Understand yourself and your options

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Deciding what to do after university can be quite exciting, but for many of us the prospect can also feel quite daunting.

If you are unsure about how to start or what to do next, you are not alone. However, whether you are in your first year, have already graduated, or are somewhere in between, there's no need to panic. You do not need to plan the rest of your life right now, just the first step.

Careers

How to choose a career you'll love

Want a job that's interesting and enjoyable but not sure what?

Whichever course you are on, or whatever level of your study, make use of our new online interactive course which will help you to explore what you want from your future working life.

How to choose a career you'll love - Graduates

If you are a recent graduate from the University of Sheffield you can access to the course, but we will need to register you onto the system before you can login. Please email us at careers@sheffield.ac.uk with your name, department, year of graduation and if possible, your registration number.

So where do I start?

The belief that people find greatest career satisfaction when their work reflects their core values and interests, and uses their skills and strengths, is at the heart of career planning. While it is not certain that we will all find our perfect career match, we need to reflect inwards while also looking outwards in order to combine the knowledge we have of ourselves, with the industries and the types of careers that exist.

There are lots of ways to approach the process of finding fulfilling work and this page explains the steps you can take. And this same approach will also enable you to review your career throughout your life, whether that focus is changing jobs or careers, returning to study or going for a promotion.

The reality is that you've probably already made some progress, but the following sections help you to make a start or to reflect on the ideas you are considering if you are still unsure. It’s never too early, or too late, to start thinking about your career.

What factors are important to me in my life and career?

Sounds like an easy question, doesn’t it? The reality is that most people find at least some aspects of this question difficult to answer, so to guide you, there are some key factors and questions to consider to make finding what you want a little easier. So, be honest with yourself when you answer these questions.

Create some lists or a picture or mind map as you consider them; do whatever works for you.

People who know you well may also have some interesting insights into your strengths, so it’s a good idea to also talk this through with others.

Skills

The UK graduate employment market is very flexible and the majority of jobs are open to applicants from any subject area, meaning it is important to consider what transferable skills you have and enjoy using. These skills might be gained through your study, part time work, volunteering, work and other activities in your life.

Some examples of transferable skills:

  • Problem Solving
  • Written communication
  • Presentation
  • Team work
  • Leadership
  • Organisation and Planning

Reflect on the following:

  • What tasks have I enjoyed doing in the different experiences I have had (e.g. work experience, volunteering, academic work)?
  • Which skills have I gained and what evidence do I have for them?
  • Which of my skills do I enjoy using? Which would I like to use in the future?
  • Do I have less developed skills that I would like to develop further? Use our ‘Discover your skills’ section to identify skills and opportunities to add to your employability.

Interests

We all differ when it comes to which topics and tasks we find more enjoyable, so it makes sense to focus on work or study options that you find intrinsically interesting. There are often ways to connect these interests to industry sectors, organisations or specific types of work. A good starting point is to review your experiences on your degree, in work/volunteering or your personal interests.

Reflect on the following:

  • What topics fascinate and absorb me? This might be your degree subject or another personal interest.
  • What really captures my attention? To help, it can be useful to consider the types of news articles, websites, magazines or books you tend to like.
  • How do I spend my time? Sports and interests I pursue, apps I use, or subjects I research online just for fun?
  • Which tasks in my studies and previous jobs, have I most enjoyed?

Values

Values are the principles and beliefs that allow us to feel that our life, and work, is satisfying and fulfilling. Values are not who we would like to be, or who we think we should be, but who we are in our lives right now. Identifying your values can help you to identify what activities and environment you might enjoy working in, focus your career objectives and understand the motivators that might drive your career choices.

Reflect on the following:

  • Think of a situation when you were happy and when everything felt right. Try to remember what it felt like, who was there and what was going on. Write down some thoughts about what was so great about it. What aspects of the situation made it enjoyable? What values were being satisfied?
  • Think of a situation or event where you have been really angry, upset or frustrated. What was negative about it? What was it about that situation or person/people that made it negative for you? What values do you think may have been compromised?
  • What does success mean to you? What does it look like?

Using my degree subject

Whichever career you pursue, you will probably use aspects of the skills or learning from your degree. If you particularly want to use the specific skills or knowledge related to your degree subject in your future career then see our Use your subject section for ideas, and to see what careers Sheffield graduates from your department have pursued.

Personal needs

In addition to aspects of personality described above, you may also have some practical considerations.

