Hello, soon to be graduates and fellow job hunters. One thing I can tell you about graduation is: suddenly all that everyone asks you about is 'what are you going to do with your life?' And being able to answer the dreadful question is like your right of passage into the adult world.
I found that deciding on a career path can be harder than it first seems like. A lot of people fear that they'll make the wrong decision or expect that one day a light bulb will light up over their head and then they'l l know exactly what to do. I'm pretty sure a lot of us have been there. However, for me a crucial part of finding the right career path was simply making the decision. Deciding that this is what I want to do in my life and then working towards it.
So, if you're still struggling with answering The Question, maybe my insights can help you a little. I put my career planning experience in 3 steps.
1. Define your skill set
First things first, I started by having a look at what I could offer a potential employer. A skill set is a list of capabilities that you have developed throughout your life. It can be anything from teamwork skills you have developed playing in the university sports team to numeracy skills built up in Maths classes.
What I found useful is sitting down and listing all my skills. Start by thinking about what you're good at: Maths? Writing? Team leadership? Then think about how you became good at these specific things. Maybe you did a work placement where you learned how to communicate in a clear and professional manner. Or maybe during a project at university you learned how to use InDesign.
If you're still not sure what skills you boast, try going through the university module guides of the classes you've taken. Usually they'll have this section called Graduate Skill Framework, outlining what skills you should have developed.
2. Choose your industry
Next, start thinking about what you're interested in and what you'd like to do. I'm not suggesting that you should decide on your future job title and develop a detailed 5 year progression plan but simply think of an industry that sounds interesting and appealing to you.
I found it important to narrow down my search by industry because it allowed me to start building up my industry knowledge. When I went for my first job interview I was still considering a number of different sectors, such as publishing or sales as well as marketing, advertising and media. When I got asked about my career plans I answered with an ambiguous 'I'm currently exploring my options'. Who could have guessed, that answer cost me the job as the main reason cited in the feedback was my lack of focus.
Seeming more focused is not the only benefit. By choosing one or two industries you can start working towards understanding them better as well as building the necessary skills that you may lack.
If you're struggling to narrow it down to one or two industries or you're not quite sure which sector your dream job belongs to, have a look at these career planners. They're free online questionnaires, designed for you to self-reflect and I found them pretty useful when brainstorming about possible career options.
3. Get relevant work experience
The next step is marrying your skills with your career preferences by actually trying whether the industry suits you.
This one, of course, is easier said than done, however in an ideal situation you should definitely try getting a work placement or volunteer in the sector of your choice. 4 weeks to 12 months of work experience could change everything. First, you'll have a stronger ground when explaining your skills to potential employers. Secondly, you' ll be able to identify if you lack some of the skills required for your dream job and then work towards developing them. Finally, it can be a real game changer as you might realize the job is not for you.
For instance, for a long time all I wanted to do was write. Working in a magazine or a newspaper seemed like the dream to me. However, after doing an internship at a local start up, where along with writing content I also got to do some work on the marketing side of thing I discovered something I was really excited about: media and brand communications. This is something I am now very passionate about and seek to build a successful career at.
Finally, choosing a career path can be hard work. Yes, you can make a mistake and no, you won't just wake up one day knowing what to do. At the end of the day, career planning is your decision. As soon as you set your mind to a specific career path you can start getting the relevant work experience, building up the necessary skills and industry knowledge.