What career is right for me?
Back when I was about 9, my career options were pretty clear: I would definitely be a pop star, a ballerina or an architect (after all, I had serious skills with lego). But things change, ballet isn’t so cool when you’re 13, and by the time I had to pick a degree course, I’d lost interest in being the next Madonna.
Although lego still held its appeal there wasn’t a module on advanced lego architecture so I completed courses in Health & Social Care, Computer Programming and Maths before completing a law degree with criminology and philosophy sandwiched in. 6 years later I figured out I didn’t want to be a lawyer either, and started my MBA.
The moral of the story is, it doesn’t matter if you get it wrong. You can study for a year or even three and still pick a different job – and it’s never too late for a career change (although money is, of course, always a factor!) Every course I’ve completed has been useful in some way to me during my career so don’t think of it as a waste of time.
So aimed with the knowledge that this isn’t such a life-changing decision, here’s how to pick your first uni course.
Get to know yourself
This means figuring out your skills, abilities, personal qualities and interests. I can’t stress how important the last point is – you need to be interested in your chosen career, otherwise you will be miserable, regardless of how much you get paid.
Create a mind map with you in the centre, and four branches – skills, abilities, personal qualities, interests. If you like doing stuff on the computer, XMind is a really easy piece of software to use for mind maps, or you can just draw it on a piece of paper.
TIP: Don’t worry too much about getting something under the right heading. It really doesn’t matter. The idea is that you get a clearer picture of who you are, to help you identify what kind of career you’d thrive in.
Start with interests, as this is the easiest. Add more branches for stuff you like. They don’t need to be interests you’ve actually pursued – just anything that floats your boat.
Add as many as you like and group them if you have lots (for example, you might have groups for sports, things you like to read about, things that interest you on telly, and so on).
When you’re happy you have everything, move onto skills.
Skills fall into two groups so make yourself 2 new branches for these: soft skills and hard skills.
Hard skills are very specific skills that can be taught and quantified – such as typing, programming, and the ability to use software such as Microsoft Word. There is a list of hard skills you might have here.
Confused? There’s more on the differences between hard skills and soft skills here.
You might be wondering why I’ve separated abilities from skills. After all, skills can be abilities, right? Abilities are much wider though – they might include things you have an aptitude for, or stuff you know a lot about (intelligence) – neither of which you’d be inclined to list in skills. An example might be the ability to cope well with stress.
The final heading is personal attributes – these are neither skills nor abilities, just things that make you you. They don’t necessarily have to be good things and it’s important to be really honest in this section. For example, you might be a strict vegetarian or vegan, and you might love or dislike children; you might have fears, ambitions, hopes, dislikes – all of these things are going to impact your career choice.
Other people can often help you to see yourself more clearly. Try asking your friends, relations or tutors about your strengths and weaknesses, to help you see yourself more objectively.
Using MBTI – a step further
The MBTI, formally known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is a personality inventory. It can really help you when making a career choice. The MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality type.
Jung’s Personality Types
Jung believed an individual’s personality was made up of his or her preferences, or the way he or she chose to do certain things. He theorised that there were four pairs of opposite preferences that indicate how an individual:
- energises (extroversion v. introversion),
- perceives information (sensing v. intuition),
- makes decisions (thinking v. feeling) and
- lives their life (judging v. perceiving).
Four preferences – one from each pair – make up your personality type. This is indicated by the four letters that refer to each preference (in bold above). There are 16 different personality types in all:
Each personality type is unique. It is the combination of the four preferences that make you who you are, not the sum of them. Being one type, rather than another, does not bring with it any special status. It is not better to be an ENTP instead of an ENTJ, for example. An ENTP may function better in certain environments than an ENTJ would, while the opposite would be true in others.
You can take the test online here: http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/mmdi/questionnaire/ - there is a free version and you have the choice to pay for a more detailed report afterwards. The site offers a personal career profile which costs £2.95. You can then see the type of jobs that are most likely to be enjoyed by your personality type. My personality type (INFP), for example, is most happy doing jobs around entrepreneurship which is very true of me. The report goes on to actually suggest some careers at the end, offering you both a profile match score and a job enjoyment score.
Making a choice
Armed with your mind map, profile type and some suggested careers, it’s time to do some further research on what career might suit you best. But before you go on, make sure you’re in the right mindset for this. Henry Ford said:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
Aside from any definite physical limitations that you can’t do anything about, you really can do anything. No career is beyond you. So never look at an opportunity and say ‘I could never do that’. You absolutely can.
In the very first lecture I went to, my first year LL.B tutor told my group that if they wanted to be solicitors or barristers, they might as well give up now. He said it was too hard to get a training contract or pupillage so we might as well not try. Fortunately I’m stubborn as hell and I took that as a cue to (successfully) prove him wrong. Don’t listen to people like him, especially if they’re just bitter because they themselves couldn’t get a training contract and ended up getting paid to demotivate first year law students instead…
It’s also important at this stage not to have set ideas about jobs (who does them and what the work is like) – there are so many misconceptions and you shouldn’t let this restrict your career choices. Take some time to find out what is really involved. Stay open minded and be receptive to new job ideas. Don’t reject careers without some consideration first.
A helping hand
To kick start your search, here are some places and people who will help you:
- If you’re already studying, check with your tutors and other staff in your department as these may have expertise and links regarding jobs and employers in their field.
- Check graduate directories, such as Prospects and Hobsons which you can get from your institution’s careers service. Some are also available online – see Kent Uni’s web page on this - http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/graddirectories.htm
- Jobs websites – here are my favourites:
- The Guardian – http://jobs.guardian.co.uk
- Total Jobs - http://www.totaljobs.com/
- Reed - http://www.reed.co.uk/
- Monster - http://www.monster.co.uk/
- All The Top Bananas – http://www.allthetopbananas.com/
- Directgov – http://jobseekers.direct.gov.uk/
- Jobs direct – http://www.jobsearch.co.uk/
- Fish4jobs – http://www.fish4.co.uk/
- Local recruit – http://www.localrecruit.co.uk/
- Specialist journals and websites – e.g. The Legal Executive Journal for law jobs, the Times Higher Education Supplement for academic and research posts in Higher Education, New Scientist and Nature for scientific research, The Bookseller for publishing.
The two most important things you can take away from this article are this:
- Your decision doesn’t bind you for the rest of your life. If you don’t like what you’re doing, stop doing it and do something else.
- You can do anything you want to. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.