Getting a foot on the career ladder can be daunting at the best of economic times, and you may well feel an overwhelming urge to get ahead of the competition, gain experience and skills, and start earning quick-smart.
But don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a hugely exciting time too. Because right now, your career options are as wide open as they will ever be. So, before you snap up the first job you’re offered, it’s important to take some time to work out what you really want from your working life, and make positive and informed choices about the career path you start out on.
Here’s how you might go about weighing up your options.
Let your imagination run wild
From where you are now, the number of potential career paths you can take is pretty much only limited by your imagination, so now’s the time to write down everything you ever dreamed of doing. Don’t let ‘reality’ stand in your way. Always wanted to be an astronaut? Secret fantasies of zookeeping? Write it down, keep going and let one idea trigger another. Your list may contain prospective careers that are beyond your natural abilities, but it may also have surfaced ideas you hadn’t previously considered that are worth more serious thought. As well as being a fun exercise, it might even reveal surprising things you never knew about yourself.
Look at what makes you tick
What are your values? What sparks and keeps your interest? What do you care about? Are the kinds of careers and jobs you’re considering in line with what’s important to you?
What are you good at? Your talents will often dictate the direction you take your career in, because if you are good at something, you have a headstart over others who are less gifted, and are likely to enjoy doing it more as well (enjoy it enough, and it won’t even feel like work at all!).
What’s your style? Are you outgoing or like to keep yourself to yourself? Do you like being part of a team or are you happier working on your own? Are you intuitive or rational? Do you enjoy working with your head or hands? Indoors or outdoors? Analysing your preferred ways of working and interacting will give you key pointers to the kind of work that you’ll find most stimulating and rewarding.
Knowing what you like and how you work is crucial if you are going to make intelligent decisions about your future. So if you’ve never really sat down to look at the kind of person you are, now’s the time.
Explore what’s out there
Now to match your talents and passion to actual work. An online search engine will quickly point you to all sorts of test, quizzes and websites that help you explore career types. Professional careers counsellors are another obvious source of advice and information, but teachers, lecturers and family friends already know you well, and might have useful ideas and contacts too.
Choose your career
Once you’ve found something you think might suit you, gather as much information on it as you can. Your local library or career service is a good starting point But the best people to ask are those who work in your chosen industry. Look out for networking events in your local area where you can meet them, and don't forget to set up a profile on relevant online professional networking websites. Both avenues can put you in touch with people doing similar work who are willing to share their on-the-job experience with you and advise you on how to get a foot on the career ladder.
Finally, a word about money…
Of course, money is a big part of any career decision. We all need to live and pay our bills, and most graduates will be in a substantial degree of debt. But money needs to be put in proper context, particularly when you’re starting out. If you’re able to get good experience and make good money straight off the bat, that’s great, but if it comes down to a choice, always put learning before earning, particularly in the early stages of your career. In the long term, a job you enjoy will leave you a lot better off than a few extra quid in your pocket.
Many older workers look back and wonder what might have been if they’d followed their dreams instead of absent-mindedly letting their job choose them. Don’t leave your life's work to chance: take the opportunity now to find a fulfilling career that’s right for you.
Further information on workSMART