How to choose a career

Whether you are totally at a loss about your future career, thinking about a specific job or postgraduate course, or have an idea of what interests you, there are many ways you can start to clarify where you want your career to take you. This essential guide will help you focus on how to explore your options post your degree and work out how to get where you want to be.

Know yourself and what you want

Finding out about yourself is an essential part of the research you need to do when choosing a career. It’s important to assess your skills, abilities and personality. What do you have to offer a future employer? What evidence can you give to demonstrate your ability? What type of work and working environment are you suited to? What are your main priorities when choosing your next step?

  • Your degree – what are your strengths and which aspects of your studies did you enjoy most? Refer to Options with your subject on Prospects, the graduate careers website, for further details 
  • Skills audit – broaden your reflections by thinking about activities and projects you have been involved in outside your degree such as work experience, societies and sport. Consider completing the Identify your skills guide (PDF - 81KB). Ask friends, family and professional colleagues for their opinion - what do they consider your strengths, skills and talents?
  • Your personality, values and motivations – refer to How to prepare for psychometric tests for personality questionnaires. Find out what motivates you and what aspects are important to you such as location, work environment and salary levels with the values and motivations questionnaire (PDF - 42KB)

Explore your career options

Focus on the range of careers that suit your interests, skills and values. Finding out about opportunities and other options will help increase your knowledge about jobs and your individual preferences.

  • Careers advicetalk to a Careers Adviser about your career ideas, trends in the labour market, strategies on job searching and timescales for applications. You can contact us by email, phone or talk to face to face.
  • Internet – use the web to find out more about sectors and jobs you are interested in. See industry insights and types of jobs. Visit employer websites and make use of professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Also check out our graduate vacancies at Jobs Online.
  • Network – to develop contacts who will help with your job search. Be proactive and think creatively about ways to build contacts such as attending relevant recruitment fairs and careers events and joining professional bodies. Put together a list of questions to ask people about their work to help you find out more about the role and whether you would enjoy it.
  • Getting ahead – explore ways of building on the skills and work experiences you’ve gained as an undergraduate by applying for relevant graduate internships or contacting relevant recruitment agencies.

Making a decision and reviewing your progress

Setting and reviewing short, medium and long term goals enables you to develop your career on your terms.

  • Discuss your options – talking through your thoughts with others can help you to make an informed decision. Email / phone or speak to a Careers Adviser to consider the pros and cons of the options you’re considering. Also speak to family, friends and your professional contacts
  • Try it out – consider undertaking a period of work experience, volunteering or job shadowing to try out the role and reflect on the positives and negatives.
  • Evaluate – review your skill set and preferences and evaluate whether it matches the role you are considering.
  • Check your goals - use My career development plan (doc - 36KB) to help set your career goals and review these on a regular basis. Are you still on track? What do you need to improve? Are they still the goals you want?
  • Reflect – assess how successful you career plans are going. What is working well and what could you do differently? What changes can you make to your plan? What help do you require?
  • Feedback – try to get feedback from employers if you’re applying for jobs and unsuccessful as you can address the points raised in your future applications or interviews. Ask a careers adviser for feedback on your application form or interview technique.
  • Stay motivated – develop positive thinking. In order to achieve the goal you have to believe in it and believe in yourself. In the face of setbacks remind yourself of your achievements and strengths. Handle any rejection in a positive way and learn from the experience. Build a support network around you, including friends, family and mentors.