Kick Start Your Career – how to approach career planning after graduation

A lady steps from a purple circle to a green circle. A larger orange circle is ahead of her.

We are all different, with distinct circumstances, preferences and ways of looking at the world, so one way to progress your career would never work for everyone. This post will introduce 3 different ways to kick start your career, so you can choose which works best for you, or even treat them as pick’n’mix, and use relevant bits from all three.

The 3 approaches I’m going to introduce are ABC, Planned Happenstance and SODT.

  1. ABC

The ABC approach is incredibly pragmatic, so is particularly good if your circumstances means that your overriding concern is: to have an income; to build your work confidence; your need to actively do something; or, limitations around location or caring responsibilities. It’s all about seeing a forward momentum, one foot in front of the other.

  1. A means – Get a job – it doesn’t matter what that job is, just that it meets your overriding need(s). This is probably not the kind of work that you see yourself doing for long, but it does give you the chance to meet your short-term needs, whilst gaining experience, developing skills, understanding more about what you like (and dislike) doing and gaining confidence in the workplace.
  2. B means – Get a better job – building on that increased knowledge, confidence etc. to secure a job that is in some ways better. What ‘better’ is, is up to you – more money, stable hours, less of a commute – whatever is important to you. This step will also allow you to continue your development, and help you look around you for your next step from a relatively good place.
  3. C means – Get a career job – i.e. the kind of work that you see yourself doing for a while; that you feel meets your ambitions and will give you some fulfilment from the working part of your life. You’re A & B jobs will have given you skills and experience to both confidently apply for, and secure, this move.

There are no timescales attached to this by design – this is an approach that you pragmatically fit you where your life in now.


Tessa had a great time at Uni, but didn’t have anything planned, so ended up back home. She looked locally for some office-based work, she’d worked in retail before, so she didn’t have any relevant experience, but got a role as a conference administrator in a very small organisation. Here she learned lessons about planning, administration and organisation that she’d use the rest of her career. 

After a year or so she moved in with her partner in a different town, so needed a new job. She was now an experienced office worker, so secured a 12-month contract in a large company, at a better rate of pay, and did really well. Her new job happened to be in HR, and looking around her, she saw that that was an interesting area that she could build a career in. At the end of her contract she applied for HR roles, got a well-paid role in a prestigious organisation, and felt that her career had properly started.

 2. Planned Happenstance

This approach is all about putting yourself in positions where you are in the right place at the right time. If you are open minded about where your career path will take you, and you aren’t big on goals and process maps, then Planned Happenstance could be the one for you.

Talking to people often leads to opportunities – those could be small opportunities – like an invite to another event, medium sized ones, like an introduction to someone important, or huge, like work experience or an interview for a job that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

The Planned bit of Planned Happenstance is you ensuring that you are in the position to talk to people. So, for instance, you might go to networking events advertised on Eventbrite or meetup, you might go to public consultations on development proposals, attend online seminars, hang around favourite art galleries and museums, even frequent cafes, and bars where the relevant people go to. Once you are in the right place you need to chat to other attendees, and if opportunities come you’re way, consider accepting them.

All those are fine if you have the time, but perhaps you need to work, in which case make the most of what you have – if you work on a reception or in a cafe, chat to the customers, if you go to work on the bus, chat to the people in the queue, when you are at work ask your colleagues what their friends and family do.

There are lots of opportunities out there, and Planned Happenstance is a great way to tap into them as long as you are open minded about your career path, willing to put yourself out there and are tenacious about making things happen.


Raheem was working in the local gym, doing whatever needed doing – setting out equipment, cleaning the loos, covering reception – that sort of thing. He soon starting recognising and saying hello to the regulars, some of whom wanted to chat rather than hit the cross trainer.

He was chatting to one regular, James, who asked him what his career plans were, and asked if he’d thought of working in reinsurance. Raheem admitted that he hadn’t even heard of it, so, over the next few visits James told him more about it, recommended some websites (which Raheem read), and eventually asked him if he’d like to come in to do a few days data entry, and have a look around while he was there.

Long story short, Raheem liked what he saw, started applying to entry-level roles in reinsurance, and started a 9-month maternity leave contract – coincidentally in the place James worked (the help James gave him with his application and interview prep certainly helped).

3. SODT – Structured Career Planning

If you like to have a clear goal and a pathway mapped out in front of you logically, then SODT might be the thing for you.

SODT is another acronym – Self, Opportunities, Decisions and Transitions – 4 steps in logical order that will help you figure out, and secure, the right career for you.

  1. Self – first spend some time understanding yourself – your needs, values, motivations, strengths, interests and what you want to do all day, then,
  2. Opportunities – most of us aren’t aware of the vast range of options there are out there, so really do your research. Yes, you can see who’s advertising vacancies, but don’t stop there. See what organisations there are in the location you want to work, or in the sector you’re interested in – this will get beyond those companies who just happen to be advertising vacancies on the day you look at the jobs board. And don’t stop there – talk to people, starting with your friends, family and your current network, then widen out to new people (check out the network you have on LinkedIn via the alumni community), to understand what they do. This will create an ever-changing list of things you are interested in doing.
  3. Decisions – now you have lots of opportunities you are interested in, it’s time to make some decisions about which you want to actively pursue. Narrowing down your options to two or three is a good idea. Any less and there might not be enough jobs out there, and any more and the next stage will be too overwhelming.
  4. Transitions – this step is making the decisions a reality. The process that you have been through means that you will know quite a lot about your chosen path(s), so the final piece of research is about how to get onto that path. It might be a case of finding vacancies and applying for them, but do your research to check. Once you understand the way in, your next task is to get good at those stages – e.g. networking, winning business, writing applications, interviewing – the next step will be to decide which of the offers on hand is right for you!


Jo graduated from Environmental Science a few weeks ago, and feels the need for a plan. Jo is lucky: a comfortable room in an Auntie’s house near Milton Keynes, their minimal rent covered easily with a few shifts in a local bar, so they give themself 6 months for the plan. 

Jo allocates 2 weeks to understanding themself, using the Uni webpages as a starting point. They realise that they’ve been at their best when solving problems, communicating with people and is ‘out and about’. They’re also keen to do something aligned to their interest in the environment and sustainability. 

Next, they spend two more weeks looking for opportunities, restricting themself to the same part of the country, so looking at local organisations linked to their interests. Speaking to family friends they realise that lots of them are helping their employers be more sustainable, even though that’s not their main job role. Jo identifies 20 organisations that they’d like to work in, then found more options researching their competitors, using sources line the Chamber of Commerce and Institute of Directors. 

Decision time led Jo to focus on three areas – retrofitting organisations that make homes more fuel efficient, consultancies that help organisations become more sustainable, and working for the Environment Agency. 

So, with 4.5 months left of the plan, Jo determines their job search tactics: applying for vacancies in the Environment Agency (any department) and contact the retrofitting firms and consultancies directly, as they were mainly small firms without any advertised roles. 

After a couple of interviews in the EA (procurement and regulatory affairs), and quite a few informal chats in the other 2 types of firm, Jo was offered the chance to join a retrofitter as a Sales Operations Assistant. It wasn’t the ideal role, but Jo could see how it would progress, and the steps to take to get into a good role in a couple of years, so accepted the offer they’d made some good contacts along the way, and planned to maintan these as Jo started work on their career plan. 

So, above are three contrasting approaches to kick starting your career – you can book an appointment with a careers consultant if you’ve any questions, or would like some help deciding the best approach for you to take. There are regular webinars you can attend too – visit the Alumni section of the Careers website for details.