The issue of career choice can certainly be daunting.
Making the transition from academic study to the world of work is not necessarily straightforward, with so many options and so many new skills to learn along the way. The job market is a complex beast, constantly changing and evolving, with no two employers offering the same thing. So how can you ensure the choices you are making are the right ones?
Have you done your research?
This sounds like a simple and obvious question but it is one that a surprisingly large amount of job-seekers (not just students!) get wrong. It is easy, after all, to be swayed by the image of a profession and of an organisation and to want to see the exciting elements of the work whilst brushing aside the more mundane and every day tasks. Do what you can to get beyond this. If possible, speak to people within the industry to find out the realities about the work. Use the internet to read up on individual employers and organisations. What makes them stand out above and beyond their competitors? Careers websites like www.prospects.ac.uk can be a really good starting point when trying to broaden your horizons on the type of careers on offer, and also for drilling into the content of the work and what it involves. Of course, the best type of experience is work experience. This will give you the most realistic outlook of what to expect from different careers and employers but, if it is not possible to do this, then there are other ways to try and establish this information.
Are you playing to your strengths?
A basic mismatch of skills is unlikely to keep you feeling happy and fulfilled, nor is it likely to give you career longevity. Think long and hard about what you have to offer, as a job closely aligned to your natural skill set sees a better chance of success and career progress. Put time aside to do a skills audit. Think about the skills, technical or transferable, that come naturally to you as well as those that you have enjoyed developing. If you are struggling to do this, ask other people to help you. Sometimes our close friends and family can be astute assessors of what we can offer.
Does the job give you what you need?
But it’s not all about what you can provide. An often overlooked element of career choice is thinking about your own set of career values – the things you need a job to provide you with in order to keep you satisfied. This can be anything from a certain salary or location, to understanding what you need from the culture of an organisation. Think also about the elements that make up the job – does it provide you with the necessary creativity/risk/challenge/autonomy (the list is endless) that you need to get the best from yourself? Perhaps you are someone who needs to be doing a job that is having a positive social impact? All these things are vital to consider.
What does the future look like?
It is important that you don’t just think about the here and now. Whilst it may feel like the right job for you in the present, how will it suit you needs in 5, 10 or even 20 years time? Is there enough to keep you stimulated? Are there sufficient promotional opportunities ahead? And ask yourself how the industry is changing. Is the evolving job market likely to provide risks or opportunities and how may that influence your enthusiasm for the role?
One a final note, whilst it is certainly worth asking these questions and giving yourself the best chances possible to make the right decisions, it is important to remember that sometimes people do get it wrong, and that isn’t the end of the world. Career is a journey of experience, much of which we learn along the way. We are lucky that, these days, career choices don’t have to be forever – we can try new things, we can learn from past mistakes. But asking a few simple questions up front could save you a whole lot of future soul-searching.