You have already graduated or are about to, but still don’t know what kind of job you want, or which career to pursue. As a starter in the labour market you have a lot of choices to make. What kind of position? A big company, or small start-up? Start with a traineeship, or go directly for a job in a starting position? The sum of all these questions is: What suits me best?
Whether you are a student wondering what to do after you finish or doing a PhD or postdoc, you have to decide whether to pursue a career in academia or make a transition to industry. Last but not least, you may already have been working in a job for a couple of years but want to make a change because you are unhappy with the direction you initially chose.
For many people, trying to orientate the seemingly endless possibilities makes it even harder to decide. However, just taking the first thing that comes along, or following a decision based on what makes the most money, will not pay off in the long run and you may well end up doing something you don’t like.
“But which career is right for me?” you may ask, overwhelmed by information, (unwanted) advice from others and the pressure to make the one and only “right” decision.
First of all, don’t panic. Making a decision now doesn’t mean you will have to stick to it forever. Especially today, with new roles and topics emerging every few years, you will most likely not stay in the same position throughout your whole career anyway. However, it is a good idea to have an idea of what you would like to achieve and in which direction you want to start.
This article aims to give you some guidance in how to assess, inform and evaluate between all the different opportunities available to you.
It is worthwhile to assess yourself first. This can take time, but it is well-invested time. Relax, go for a walk or do whatever you enjoy doing in order to think clearly. It can also be helpful to write down ideas, thoughts and other notes. Ask yourself questions like ‘What am I good at?’, ‘What motivates me?’, ‘What makes me happy?’ and ‘What do I want?’.
These questions can be very hard to answer. It may help to think about when you get good feedback for from others, or even ask friends or family what they think you are good at. You should also ask yourself about your values. Is it important for you to have a lot of spare time to spend with friends and family? Or do you want to help others? What criteria does a job need to fulfil in order to be attractive to you?
Think about the criteria a potential employer needs to fulfill to make you want to work there. What is a must for you and what is less important? What are the criteria that excludes an employer?
Last but not least, also consider what you don’t want. Be honest with yourself: do you think something is good for you because you actually want to do it, or is it because others think it’s good for you? The other way around, also ask yourself why you reject certain jobs or career paths. Do they conflict with your personality, your values, your beliefs? Or is it because you think others may not approve of your decision?
You can also develop a hypothesis, for example “I would be a good scientist”, or “I would be a good project manager” and then test this hypothesis. Who could help you with finding out whether it is true?
Make a list of all potential roles that come to mind which may be suitable for you. Also do some additional research: have a look on LinkedIn what other people do, read articles and blogs, speak to other people that interest and/or fascinate you, for example at career events or alumni from your university. A good place to start is with a list of job profiles. Once you start to learn about the tasks and duties involved in a certain role, you might find out something is not for you (or like it even more!). Often there are more positions and possibilities than you are aware of, so invest some time in exploring your opportunities.
Lists of best-career options can be a good source of inspiration, but don’t rely on them too much. If a career seems a good pick because the job outlook and salary are great, but it doesn’t suit your interests, aptitudes, values and personality type it is highly likely that you will not find it rewarding.
Make a short list
During the process of getting to know what is out there, you will probably create a list of profiles that seem suitable for you. Try to find out as much as possible about these, and then narrow it down to 3-5 profiles (this will often happen automatically). Now comes a really important step:
Informal interviews + trying things out
Start conducting informal interviews. You can ask around among friends, your parents, colleagues etc. if they know someone that has a job that you’d like to get to know more about. If there is no-one, approach people at career events or on LinkedIn and ask them if they have time for an informal chat. The Q&A professional rounds at BCF Career Events can be a great opportunity for this. Most people like talking about their personal path and enjoy giving advice to those who are interested in them.
Ask about their background, how they got where they are now, what their everyday working life looks like, what they like or dislike about their job, what they can recommend to you and any other questions that come to mind. You can find more details on how to conduct such an interview here.
Try doing some small tests by carrying out typical tasks that such a career would involve. Depending on how much time you have and at which stage of your education or career you are, join someone on the job for a day; start volunteering for something you think you might like to do professionally; or maybe even do an internship.
Once you think you have gathered enough information and experience, reflect about what you have learned.
Do you think the work will be interesting to you the majority of the time, and is the amount of time you’ll probably spend with tasks you don’t like tolerable? Do you think you’ll like the type of people you’ll probably work with? And does the career fit with what is important to you?
It is a good idea to discuss these questions with someone who is either in a similar situation or knows you well. Brainstorm together and if there are questions left, try to answer them together and if you can’t find the answer, find someone who can.
You have found something that matches you? Great! The next steps depend on your current situation. You can start trying to gather (more) practical experience in the field you selected, and also figure out what the options are after finishing your education. Do you want to start the job straight away? Or are there alternatives, e.g. traineeships, that will help you grow both personally and professionally? Maybe you would prefer to do a longer internship, or is it an option to write your thesis at a company?
Which employers and companies are there that you could apply to? Which do you know already, and where can you find new ones? If you did informal interviews, the people you met there might also be a good starting point to find out more.
Sometimes companies offer ‘In-house’ events, which can give you a good impression of the corporate culture, and the type of people that work there. Often there are also recruiters present who will carry out the selection process, so this can be a good opportunity to meet them and present yourself.
You have probably already invested a lot of time in your evaluation, self-assessment and planning. However, don’t be too static: sometimes the best opportunities are unexpected! Stay flexible and allow yourself to adjust your goals or path when necessary. If you know yourself and the market well, there is nothing wrong with that. Usually career paths are not linear, but meander and sometimes the best things may be beyond your vision now but will become very attractive in the future.
published online 28-Nov-2018
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