The UK graduate employment market is very flexible and a substantial majority of advertised jobs are open to applicants from any discipline. This means the breadth of opportunity for most graduates is huge and an unfocused approach can be both time consuming and ineffective. Time spent thinking about and researching your options is likely to be time well spent, particularly if you feel that you have ‘no idea’ of what kind of job(s) you are interested in.
The approaches outlined here offer a variety of starting points to generate ideas and assemble a meaningful list of options that might match your interests, strengths and personal preferences.
Using your degree
Many graduates want to use the knowledge and skills developed through their degree in their work. A good degree in a relevant discipline will help ensure that you have appropriate knowledge and perhaps skills needed in many careers, and certainly the capacity to learn what is most needed. The following resources can help you follow-up this line of research.
Starting from your work experience
In the same way that you can explore ideas based on your degree, you can start from your work experience. First hand work experience allows you to try out both the content and type of the work. A summer internship lasting a month or longer can provide you with rich insights in the work itself and the working culture of your host organisation, and the opportunity to meet a wider range of people you can turn to for advice and support. However, even short-term work-shadowing and micro-internship experiences can help you experience different work environments and to test out whether or not the industry, company and style of work might offer you interesting and challenging projects.
Assuming you enjoy your work experience, you can generate ideas both directly linked to the sectors, organisations and roles that you have tried, and by looking at similar or adjacent fields. Once you have identified possibilities, you can:
- use job descriptions to explore the skills and knowledge required and begin to consider how best to prepare and position yourself for applications;
- examine job profiles, such as those listed on both Prospects and TargetJobs to deepen your understanding; and
- use the suggestions in these profile on ‘adjacent careers’ to identify a range of alternative jobs or roles to consider which require similar skills and knowledge, or offer similar challenges and opportunities.
Remember to dream
You can also gain insights by blocking out real-world constraints and fears and allowing yourself to dream about the possibilities if there are no barriers in your way.
- Interview your younger self: When you were much younger was there something you wanted to do? Even ideas that seem wildly out of reach now can still offer insights into what remains attractive to you and what you hope to achieve.
- Dreams for your future: Take time to look ahead and dream. Try to paint a rich picture for yourself of the work you would do, including what you do in the role(s); the people around you; where you are; how you feel about yourself; and the results or impact you are able to achieve. Use the following prompts to create two or three future scenarios.
- If your first choice career field simply did not exist, what else might you do?
- If there were no constraints, and anything and everything was possible, what would you choose to do?
- If you had only 5 more years ahead of you, what would you like to achieve?
Career planning tests
In the section above on building self-awareness we mentioned the use of personality questionnaires. These tools can be excellent and many will quickly deliver a list of possible career ideas based on your pattern of answers, such as the free Prospects Planner. A number of these test and personality tools are listed under External Resources (below).
You may have already used some of these, for example, by taking a Morrisby Test or similar whilst at school, and a few companies include personality questionnaires on their career pages which suggestions about which of their roles seem to be the best match for your work style preferences.
The range of career ideas suggested by these tools will still be very varied. Follow your instincts and start by researching the options that most appeal to you to create a fuller understanding both of what the roles involve and why each particular option might be a good fit for you.
Browsing and scanning the horizons
Browsing industry sector briefings, our career fair booklets and job boards/vacancy listings needs a degree of focus before it is likely to be a productive process. However, once you start to clarify and define for yourself what might be ‘right for you’, your sub-conscious mind can become a powerful ally if you pay attention to your instincts and become aware of what ‘catches your attention’. Potential starting points include:
- The Oxford Guide to Careers, published each year with over 50 alumni profiles, short introductions to more than 20 sectors and supported by recruitment advertisements;
- Employer directories and rankings such as The Times Top 100 and the UK 300 listing of graduate employers – free copies are available from The Careers Service.
For avid readers, natural networkers and thorough researchers, the ideas outlined in the next section can also all be enlisted as ways to scan the horizon to add to your emergent careers thinking, but it pays to be purposeful and directed with these approaches.