Need a starting point?

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 next step.

This page provides some initial advice on understanding yourself and exploring your options, and where to go for further information and support. You will also find a link to our 'How to choose a career you'll love' online course, which can help you to explore in detail what you want from your future working life

What is career planning?

People find greatest career satisfaction when their work reflects their core values and interests, and uses their skills and strengths. This is at the heart of career planning. Although we will not 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 opportunities that exist.

There are lots of ways to approach the process of finding fulfilling work and this page explains the steps you can take. 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. 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?

Whilst it sounds like an easy question, the reality is that most people find at least some aspects difficult to answer. To guide you there are some key factors and questions to consider to make finding what you want a little easier.

Be honest with yourself when you answer these questions. Create some lists, 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. Therefore 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, and other activities in your life.

Some examples of transferable skills are:

  • 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?
  • Have I developed skills as a result of personal circumstances, such as a disability or caring responsibilities (e.g. strong coping strategies, time management, and tenacity)?
  • Do I have less developed skills that I would like to develop further?

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 want to use the specific skills or knowledge related to your degree in your future career, see our Use your subject section of our Information Resources for ideas. It also highlights 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?
  • Do you have health issues that could affect your career choices? Remember though that employers have to provide reasonable workplace adjustments to meet the needs of disabled persons.
How do I get some career ideas?

Once you have an idea of the 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 single way to do this and it is often useful to approach this from different angles.

Use 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 a starting point and you will need to explore beyond these initial suggestions.

Prospects ‘What job would suit me?’ - this graduate careers website provides a quiz which helps you to analyse your skills and interests, and suggests potential graduate occupations.

Mind mapping

Start by listing as many careers or types of organisations you can think of which might relate to your interests or values. It’s a good idea to talk to other people, including friends, family and 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 ideas?’ 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! 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 and types of jobs 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 University careers events 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 careers events include:

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

Test your ideas

After these initial steps you are likely to have created a list of options, but 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?

It is OK to just plan your next 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).

But remember, a career may still be possible once you have gained experience in related roles, or a further qualification. Therefore 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.

Are you searching for the perfect career?

For most people a perfect career does not exist, or not at least right now or in the right location (or whatever other factor is important to them). However, the search for perfection can lead to an inability to make a decision. So, if this sounds like you, are there any areas where you can compromise at the moment?

It may also be worthwhile to consider the following:

  • Have you made assumptions about other careers which might actually suit you quite well? Perhaps it could be worth returning to the research stage.
  • Are you open to chance and intuition as a way of guiding your choices? Being self-aware 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”.
  • Are you ready to pursue a career? It may 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 step you take, treat it as part of your career development and it could open up longer-term opportunities.

What if I’m not ready yet and need some time out?

By time out we mean the period immediately after graduation; anything from three months to a year or more.

Why take time out?

Here are just a few reasons to take time out after graduation:

  • Travel - some people travel to gain wider cultural experience; others travel to gain work experience in countries that have work / travel schemes.
  • Work experience - it is extremely valuable to gain relevant work experience in a number of careers, for example; social work, journalism and physiotherapy, before pursuing professional training.
  • Voluntary work - you may need to work voluntarily in order to gain relevant work experience, or you may simply wish to participate in something that helps others.
  • Teaching English as a foreign language - demand for teachers is significant and is often met by recent graduates teaching English as part of their time out. Destinations may be as far away as East Asia or closer to home in Europe.
  • Personal reasons - which could include a disability or caring responsibilities. If you have to delay getting a job, consider other ways to add to your skills and knowledge such as online study, or using our website resources to plan for when you're ready to find work.

What are the factors to consider?

Having time out is not particularly unusual, however, an employer will want you to be able to talk about your skills and experiences in a positive and analytical manner. Be ready to answer questions such as:

  • what were your reasons for taking time out?
  • how did you plan the time available?
  • what did you get out of the experience?
  • would you say you have a stronger application for having taken time away?

To make the most of your experience, ensure that:

  • it is well planned;
  • your finance is secure;
  • you are clear about what you hope to get out of it;
  • you have thought about what you will do afterwards;

Be aware that if you graduated in a technical or scientific subject, employers may have a concern that your degree has got out of date during your period of time out, so try and continue to read around your subject.

‘How to choose a career you’ll love’ online course

Want a job that's interesting and enjoyable but not sure what? Whatever your degree subject or level of your study, make use of our online interactive course which will help you to explore what you want from your future working life.

If you are a recent graduate from the University of Sheffield you can access 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.

How we can support you

You can still make use of the Careers Service up to three years after you graduate. However, it's easier to research your career options while you are still at university, so try to use us before you leave.

Book an appointment through Career Connect via MUSE if you want to talk over your options before you graduate. A careers adviser can help you to reflect on your previous experiences to identify your skills, strengths and particular areas of interest.

If you are a recent graduate (within 3 years of graduation) you can email an enquiry to us via Career Connect, but you will have to register on the system first.