of my education did I excel in? What special projects was I involved in and what did I learn from them?
This list will help you to establish what it is you’re looking for in a university course, an internship or a permanent job – or more generally, in your career. Most certainly, your school/university careers service will be able to help you further, providing vast resources as well as the services of a career adviser. A career adviser will discuss your ideas with you and help you to plan your next steps. He/she can support you in choosing an appropriate university or college course by helping to identify which courses best match your skills and aspirations. In the same way, an adviser will help you to identify suitable careers and to understand which skills are most important to employers. Typically, these include problem-solving, time-management, and communications skills as well as competency in foreign languages. Thus, a meeting with a career adviser will enable you to identify the skills you need but do not yet have for your career.
Psychometric tests can also aid the self-assessment process. Psychometric tests assess a person’s ability or personality in a measured and structured way and are most commonly known as ‘aptitude tests’ or ‘personality tests,’ and these are often used by companies to select the right candidate for the job. If you’re looking to choose a Higher Education course then there are a range of tests to help you. For example, The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) in the UK offers the Stamford test to help you find suitable courses. Please click on the following link to find out more: http://www.ucas.com/students/beforeyouapply/whattostudy/
If you want to see which jobs best suit your skills and personality then follow this link: http://www.mindtools.com/page12.html
Self assessment should be the first step in the career planning process, not the last. Once you have established what you need from a university course or job, it’s time to begin your research, which involves brainstorming possible options and gathering detailed information. You can explore different industries and occupations online or via newspapers, magazines and books. An occupation is a particular position within an industry (e.g., a secretary). The term industry refers to the type of business or employer, such as healthcare, manufacturing or real estate. However, some occupations (like a sales representative) are available within several industries.
You can also use business blogs when researching potential employers. Business blogs are often written by the employer itself or an ex-employee and provide real insight into how an organization operates. Generally speaking, blogs are more regularly updated than web pages and are much more interactive, allowing you to post questions. Similarly, message boards are a good way of enquiring about a particular job or company and gaining advice from experienced professionals.
Networking is also worthwhile and can be as simple as asking friends, relatives and contacts about their line of work. What do they like about their jobs? What advice can they give you? Networking also allows you to:
- Compile a list of people who work in your field(s) of interest
- Set up informational interviews with them
- Carry out some work-shadowing whereby you follow one of your contacts around work for a day or so to experience life in the job
Career fairs and events are a particularly useful form of networking. Held all year round and worldwide, career fairs are an ideal opportunity for students about to graduate, recent graduates or experienced professionals to meet potential employers, investigate different industries and market themselves to company representatives. Career fairs are often sponsored by career centers, so they are a valuable source of contacts and interview experience too. Click on the following link to find out about upcoming career events: http://www.entrypark.com/events/.
Another way to find out more about a particular occupation is to undertake some work experience which will not only give you a taste of life within the industry but also boost your CV. Work experience is particularly valuable as it is a way of distinguishing yourself from the competition and is highly regarded by universities and potential employers because it demonstrates initiative, drive and adaptability. It’s also possible that by making a good impression you will be contacted if a position becomes available later on. To find out more, please see the practical experience section under 'Developing your career'.
When exploring careers, please remember that just because your self assessment indicates that a particular course or job matches your interests, skills, and values doesn't mean it should be your first choice. Similarly, just because your self assessment doesn't indicate that a particular course or job is appropriate, doesn't mean you should ignore it – you just need to do some more research. Hence, exploring a variety of courses and jobs will help you to discover the options that best suit you. To prioritize your exploration, create a shortlist of at least ten different courses and jobs that are compatible with your skills, interests and experience, then select the three that most appeal to you and explore them in more detail.
After carrying out the necessary research, it’s time to decide which career is the most interesting to you. In terms of career choice, if you’re still undecided then your degree is always a good place to start, but it may be that you want to branch out into a different field. Many jobs require you to have a degree but the subject you studied is not necessarily important. To make your decision you must weigh up the pros and cons of each option you have shortlisted by evaluating the information you have gathered in terms of career outlook, salary, promotion opportunities, etc. When choosing a career or a university or college course, it’s always useful to talk though your options with family and friends to get their input. The most important factor, however, is being honest about what you want; self awareness, occupational awareness and intuition all come into play when making your decision. In any case, make sure that you do not do the following when deciding on a career:
- Don’t follow the crowds and choose what your friends do. Everyone is different and has their own competencies and interests. Do what feels right for you!
- Don’t choose something to please other people, particularly your parents. A career is a personal thing and it’s up to you to decide its path!
- Don’t lose your focus. Choosing a career can be extremely overwhelming but try to remain focused by referring to the lists you made during the self-assessment stage
Now it’s time to begin your job search. In order to make informed decisions about potential employers, you must explore jobs and companies thoroughly and assess your options carefully. To do so, tackle the following 10 questions when researching an employer:
- When was the organization founded?
- How many workers does it employ?
- Who are the key people within the organization?
- What does the organization do? What products and services does it provide?
- What are the organization’s strongest values?
- Who are its main competitors? What do you know about them?
- What distinguishes the organization from its competitors?
- Who are its biggest customers?
- What is the organization’s global/national/local reputation in the market?
- What awards or recognitions has the organization received?
To answer these questions and to find the right jobs and internships with great employers, there are various sources you can use.
Among them are:
- Entrypark’s job board – http://www.entrypark.com/jobs/
- Your university's careers service – your university library will provide information about graduate schemes and jobs as well as the services of a career adviser
- National newspapers – typically, jobs are advertized in individual newspapers on specific days of the week
- Trade magazines – these normally advertize jobs for experienced professionals but can also provide you with useful information about developments within a particular industry
- Contacts – as mentioned earlier, speak to family, friends, and colleagues and network as much as possible
- Employment/recruitment agencies – companies that match workers to jobs. Such agencies specialize in both full-time and part-time work and can tailor the job search to your skills and needs
- Speculative applications – applications that you send even though there is no job being advertized. In this case, you should target your letter and send it to the correct person whose details you can find in directories and/or online