Reflect on the following:

  • Is location important; do you need to consider other family factors?
  • What about salary? How much money do you need for the lifestyle you want? How important is future earning potential to you?
  • Do you want to travel?
  • Is working for yourself appealing?
  • What are you prepared to compromise on? Are you willing to be flexible on something to have something else?
How do I get some career ideas?

Once you have an idea of the various factors which are important to you, you can start to use these to generate some possible career paths which may satisfy some of these needs. There is no one single way to do this and it is often useful to approach this from different angles.

Generate initial ideas using structured activities

There are interactive programmes that provide you with a structure to use when considering your preferences. Some also provide feedback on aspects of your personality and indicate potentially suitable types of work, some with detailed career profiles for you to explore. Of course, interactive resources like these are not intended to be the complete answer. Instead they provide some ideas for you to consider, and you will need to explore beyond these initial suggestions.

These include:

  • Prospects ‘What job would suit me? quiz helps you analyse your skills and interests and suggests potential graduate occupations.
  • Jobshopping is a 10-step guide is full of to help you make the most of your first job and build on this to develop your career

Brainstorming

Start by listing as many careers or types of organisations you can think of which might relate to your interests or values. As the ideas you come up with will of course be limited to those you already know about it is a good idea to talk to other people, including careers advisers, to add to and develop your ideas.

Browsing careers information

Websites which describe different careers are another way to get an idea of the range of options available. Many sites organise different careers into categories, or ‘sectors’ and looking at the list of categories can help you focus on those careers which sound appealing. A similar approach is to browse job adverts for graduates. See ‘How do I research my options?’ below for some suggested sites.

How do I research my ideas?

The research skills you are developing in your degree can be really useful for your career too! Applying the same curious mind, research skills and methods can help you work towards your goal. Different careers and courses require different skills and qualities, and possibly specific qualifications, experience and knowledge. They also offer different rewards, both personal and financial, so researching careers or courses which interest you is essential to make the best decision for you.

Careers information

The best starting point is to read profiles of the types of work that interest you. Profiles of occupations can be found on a range of websites including: 

Networking

Build on your knowledge by talking to people whose work interests you, and bring your ideas to life. Taking part in careers events on campus will enable you to learn about a range of different careers and meet people to find out more about the satisfactions and challenges involved.

Networking opportunities beyond our careers events include: 

  • Your own contacts, and contacts they may have
  • The Careers Service e-Mentoring programme which pairs you with a University of Sheffield graduate
  • The Graduate case studies database, where you can review profiles and contact alumni
  • Other events at the university, in your department, or elsewhere
  • Profiles of University of Sheffield alumni on Linkedin

Test things out a bit more

After these initial steps you are likely to have created a list of options and while you may be able to make a start on ruling some things out you may find you need a little more insight on some career paths to make a decision. This is where work shadowing (observing one or more individuals in their role), part time jobs, volunteering, placements and work experience can help. These real life experiences can assist decision making, developing essential skills and knowledge, and convince employers of your motivation to work in that field. 

How do I make a decision?

Remember, it is OK to just plan your first step and not necessarily too far into the future beyond graduation. However, when exploring any possible option you need to make realistic assessments of how far the opportunity can meet your preferences, and how far you can meet the likely entry requirements, e.g., qualifications, skills, personal qualities and experience.

Don’t write things off too quickly as it could be that a career is possible once you have gained experience in related roles, or a further qualification, so check careers information carefully for advice about the typical routes in. You can also talk with a careers adviser to get an impartial and objective view.

Sometimes people convince themselves that there is one perfect career out there for them, and often the reality is that it does not exist, or not at least right now or in the right location (or whatever other factor is important to them). This can lead to an inability to make a decision. So, if this sounds like you, consider if there are any areas where you can compromise at the moment.

Perhaps you have made assumptions about other careers which might actually suit you quite well.

In reality, we can overthink things, so be open to chance and intuition as a way of guiding your choices. Being self-aware, (see the section ‘What factors are important to me in my life and career?’ above) allows us to spot ideas or opportunities which arise out of our curiosity or circumstances (the principle of chance influencing career choice has even been a subject of academic study, such as “planned happenstance theory” and “the chaos theory of careers”).

It may even be that your first step after University is to take something on a short-term basis to earn money, gain experience, or take time out while you explore your interests further.

Whatever first step you take treat it as part of your career development and it could open up longer-term opportunities. Whatever your ideas, use the information, advice and support provided by the Careers Service.