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Deciding on your career path

There are so many options out there that choosing an initial direction in which to take your career can seem like an impossible task. As a fresh graduate, it's unlikely that your first job will meet all your criteria - it's essential that you keep an open mind and remember that your entire career won't be defined by your first graduate job. You should see your early career as a journey - not as a destination in itself; nowadays it's usual for most people to change jobs multiple times. When you graduate from university you are looking for a good starting point where you'll learn new skills that you'll build upon throughout your career.

Don't forget that you, and you alone, should be the person defining your career path from the start as this will be a continuous process throughout your working life. By all means seek advice from family, friends and tutors but don't base your decision entirely around what they say. Be as pro-active as you can - ask questions, have conversations, attend recruitment events and careers fairs. These will all give you a better idea of what is out there and you never know who you might meet.

Work out what you're good at and what you'd like to do:

So, where do you actually start though? Unless you can't do anything or have never enjoyed doing anything then you have a place to begin. First of all, take some time to determine:

  1. What you're good at/which areas you need to work on.
  2. What you enjoy doing the most/what you'd like to avoid doing.
  3. Which aspects of a job are most important to you/least important to you.
  4. What you want to get out of a job.

Identifying your capabilities, interests, values and ambitions will make it easier to identify which (even if vague) direction you'd like to take your career in and give you an idea of where to target your job search. Jot down all your answers on a piece of paper and keep adding to them as you think of new points or change your mind about what you're after.

Pick which sectors you'd like to focus on:

Next, with all this information infront of you, you should be able to narrow down your search to three sectors (maximum). You may want to have a look at our sector pages to help you figure out whether a particular sector may or may not be the right one for you.

One of the best ways to determine whether a sector is for you or not though is to start reading industry newspapers and magazines. For example, sit down and read every article on the Business section of the BBC News website; was there one article that really stood out as being of interest to you? If so, have a think about why that might have been - and what sectors might offer similar stimulation. To help you out, here's a list of top news sites for different sectors:

Decide what office culture you're suited to:

Once you've figured out which sectors you're going to focus your job hunt on, it's important you consider what kind of work environment and culture would be a good fit for you. For example, think about the level of formality of an organisation and how much focus they place on rules and procedures. If you are motivated by reward and status think about what opportunities for progression and/or promotion this company could offer you. How much do you care about being challenged? If you're struggling to decide whether an opportunity you've come across is right for you or not, try out our career decision tool. Simply fill in all the fields per job opportunity and see what your score is! N.B, the document is 'View Only' so you'll need to make a copy of it before you can get going. To do this go to the File menu and click 'Make a Copy...'.

Don't be afraid to get in touch with employers you like the sound of, even if you don't know whether they're hiring or not - particularly in smaller companies, positions can often be created for the right person.

Finding a job takes time, and finding a job that you are well suited to usually takes even longer. If you're looking for a job whilst still employed then it's safe to say that you should forget about free time during the evenings and weekends - any time you get should be filled with researching opportunities, applying for jobs and preparing for interviews. If you're starting your job hunt straight after university, then you should be treating your job hunt like a full-time job - you might as well! The more time and effort you put into you job hunt the better the end result will be. Don't get disheartened and don't rush it! Make sure you're clear on what your own strengths, preferences, goals and ambitions are - going about this initial but important stage of your job hunt in a structured fashion will make the whole process far less daunting and more manageable.

In summary, here are our top do's and don'ts for when you're sitting down to start mapping out your job search strategy:

  • Consider all your options.
  • Take time to work out your strengths and ambitions.
  • Seek help and advice where possible.
  • Expect to find your dream job overnight.
  • Rely on somebody else to make decisions for you.
  • Worry if things don't work out the exact way you intended them to.
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