Working out what you want to do

How to use it:

This coaching guide is designed to help you in identifying relevant job and career options for after graduation and save you time in the process.

  • If you are feeling stuck have a look at What gets in the way which you can find on this page
  • If you want some helpful starting points jump to the second section; Some Practical Tips

What gets in the way…

“I’m concerned I might make the wrong decision.”

Many people put off looking at career choice because of the fear that they might make the wrong choice. You can overcome this if you recognise:

  • You are not making a once and for all decision, 40% of grads change direction within 3 years of starting their first job. Also you can quickly and successfully change direction. Don’t forget all experience can be valuable in helping you decide – and will impress employers
  • I need to have a perfect fit with my interests, skills etc
  • Very few people have a perfect fit. Even if you could find such a role you will probably find it wouldn’t stay that way! A more helpful way is as a first step to simply look for jobs that are a general good fit and don’t disagree with a core value. Go for the 70% rule – if 70% looks ok on the first reading put it on your short list

“I’ve already looked and can’t find anything for me”

  • Sometimes we are looking in the wrong place! The obvious information is provided by large employers or features those who are seen as the place to be. Use our coaching guide on where to find jobs or come to the Careers Centre to find out other ways of looking
  • Check the gap! What are you assuming about job roles which might lead you to rejecting some options which could fit well. Here are three stereotypes that are not necessarily true: ‘Being in an office is always boring’, ‘I need to just be interested in numbers to be an accountant’ and ‘Most businesses only want business graduates’

“I don’t have anything to offer that employers want”

  • This is unlikely to be true. Employer feedback and experience in the Careers Centre is that students tend to underestimate their skills and over-estimate what employers want from them. And 40% to 50% of the jobs we see are for any degree discipline
  • It’s too complicated/will take too much time to sort
  • While it can take some time, there are short cuts – see the next section – and sooner or later you will have to do something. Why not tackle career issues while at Uni and where there are easily accessible experts and resources you can use?

Some practical tips to get started

Like all decisions the career decision process can be broken down into a series of smaller mini steps.

  • Step One: Identifying what you want from a job and what you can bring to it.
  • Step two: While keeping in mind what you clarified at Step one do an initial sift to list what jobs are available and appropriate
  • Step three: Identify those job areas that best fit and research in more depth
  • Step four: Finally making the decision

This process can be done fairly quickly but equally can be spread out over some time if you wish! If you find yourself in a job which is not right for you then just repeat the process.

In more detail

Step one: Identifying what you want from a job and what you can bring to it.

Our instinctive approach is to start by browsing job sites to see what’s on offer and what we like. The danger is you end up with loads of jobs that seem ok but may not be right for you. An alternative starting position is to consider what you want from a job – for example your interests, values and the skills you would like to use. Pull these together into a “shopping list” of the top 5 or 10 things you want and also top 5 or 10 things you can offer an employer (these lists may overlap). You can then use these to assess which jobs or careers would be relevant.
Useful ways to create your shopping list include:

  • Using IT tools, try the Target Jobs Career explorer and Prospects Planner. These help you to list your strengths then match it against hundreds of graduate occupations. Discuss your findings with a Careers Adviser – we can help you evaluate what you have found and ensure you haven’t missed anything.
  • Book into our career coaching programme where through a series of three meetings with your Careers Adviser you can work through the whole process. You can start the process with a short discussion. Ask at the Careers Centre Reception to arrange this.
  • Take a look at our skills and competencies guide to help you to learn more about the qualities you already have to help identify specific work areas that may suit you.
  • If you get stuck try Career Unlocker or Gro. These IT based systems developed by staff in the Careers Centre to help students who are going round in circles or want some practical ideas on what to do next.
  • Many people find it easier to clarify what they want by meeting people who do jobs. Use employer presentations, fairs and other events to ask people why they do what they do. What works for you?
Step two: While keeping in mind what you clarified at Step one do an initial sift to list what jobs are available and appropriate

To generate relevant job ideas try the following resources:

  • Check out the options with your subject on the Prospects website. This gives ideas about what do people typically do with a degree like yours
  • For a broad overview of careers see the job sectors on the Prospects website
  • For a bit more detail look at our other Career Bites from the menu
  • To look at specific employers in detail try WikiJob or Prospects or check out their own website.
  • If your research at step one suggests you might prefer to work for a medium or smaller organisation look at the jobs and opportunities section on our My Jobs Online website
  • Don’t forget many employers can be found through focused research such as via professional association or specialist websites or social media such as LinkedIn. Our Career bites section will give you links for the areas of most interest to Reading students. But talk to a Careers Adviser for more information
  • Read job and employer reviews on The Job Crowd.
Step three: Identify those that best fit

Once you have a short list of a few possible jobs/careers take a few more incremental steps to see if they really work for you. Good steps include:

  • Talking to employers to check out your research – meet them at careers fairs, presentations, on-line discussions, and career events in your department etc
  • If still interested explore work shadowing, start small with work shadowing or attend career insight days and then move onto longer work experience. You can meet a relevant Placement Officer in the Careers Centre who can give you specialist advice
Finally step 4, making the decision

If you have carried steps one to three out in detail it is likely that you will have some clear ideas about the career areas of most interest. In many cases decision happen almost without noticing! However if you are still not sure and need some more pointers (or would just like a reality check) try the following exercises:

  • Review what you have learnt so far and what seems to be a good fit at this point in time. Often people are uncertain because they don’t have a clear idea of what a career area entails or what they want out of it
  • Knowing what you now know about jobs; has this in anyway changed the shopping list you created at step one? Re-assess what are the most important factors that a job role must satisfy. Which of the areas you have explored best meet this?
  • If you haven’t done so already explore the ‘risk factors’ involved if you were to apply to the career areas that most interest you. Risk factors include: how competitive is it to get in? Have I got or can I reasonably gain the requirements that will make me a credible candidate (requirements include academics, experience, skills, geographical location etc)? If you have a strong yes to this keep going. Do this section with a careers adviser since it is easy to underestimate or overestimate your ability to get in.

Often the best way to go through the above process is to talk it through with someone. Hearing your thoughts out loud will often clarify things. We offer that service in the Careers Centre so come and talk to an Adviser.

When you have some clarity write it down and then start to look at the application process for individual organisations.

Finally: if something is still holding you back and perhaps you are hesitating to apply this would be a good time to come in to the Careers Centre and ask to talk to a Careers Adviser.

Next steps

Think: where are you in the decision-making process? Use the steps above to define where you are and what to do
Just book out a slot in your diary to see a Careers Adviser to get your action plan started or take some of the actions outlined in this sheet to get yourself going