How to decide on a career path: 6 tips
Find a job you love. Here's how to work out what that is...
With hundreds of possible career paths out there, it can be pretty difficult to make a decision on what you want to pursue after you finish school. To help you with this process, we’ve come up with 6 tips for choosing a career that suits you best.
When you finish school or college, you might want to launch straight into a job role, or an apprenticeship, or you might want to go to university before entering the job market. Whatever stage of your journey you are at, it’s likely that you’ve been encouraged to think about what kind of career you want to have in the future. As daunting as this sounds, here’s how to make it a straightforward process.
1. Start early
Planning life after school is not a simple process; it can involve months or even years of research. The earlier you start thinking about your future, the more time there will be to properly consider the options.
You can start early on Unifrog! For example, you can search for opportunities like university programs and apprenticeships in the years before you apply, and you can check out the Careers library to find out more about possible careers. This will help you be more aware of things like what qualifications are needed for particular degrees, and how many years of study different routes will take.
2. Think broadly
It’s pretty unlikely that you will figure out your perfect job immediately, but you may find some fields or sectors you find interesting.
Try to think in broad terms about potential career paths in order to keep your options open, unless you are completely certain. Avoid focusing on a specific profession (such as ‘Radiotherapist’) and instead explore an entire field (such as ‘Medicine and healthcare’). Again, you can do this in Unifrog’s Careers library by searching by career area.
3. Reflect on yourself
Before diving into research, it’s helpful to develop an idea of your strengths, weaknesses, passions and preferences in the working environment. Once you have a good understanding of yourself, you’ll be able to narrow your research to job sectors that fit with your interests and skills.
Unifrog’s Personality and Interests Tools are a great way to start exploring all of this. You can also think about school subjects, part time jobs, hobbies, interests, and work experience that you’ve done, how they went and how you felt about them. Use the Unifrog Activities tool to record what you’ve done, and then the Skills tool to record examples of how you’ve demonstrated key skills.
4. Get some experience
The best way to decide whether a career is for you is to give it a go! Try to get as much work experience in your chosen field as possible. It’s really helpful to hear the opinion of a professional when researching a career path, so make the most of your work experience by talking to the people you shadow. We’ve written a guide to work experience with a few more tips and tricks - you can check it out here!
Work experience will also give you a feel for the types of people that you will be working alongside in your field. If you find that you share some of the skills and interests of the people you shadow, it might mean that this is a potential job for you.
After you complete your work experience, make sure you assess whether the career and industry is something you have an ongoing interest in. It’s perfectly normal to decide at this point that this might not be the role or field for you. This doesn’t mean that the experience has been a waste of time! On the contrary, you might have saved yourself years of effort and training, only to find that the job you’re qualified for is one that you hate.
You can take notes on your thoughts and observations after each day of your work experience, and once it’s done, ask yourself questions like:
- What did you enjoy about your work experience?
- What did you dislike?
- What skills did you have to use?
- How has it changed your understanding of the profession/industry?
- How does this affect your plans for the future?
5. Figure out the qualifications you need
Once you have an idea of the kind of career path you’re interested in, the next step is to research the qualifications that you’ll need to succeed in that field. Some professions, like medicine and engineering, are more vocational and require specific subject-related qualifications. In other sectors, employers value a variety of subjects and skills, and are more open to different degree choices. Check out Unifrog’s article on How degrees can link to careers for more information on choosing a relevant degree course.
Other professions might have alternative qualification options. For example, you might want to explore the Apprenticeship or college route. You can check out our article on which might be the best for you here.
Remember that while the degree or education route you choose is important, it won’t define the course of your entire life. Education can often lead to seemingly unrelated careers. Students from science backgrounds, for example, are increasingly being recruited by employers in the banking and finance industry. Even someone who studies a subject that seems like it will lead straight to a career, like medicine or plumbing, can change their mind and do something else. Studying teaches you lots of different transferable skills!
6. Have a backup plan
Nothing is ever certain, and sometimes life throws you some curveballs. What’s important is to make sure you have another plan in place. You can always use Unifrog's Post 18 Intentions tool to think of a progression backup plan, in case your first choice of career path doesn't work out.
By addressing this possibility at an early stage, you can make sure that the degree or apprenticeship that you choose will suit your plan B pathway, as well as your plan A.
Once you’ve thought everything, make sure you book an appointment with your school’s careers adviser to help you plan your next steps. They can offer a lot of valuable advice as you make important decisions about your future, and will have the insider scoop on the different pathways you could take to get there.
Lastly, remember that it’s perfectly fine to change your mind in the future. According to a 2018 study by the Bureau of Labour statistics, adults change their job role between 10-15 times over the course of their career. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have your whole life figured out from the start. Take your time, and don’t be afraid if you need to pivot when you decide you’d like to try something else.
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