When I grow up

By at home

Now the question of what you want to do with your life is no longer a game but a scary reality, it’s time to get planning…

While some people seem to be born knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives, most of us find that choosing which career path to go down is the single most difficult part of the job hunting process. The good news is there are lots of resources out there to help. So if you didn’t emerge from the womb with a microphone in hand or stethoscope around your neck, rest easy – it’s all about taking the time to analyse your skills, expectations and desires – and coming up with a career plan that’s right for you.

Taking the next step after school or university is notoriously daunting, and when you’re just starting out it can be difficult to know where to begin. This is where career planning comes in. The papers are constantly reporting the lack of employment opportunities around for school leavers and graduates in the current climate, but there are jobs out there, and you can maximise your chances of securing one with a bit of careful planning. Knowing what you want to achieve and how you intend to do it will enable you to speculatively apply for positions that haven’t been advertised, putting you one step ahead of the competition from your peers.

Know yourself
The first stage in establishing a successful career plan is to increase your self-awareness. This means identifying your strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes, which will in turn help you to narrow down the type of work you might enjoy and excel at. Psychometric tests and personality questionnaires are a useful way of building up a personal profile and identifying your interests and working style. But a little bit of self-reflection can be pretty effective, too.

Consider your needs
First of all, you need to ask yourself what you want to accomplish in life. It’s wise to take a holistic approach to career planning and not think about your job as something separate and distinct from other aspects of your daily life. What do you want to accomplish in life? What is important to you? A successful career plan is one that supports your life goals and critical success factors for personal happiness. Assessing your personal values is key, too. These define who you are and what you believe in, so it’s vital that the roles you pursue throughout your career must not conflict with your core values.

Next, you need to think about your interests, passions and what energises you. Pursuing a career in something that you don’t really care about is unlikely to lead to great success. Similarly, it’s vital to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. You will get the most out of your career when your job draws fully upon your unique combination of skills and capabilities.

Motivation is another key factor when considering your career. Whether it’s reward in the form of money or increased responsibility, or the sense of achievement you experience in effectively solving problems or helping others, you won’t be happy for long in a position where you don’t feel consistently motivated.

Finally, it’s imperative to think about what type of organisation you will flourish most within. Can you imagine yourself working for a huge multinational corporation or are you more of a big-fish-small-pond type? Do you work your best under close supervision or are you more at ease with a less hands-on style of management? Is team motivation important to you or do you prefer being left to work on your own? These are just a few of the questions that will help you establish which kind of company to begin your career within.

Research your options
Once you have built up a more detailed picture of yourself and your requirements, the next stage is to see how this relates to the actual career opportunities out there. For graduates, a good place to start is to look at the range of options directly related to your subject. Simple if your degree was in business, seemingly less so if you have a BA in history. Chat to past graduates in your field, however, and you’ll be surprised at how many transferable skills even the most un-vocational degree has equipped you with.

Once you have narrowed down your options, work experience in your chosen field is a useful way to work out if this is the career for you and an excellent means of determining precisely where your talents lie within the sector. And while working for free might not initially sound appealing, an internship can give you that all-important first foot in the door.

Some careers will require further study, training or professional qualifications, so now’s the time to find out about courses.
If you are still unsure about what direction you want to go in, some structured time out or a gap year might give you the time and space needed to come up with a career plan.

Take action
Armed with a sound understanding of both yourself and the job market, it’s time to put your career plan into action and start applying for jobs. Our feature on standing out from the crowd (pg 61) will help you give yourself the best possible chance of getting your new dream job.

Testing, testing
Sometimes, a professional helping hand can be just what you need to point you in the right career direction. And there are plenty of personality and career tests designed to do just this available online. The most well-known of these tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The questionnaire identifies you as having one of 16 personality types. These are based on combinations of basic pairings – introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuiting, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving. The theory goes that knowing your personality type can help you identify which areas you naturally excel at and which you struggle with, and can help you identify the career you were born for. 

Pictures: getty images

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