How to work out what career you want (when you have no idea what career you want)

Lara Billington
Content Marketing Executive

"So what are your plans for after university?" 

If you're a student with no idea what your future plans are, this question probably fills you with dread. From the age of 14 we're constantly asked to plan for the future: if it's not choosing GCSEs and A Levels, it's deciding on a university, picking a degree and now, working out a career route. 

It's okay if you don't know exactly where you're going to end up or how to get there, but if you're panicking about the future and don't know where to begin with determining the career for you, here's some advice from us to get you started.

1. Ask yourself: what are my values? 

In a recent article from Stylist magazine, careers coach Abby Dixon suggested that one of the most effective ways of finding the career that fits you best is by pursuing a 'values-based' career. "Values are activities, behaviours, beliefs and qualities that make your soul come alive," Dixon told Stylist. “They are the principles by which you want to live your life, professionally and personally. Having this understanding allows us to make better choices, meaning we prioritise things that give us greater satisfaction and fulfilment.” 

This means leaving all expectations and other's opinions at the door and really sitting down to think about what excites you. That might be creativity, working collaboratively, independence, earning lots of money - it could be pretty much anything. Dixon suggests answering six questions to help you work this out: 

  • What brings me joy?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What am I doing when I feel at my best?
  • What am I doing when I’m at my worst?
  • What do I value in others?
  • Which do I dislike in others?

By clearly establishing what you value from a career, it'll be easier to discount roles and organisations that don't fit with these and seek out those that do. 


2. Pinpoint what your strengths are

To put it plainly, you're not going to enjoy a job that you're no good at. And that's okay, because there will be plenty of roles out there that play to your strengths and that you'll enjoy. 

So now that you've determined what you value in a career, it's time to think about your strengths. Of course, in some cases your strengths and values might not align - perhaps you're an excellent communicator but would much rather be in a role where you're working independently - that's totally fine. 

Take some time to think back on experiences, whether that's in a workplace, at university or in your personal life, when you've particularly excelled in something and really enjoyed doing it. Perhaps it was a time when you took the lead in a group assignment at university, or when you collaborated on a creative project with some friends. Pinpoint the strengths that you showed during these experiences and use them to inform the roles that you apply for. 

By applying for roles that match your strengths, not only will you be more likely to get the job but you're also more likely to enjoy it too. 


3. Once you've got some ideas, determine what the route is to get there 

You might have a clearer idea by now of what careers you'll you need to work out how to get there. The first step onto the career ladder will look a little different in every industry. Some might require you to apply for a graduate scheme, for others you might need to intern first, and for others you might have to complete more qualifications. Whatever the route is, determine this first and then you can begin to make steps towards getting there. 

It's important to say at this point how useless it is to compare what you're doing to your peers. Everyone will be on their own path after graduation, and each person's will look a bit different from the rest. Remember this on days when you want to compare your friend's apparent success and massive salary to your own. As long as you're following the route that's right for YOU, that's all that matters. 


4. Give every opportunity that comes your way 100% 

For many people, the best way to decide what you value in a career and enjoy doing is by giving everything a go. Sometimes a role that suits you on paper doesn't end up being the right fit for you, and vice versa. The only way to find this out is by having a go and giving it 100%. 

The beauty of your twenties (and the fact that you probably won't retire until you're 70), is that there's plenty of time for trial and error. Experiment with different jobs, disappear off to the other side of the world for two years, find a role you love and stick at it, whatever! With time you'll discover what you love doing, so try not to panic right now because it'll all work out in the end. 


For more tips and advice on the graduate job hunt and tons of opportunities, sign up to GradTouch.