Career planning

So everyone from your mum to your personal tutor is telling you to do some career planning, but “What does career planning even mean!?” I hear you cry. “How are you supposed to ‘plan’ for the rest of your life? It’s too much!” Don’t worry, we feel your pain and we’re here to help.


How to start career planning

Career planning can seem daunting, especially when you’re staring straight into the abyss of your future where your career is supposed to slot in. The fear of the unknown and a general sense of dread at not knowing what you want to do with your life is completely common, and we’re here to tell you how to tackle these demons.

No matter what stage you’re at, it’s never too late to start planning and preparing for the future.

Career planning is going to be completely different depending on your own personal circumstances – whether you’re a student or graduate, whether you’re already following a set career path or haven’t the foggiest idea what you want to do with your life. No matter what stage you’re at, it’s never too late to start planning and preparing for the future. Yes, you don’t know what the future holds, but this will help you feel a whole lot calmer about everything.


What are your life priorities?

Before you even get down to the nitty gritty of careers, industries and jobs, you might want to take some time to think about what you want from life in general. We know it’s a big question to ask, but it’ll really help you to nail down exactly what you want from a future job, especially if you’re starting from square one without a clue.

Everyone is hardwired to have their own set of priorities. For some, a job is a means to an end, a way to earn money so they can enjoy their time off. For others, a career is the centre of their existence, something for them to pour their heart and soul into. Either is absolutely fine, but you need to think carefully about what you want out of a job before you commit yourself to a career.

Think about what motivates you most out of the below:

  • Money
  • Travel
  • Social justice
  • Fun
  • Knowledge
  • Socialising

Whether you want a job that pays well or a job that will enable you to travel, thinking about the factors above will help you decide which industry and role is right for you and help you choose accordingly.


Where to find careers advice

Once you’ve established your priorities in life, it’s time to try and pin down an actual career you can imagine yourself pursuing in an industry that you would enjoy working within. And we realise this is a big step, that’s easier said than done, so don’t be afraid to seek advice.

Where can you turn to if you want to want some tips and guidance on what career would suit you?

    • It’s the most obvious option, but your careers service will be able to provide some useful advice on common career paths based on your interests and strengths.

    • A really useful way of exploring potential career options is looking at what your course alumni have gone on to do. Some may have used their degrees to forge careers in sectors you might have never considered.

    • Keep your eye out for careers events at university or in your local area. Universities often invite back successful alumni for talks, or industry professionals for panel discussions, and it’s a great opportunity to ask questions and gain an in depth insight into a particular role.

    • Going along to a conference is a great way to immerse yourself in an industry and weigh up all the different roles and niches in that sector. You never know, a particular research area or topic might pique your interest.

    • Find out what your course mates, house mates or fellow society members are looking at doing. Sometimes finding out what you don’t want to do can be just as helpful as figuring out what you do want.

    • Social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are an absolute goldmine of information. If there’s a particular job role that you’re considering, why not drop someone who does that job a message asking if they have any advice? Most will be more than happy to help.


What industry do you want to work in?

The first step in finding your dream job is identifying the industry you want to work in. This will be determined by the qualifications you have, your interests and passions.

Depending on which subject you study, your industry might be clearly laid out for you. For example, if you’re studying an engineering or law degree, pursuing a career in engineering or law would be the most obvious option.

Research shows that most people will hold down at least 6 different jobs in their lifetime, and that number is expected to rise.

But if you studied a subject which doesn’t lead naturally into a set career path – Arts and Humanities subjects or Languages, for example – you might have more free reign to choose an industry.

Think about what industries will help you put your degree to good use – English lends itself well to publishing and media, for example. Of course, some industries remain largely closed off to those who don’t have the relevant qualifications, but you can even pursue a career in Law if you take the relevant conversion course. So think outside the box.

Utilising the resources outlined above should help you to identify an industry or two that you could see yourself working in, and congratulations – this means you have taken the first step to planning your future career!


The dream role

First things first: you by no means have to identify your ideal role right now. Finding the job that is perfect for you will likely take time and will occur naturally as you move between roles within an industry. So even if you just know you want to work in tech, but you’re not 100% sure specifically where in the industry you would fit, don’t panic – try out different job roles and see what suits you best. Research shows that most people will hold down at least 6 different jobs in their lifetime, and that number is expected to rise.

That being said, if you can identify some specific role(s) that particularly interest you, then you can keep that in mind when taking your first career steps. Within every career sector there will be jobs you haven’t even heard of before. Consider all career options and don’t be afraid to consider a role even if it isn’t what you want to be doing in ten year’s time – it could be a crucial stepping stone for where you want to end up.

Once you’ve identified a particular role that interests you, here are some things you might like to consider:

  • Will you need to take a postgraduate qualification?
  • Is there a certain graduate scheme or training programme which will give you a boost?
  • Is there a particular company that specialises in what you want to do?
  • Is there someone you can use as a mentor who will give you useful tips and advice?

These are questions you need to be thinking about as you start trying to figure out exactly what kind of role you could envision yourself doing within a particular sector. Just remember that while your first venture into the job market will be really important and lay the foundations for your future, you have plenty of time to figure it all out as you go long.


Skills you should be developing

Once you’ve chosen what it is you want to pursue as a career (or even before you’ve reached that stage), you should be thinking about the skills you’re going to need to get there. Every job role and industry will require different skills from those that work in it, but there are some skills that look good on a CV across the board.

SkillHow do I get it?
Problem solvingLiterally anywhere – work experience, running a society, event management
Leadership & project managementCaptaining a sports team, working on a society committee, taking the lead on a work placement
CollaborationGroup projects, event organisation, sports teams
Emotional intelligenceVolunteering with disadvantaged groups, mentoring, travelling
Social mediaStart a blog, create a strong personal brand
Public speakingUniversity presentations, society leadership

These are skills you can be working on no matter what stage in the career planning process you’re at. Employers like to see dedication to certain projects and experiences over time, so it’s better to start as soon as you’re able. On top of the skills outlined above, think about what employers in your specific industry will be looking for – language skills, a writing portfolio, or knowledge of coding, for example.

On-the-job work experience is normally pretty essential in most industries, so start thinking early about how you can go about doing this, whether it’s a work experience placement, summer internship or part time job, it’s guaranteed to stand out on your CV.


The two main things to remember when career planning:

1. Don’t panic

Whether it’s next week or next year, you will find a job and you will discover what it is you truly love doing.

2. Start sooner rather than later

As soon as you start taking control of your future and actively planning for it, you’ll feel more confident and will be more likely to achieve success.

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